With the confirmed departure of Kirk Muller, the Montreal Canadiens will be looking for a new forward coach to assist Jacques Martin behind the bench in the upcoming 2011-2012 season.
Here is a brief assessment of the obvious pros and cons of five of the candidates whose names I’ve seen mentioned the most as Muller's possible replacements.
If you were making the decision, which of the following would you choose and why, or is there someone else entirely on your radar?
If there’s a so-called front-runner to replace Kirk Muller behind the Canadiens bench next season, Randy Cunneyworth is probably it.
In his 19 years as an NHL player, Cunneyworth was a left winger who played primarily a checking role and could throw out a hit. He also has NHL assistant coaching experience, having filled that role for the Atlanta Thrashers from 2008-2010.
Cunneyworth has had big shoes to fill recently with the departure of Guy Boucher, last season’s AHL award-winning coach who left the Hamilton Bulldogs to take the reins in Tampa Bay.
Despite losing their lauded head coach and being relieved routinely of their top scorers who got called up by the Habs all season long, the Bulldogs still made a strong showing in the postseason. So it would seem Cunneyworth performs well under pressure and with a club that has enjoyed some recent success in the postseason, albeit at the AHL level.
But the Bulldogs did enjoy some payback from the Habs when they waived Dustin Boyd to the minors and also acquired Nigel Dawes. Both players did not see much time and by extension success at the NHL level last season, but managed to prove strong additions for Hamilton.
While Boucher’s offensive style did not always fit with the NHL-level Canadiens under Jacques Martin, Cunneyworth’s style is more in the same vein. He also has a history with Martin, having captained the Ottawa Senators from 1995 to 1998 during which time Martin was their head coach.
However, Cunneyworth may simply prove to be too much of a Martin-style guy and I’m not convinced he can be as effective as Muller at pumping up the players when the chips are down, especially in the postseason.
Despite being recently dismissed from his head coaching position with the Florida Panthers, Peter DeBoer still boasts an impressive resume that might make him a good fit in Montreal.
DeBoer’s record in the juniors is worth noting. He has enjoyed tremendous success there, and that strongly suggests he has an uncanny ability to build rapport and instill confidence in young players.
Sure, he hasn’t had any real success in Florida; the Panthers have missed the playoffs for over a decade now, but is that all directly DeBoer’s fault?
Dale Tallon’s overpayment for his mid-level talent acquisitions during this summer’s thin free-agency market would suggest that it is not. In offloading his strongest assets, clearly Tallon is building for the future, and that includes under a new coach.
Montreal right now is a good mix of youth and seasoned vets, and as a former head coach at an NHL level, DeBoer will command respect from the vets while bonding with the youngsters.
DeBoer also has a history with current Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin, who spent time as general manager in Florida. In three seasons under Martin, however, he did not reach the playoffs once.
Still, I think it would be nothing short of a coup to get him to replace Kirk Muller, assuming he would even take the assistant coaching job after running his own show for so long.
The former Canadiens player already spent time behind the bench as head coach for a three-year tenure that lasted from 2006 to 2009 until Bob Gainey sent him packing and took up the position himself.
Carbonneau was a former Jack Adams Award finalist whose coaching record with the Habs was a combined 124-83-23. As a former Stanley Cup winner with this team, he knows what it takes to win in the playoffs with Montreal.
He also has the requisite bilingualism that the Habs value and can hold his own with the rabid media. He has proven he knows how to run a strong power play, and if nothing else, he should be able to teach the current forwards how to win a faceoff more than once in a blue moon.
Unlike Jacques Martin, he shows emotion—perhaps a bit too much—and the team’s postseason record under him suggests he was not always a good motivator. At one point Bob Gainey had to step in with a streaky Alex Kovalev, something that was clearly Carbonneau’s responsibility.
This past February saw Carbonneau step behind the bench as head coach for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, but having announced his replacement means he will not return there.
Of all the candidates to replace Kirk Muller, Carbonneau is probably one of the strongest. He’s not ready to be a head coach, but I do think that his experience with the team plays to his favor instead of against it.
For a dark-horse candidate I’d have to pick Patrick Roy, whose name I have seen bandied about more than once or twice when it comes to possible replacements for Kirk Muller.
If there was ever a suggested coaching pair that might prove to be oil and water or gasoline and a lit match, it’s likely Jacques Martin and Patrick Roy.
Roy’s history with the Habs is legendary, as is his temper and focus to win. He has backstopped the team to more than one Stanley Cup and, like Carbonneau, knows a bit about what it will take for Montreal to get another one.
He has some experience at the junior coaching level, having won the Memorial Cup during his first year as head coach of the Quebec Remparts. He also speaks the language and will command respect from the veterans and youth on the team.
As a younger, passionate persona, he may prove to be an asset when it comes to providing some spark behind the bench.
By contrast, Martin is a low-key, laid-back kind of coach who has a strong adherence to a system that allows for an excessive amount of shots at his netminder. I’m not sure that sort of game plan would fly with Roy, who enjoyed a much stronger defensive corps under blueliners like Larry Robinson and Chris Chelios.
It also seems that former star players do not usually make good NHL-level coaches. Wayne Gretzky and Maurice Richard spring to mind here.
Also working against his favor is that Roy is a former goalie and has no experience at the forward position.
In a tight room such as the Canadiens are currently boasting, I’m just not sure a possible personality conflict at the coaching level is the smart way to go.
Like Guy Carbonneau and Patrick Roy, Larry Robinson is a former Canadiens player who has played at an elite level, won the Cup and speaks the language.
The former Habs defenseman would no doubt prove to be a huge asset to the young blueliners on the roster, and has already shown that ability before with Scott Stevens. However, Montreal already has a defense coach in Perry Pearn.
Robinson has already coached at the NHL level as an assistant under Jacques Lemaire, a team famous for successfully employing the trap that Jacques Martin seems to prefer. However, in a team like Montreal that has scoring issues, Robinson is unlikely to help offensive woes.
Sure, he was a puck-mover with big hits and could help support from the back end, but he won’t help the team score more goals or fix its faceoff percentages.
His history with the Devils and Habs both is something he would share with current Montreal players like Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez. He would command respect and enjoy rapport, and deliver a much-needed talking-to when warranted.
Robinson’s key attributes would be his ability to buy into and help sell Martin’s system. He was a team leader when he was a member of the Canadiens and no doubt would find himself playing that sort of role again, fitting well in an already tight room.