The Montreal Canadiens' coaching search may be over.
It's been almost a month since Marc Bergevin was hired as the Habs GM. Now, speculation is flying as to who the next head coach will be.
Fred Poulin of thehockeywriters.com has reported that Bob Hartley will be announced as the new Habs head coach very soon. This past Sunday's Memorial Cup final fueled the report, as Bergevin and Geoff Molson were in Shawinigan, Quebec, to take in the final, particularly to take a look at the team's prospects playing in the tournament. Habs prospects in the final were Jared Tinordi (of the London Knights), Morgan Ellis and Michael Bournival.
Getting back to Hartley, Poulin's report says he was often seen talking with several members of the Canadiens organization.
Hartley was at the final primarily because he's a special adviser to Shawinigan Cataractes head coach Eric Veilleux. The Cataractes did in fact win the Memorial Cup, 2-1 in overtime over the Knights. Poulin reports that Veilleux may join Hartley in Montreal as his assistant; Veilleux played for Hartley for nine years at the junior level.
Hartley is currently the head coach of the ZSC Lions in Zurich in the National League A, and he led the team to the league championship this past season. He has one year left on his deal and would need an out clause to take a job in the NHL.
Being from eastern Ontario, Hartley meets the bilingual requirement for the Habs head coaching position, as French is his first language. He also has a Stanley Cup ring under his belt; he coached the 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche championship team. Hartley coached the Avs from 1998 to 2002, winning the Northwest Division every year before being fired 31 games into the 2002-2003 season due to a slow start.
Hartley was hired by the Atlanta Thrashers soon after. The Thrashers would enjoy their best season in franchise history under Hartley, going 43-28-11 for 97 points and a Southeast Division title. However, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers, and Hartley was fired the following season after an 0-6 start.
Following his dismissal, Hartley became an analyst for RDS, Quebec's French language all-sports TV station. His experience working with the Montreal media can only help him if he is in fact hired by the Habs. Dealing with the media is as tough a part of being the Habs coach as any factor.
Hartley's experience, bilingualism and winning pedigree make him a top candidate. He has now seen hockey from both sides, and his time in Montreal as an analyst has surely shown him just how big hockey is in the market.
Hartley probably is on the Habs list of coaching candidates, as he should be. The bilingualism factor reduces the list of possible Habs coaches down to a select few, and a bilingual coach who has won the Stanley Cup will invariably be near the top of the list.
Things remain quiet around the Canadiens as to who will be the next coach. With the draft and free agency coming up in the next month, fans want to know who the next coach will be soon, but the important factor is just getting the right guy.
Poulin says that a preliminary contract has reportedly been given to Hartley. If this is true, it's likely that the Canadiens would want to act fast in signing him. He was reported to have been a serious candidate to coach the Calgary Flames as well, as he is a longtime friend of general manager Jay Feaster. Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun reported, though, that Hartley may be out of the Flames' coaching search.
Nothing is certain, though, and Poulin has posted that Bergevin is currently in Toronto to watch the NHL draft combine, so don't expect anything until he is back in Montreal. For now, any report around should be taken with a grain of salt.