Montreal Canadiens: 6 Qualities an Ideal Habs Coach Must Possess

Michael Carroll@mjcarroll531Featured ColumnistJune 27, 2012

Montreal Canadiens: 6 Qualities an Ideal Habs Coach Must Possess

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    The Montreal Canadiens have found their new, or rather, old head coach. On June 5, the Canadiens re-hired Michel Therrien, who previously coached the team from 2000-03.

    Hopefully for the Canadiens, Therrien can bring some stability to the head coaching position. Since Montreal last won a Stanley Cup championship (1993), the franchise has undergone 11 coaching changes. Perhaps the coaching carousel explains why the 24-time Stanley Cup champions have been stuck on 24 for two decades.

    The head coach of the Canadiens must manage great amounts of pressure and responsibility. Those who came before him built “Les Habs” into one of the greatest franchises in North American sports during the 20th century. Montreal’s recent championship drought, though, has changed the pressure on the head coach: to bring the franchise back to greatness, rather than to maintain the level of greatness.

    Any man interested in Montreal’s head coaching position must have some special qualities for this particular job. In other words, the Canadiens head coach has different job requirements than other NHL head coaches.

    In the following slides, we will look at some of the qualities needed to be successful in Montreal.

Be Bilingual

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    The Montreal Canadiens head coach must speak both English and French.

    Montreal has the second-most native French speakers in the world. The major city in the province of Quebec is the center of French-Canadian culture.

    The city needs media available in both French and English, and therefore the Canadiens deal with media in both languages. If the head coach cannot speak both languages, then he cannot effectively communicate with the media. His connection to the entire fanbase would then be impaired.

    The fans themselves want more of a French influence surrounding the Canadiens. Michael Farber of had this to say about Habs fans’ preferences:

    “In a poll published in La Presse newspaper on Dec. 24 [2011], 79 per cent of respondents answered ‘yes’ to the question of whether the Canadiens…should hire more francophone players. Among French-speakers, that figure rose to 88 percent. Another 71 percent said they would be more proud of the team if French speakers constituted a majority of the players.”

    Canadiens fans still want, and need, a bilingual hockey team. This all starts with the head coach.

Former Canadiens Player

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    Including interim head coaches, 13 of the franchise’s head coaches were former Montreal Canadiens players.

    These men understood Habs hockey from a firsthand perspective before coaching the team. They know what it means to be a Canadien, and they passed that experience on to their players.

    The Canadiens have not had a former player as head coach since Bob Gainey in 2009 (on an interim basis). Time will tell how Michel Therrien’s second stint behind the bench goes, but a failure to meet expectations could make the front office look at the all-time roster for a replacement.

Montreal Native

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    Including interim head coaches, 15 of the franchise’s head coaches were born in Quebec. Seven of these were born in Montreal.

    Montreal natives understand the culture of the place and of the hockey club. This knowledge will help connect the team with its fans, much in the same way as being bilingual.

    Michel Therrien was born in Montreal, so the Canadiens have returned to their roots with this choice. Prior to Therrien’s arrival, the last Canadiens head coach born in Montreal was Mario Tremblay, who left after the 1996-97 season.

Rookie Head Coach?

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    Including interim head coaches, only seven of the franchise’s head coaches held the same position with another NHL franchise prior to joining Montreal. Despite their status in the league, the Canadiens continue to allow rookie head coaches.

    Les Habs have a history of choosing former players to coach and Montreal natives to coach. Such qualities limit the number of people in the prospective head coaching pool.

    Since 1968, there have been at least 11 and as many as 29 other NHL franchises besides the Canadiens. Therefore, the number of players and coaches have increased, which has increased the probability of finding the perfect candidate.

    The Canadiens head coaching job is a unique one, though, for reasons stated in previous slides. If the franchise feels nobody with these qualities and previous head coaching experience will be a good fit, then it can try to mold a rookie head coach to fit with the Canadiens.

    Michel Therrien was a rookie head coach with the Canadiens in 2000. He ended his first term with a .500 record. New general manager Marc Bergevin, a Montreal native, hired Therrien back to Montreal. This choice suggests he is confident Therrien will improve upon his first trial with the team.


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    The Canadiens have earned the right to demand high expectations. Habs fans also demand a lot from the team.

    The head coach cannot take it personally when his team is not meeting Montreal’s expectations. Someone who easily gets down on himself will not succeed with the Canadiens.

    As a former Canadiens head coach, Michel Therrien understands the personality he needs to show. Therrien says he has changed for the better, which should only help him this time.

    “I’m certainly a better coach than I was 10 or 15 years ago. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the game, too. And when I did pro scouting I saw the game in a little different way. The experience I got will certainly help me a lot.”

    These words from Therrien suggest the Canadiens should expect a better coach this time, both tactically and personally.


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    People in professional sports got there not only because of talent, but also because of competitiveness. Everyone involved with professional franchises wants to win.

    In Montreal, the pressure to win now is constantly high. The Canadiens have more Stanley Cup championships than any other franchise, so they are even less satisfied with losing than other franchises.

    In order for a head coach to keep his job in Montreal, he must put a winning team on the ice immediately.

    Michel Therrien did win immediately in Montreal. Perhaps that is why he has returned. According to

    “[Therrien] was hired as coach of the Canadiens in 2000 to replace the fired Alain Vigneault. Therrien’s team ended a four-year run of missing the playoffs by reaching the second round in 2002.”

    Therrien won immediately with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as well. In 2007-08, the Penguins and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL went to their respective championship rounds. Therrien was Pittsburgh’s head coach that season.

    Hopefully for the Canadiens, Therrien will bring back those winning ways.


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    Only two head coaches in Canadiens history met these three requirements: former Canadien, Montreal native, and rookie head coach. They were Sylvio Mantha and Mario Tremblay.

    Both Mantha and Tremblay coached during some down times in franchise history: Mantha in the 1930s and Tremblay in the 1990s. They lasted a combined 207 regular season games and 11 playoff games.

    Oddly enough, Scotty Bowman fit in only one of these categories, as he was born in Montreal. He won five Stanley Cup championships with the Canadiens during a tenure spanning from 1971-79.

    Toe Blake was not born in Quebec, but he played for Les Habs and started his head coaching career in Montreal. He won eight Stanley Cup championships in 13 seasons behind the bench.

    So, which of these qualities are most important for the Montreal Canadiens head coach to have? A winning pedigree and a familiarity with Montreal culture, which includes the ability to speak both French and English.


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