Montreal Canadiens Need Veteran Coach To Guide Rookie Team

Tim ParentSenior Writer IMarch 10, 2009

It was the timing that surprised most Montreal Canadiens fans although, by the end of Monday's supper hour, prognosticators from here to Sept-Iles, Quebec claimed to know that former head coach Guy Carbonneau's days were numbered.

Most believed that General Manager Bob Gainey would tough it out with Carbonneau until the end of the centennial season, but Gainey's trigger finger got itchy Saturday and on Monday, he took out the man who's hiring he once called the best decision he ever made.

Now, Gainey takes over behind the bench once again.  It's certainly not foreign territory for the man but it has been awhile since he coached a team and only time will tell if he'll be able to shake of the cobwebs fast enough to keep the Habs in the playoff hunt.

And while it's still a little early to write off this season, it does beg a bigger question:  what next?

Those same prognosticators who predicted Carbonneau's canning also believe Gainey is walking a fraying tightrope of job security.  While short term success is vital for Gainey, particularly with only a handful of games left in the season, long term viability is also important to this struggling team.

It's no secret that Gainey's success as a general manager has been his ability to reel in reliable rookies and pluck the diamonds out of the rough.  But when it comes to coaches, Gainey has to change up the formula. 

This is a Montreal team made up of more young guys than veterans and we've seen the results and repercussions of that, from late night partying on Crescent St. from the likes of Christopher Higgins and Carey Price to accused, drug running hangers-on eager to corrupt the Kostitsyn brothers.

While there is no proof this behaviour is behind Montreal's lackluster play of late, it had to have had some effect in the dressing room.

That this even happened under Carbonneau's watch proves his players had lost a certain amount of respect for the man, a rookie himself when he was named coach of the Canadiens.  These distractions and Carbonneau's inability to reign in it may have played a part in his dismissal.  

That brings it back to Gainey who was brought on to make the tough decisions, proving Monday he certainly knows how to do that.  Therefore, he needs to consider looking outside the operation when searching for a replacement for Carbonneau. 

He can't look down the line at Doug Jarvis, Kirk Muller, or Roland Melanson because they would all be rookie coaches themselves.  The team could find itself in the same situation a year or two down the line and that doesn't benefit anyone.

He needs to find a gritty coach who knows how to play both the heavy and the softy; A man who's voice will be heard; a man who commands respect and earns respect; a man who can guide both the vets and the rookies to success.  It's a tall order but there are coaches out there who fit the bill.

Is Don Lever that coach?  Only die hard fans could argue the merits of the Hamilton Bulldogs bench-runner but he's a guy who knows how to take charge of young hockey players. 

He also knows several of the guys currently riding the pine of the Habs bench and coached some of them, too, which may be why Gainey called him up to the big leagues as his number two man.

Gainey hasn't made any major moves at ice level in the last two trade deadlines.  Perhaps, in the off-season, he'll get busy securing some free agents and a head coach who can keep his young team on the straight and narrow.

That is, if he still has a job himself.  Just ask the prognosticators.