Once the GM (again, we'll go with the assumption that Gainey's staying) has solved his centre problem, the next thing he's going to have to address is the coaching situation. I liked a lot of things about Guy Carbonneau and I think now that he's had his stint in the coaching kindergarten that is Montreal, he's eventually land on his feet, as predecessors Claude Julien, Alain Vigneault and "Mike" Therrien did.
But, just as those guys were hired at least partly for their ability to speak French as well as their minor-league coaching experience, Carbonneau, like them, came into the job with no NHL head coaching on his resume. I'm getting a little tired of seeing guys learn the ropes in the big leagues by practicing on the Habs. Now, Bob Gainey has hinted he might not be adverse to continuing as coach of the team. I'm not in favour of that idea, not because I think Gainey's a bad coach, but because I watched him get more and more frazzled and snippy with the media the longer he spent behind the bench. I can't help thinking part of Gainey's success has to do with his aura of calm competence, and the more frustrated exposure he gets, the more that aura is tarnished. For that reason, among others, I think the coach needs to be someone other than the GM.
So, if the organization must start from scratch with the head coach I think it must start from scratch with the entire staff.
Doug Jarvis: He was a very good defensive forward in his day, and he's Bob Gainey's former linemate, roomate and friend. He's followed Gainey from Minnesota to Dallas and now to Montreal. But at this point, one must wonder how much his coaching ability has to do with his longevity behind the bench, and how much he owes to his friendship with the boss. Honestly, if Jarvis' responsibilities this last season included the powerplay and the performance of the defence, and he were to be judged solely on the fulfillment of those responsibilities, he'd surely have to be let go. He did no better at his job than Carbonneau did at his.
Kirk Muller: He's the guy Carbo hired to be his friend and assistant...to have his back in the harsh spotlight in Montreal. He was allegedly responsible for the PK, which has been fairly mediocre, but seemed to be more like the official team cheerleader. In all the descriptions I heard about player interaction with the coaches, it appeared Muller's role was to translate Carbonneau's instructions for players who needed their hands held in order to perform. With Carbonneau gone, it would seem Muller's services, with his one year of university head coaching experience, won't be required any longer either.
Rollie Melanson: A lot of goalies, like Huet and Halak, say Melanson really helped them with the technical aspects of their games. But considering the regression of Carey Price this year, you have to wonder if Melanson is the right coach for him. Watching video of the kid during his junior career and his great WJC performance, and comparing it to the way he looked during the latter half of this season, it's obvious his style has changed dramatically, and not with better results. Considering the amount the organization has invested in Price, it's conceivable the team may dump Melanson for no better reason than to keep Golden Boy happy. After all, if the head coach can be sacrificed for an underachieving team, why shouldn't the goalie coach be axed because of an underachieving netminder?
So, if the team is going to clear the decks in the coaching department, who'll take those jobs for next season? Looking at the head coaching position, I think, as I've said before, that management must choose a coach based on pro-coaching experience, approach to the game, bench-management skills and ability to communicate with and develop young players at the pro level. This last is the most vital requirement in a potential head coach in Montreal. The team is building through the draft and is deeply dependent on the progression of its young players. This season we saw young players like both Kostitsyns, Ryan O'Byrne, Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec either stall or take big steps backward in their development. In the cases of Sergei Kostitsyn and O'Byrne, and Carey Price last year, they had to return to Hamilton to get back on track. It might have been the chance to get out of the limelight in Montreal, but I think it was more likely the chance to return to a more nurturing coaching environment that helped them get better. The difference between AHL O'Byrne and NHL O'Byrne was particularly noticable. For this reason, I think Don Lever should be the new head coach. He knows the young core of the team and guided them through the early stages of their pro development. He's well-respected. He's got years of pro coaching experience in the AHL, where he won a championship with a lot of these same players, and as an NHL assistant. I have it on good authority that after Carbo's firing, Lever assisted Gainey in making some of the smarter moves of the latter's post-Carbo tenure as coach, notably in putting the Koivu, Kovalev, Tanguay line together. And most laudable of all, Scotty Bowman himself, when asked his opinion on Lever, said the Habs couldn't find a better man to take over behind the bench. That's good enough for me.
Jarvis should be replaced by a defence coach who can guide the development of the raft of young Ds who'll be entering the organization this year. The team needs a coach who's actually played defence and who knows what he's talking about when he tells the players what to do. The ideal candidate would be Larry Robinson, but he's spoken for in New Jersey. Next would be Jacques Laperierre, but he's taken as well...you guessed it...by Jersey. (Is there any wonder why the Devils play such a consistently smothering defensive system?) There are other good candidates (not Breezer!) out there, but I think, if the Red Wings don't offer Chris Chelios another playing contract next year, he might be worth a try in the coach's role. He knows the challenging, physical style fans would like to see the Habs' D play. He's experienced and wily and knows all the tricks of the game. He's also been steeped in the winning system in Detroit and is used to having young players look up to him and ask him for advice.
Some have said they'd like to see Melanson replaced by Patrick Roy. I'm not sure that's a great idea, for several reasons. Not least among them, Roy's hotheadedness is an even bet to get him in trouble before the season is out. Also, Roy's ego isn't well-stroked if he's toiling away in the shadows as goalie coach. I think, with him, it's head coach or nothing. And there's the question of whether Roy would even be able to translate what made him great into a language he can teach a young goalie. Gretzky can't seem to do it with his young players in Phoenix. So, in lieu of Roy, I'd look at hiring the guy who made Roy famous in the first place: Francois Allaire. Allaire's under contract with the Ducks right now, but his deal ends this summer and he's mentioned publicly that he finds it difficult to be so far away from his home in Quebec. No one can deny he's done a great job with Giguere and now with Hiller, and even though he's known as the guru of the butterfly, he's not the type of coach that tries to force every goalie into a cookie-cutter style. I think Allaire could be the guy who could help Carey Price reach his potential, which is something the Habs are desperate do to.
And, that's how I'd solve the coaching situation.