Montreal Canadiens dismissed head coach Guy Carbonneau on Monday, two-thirds of the way through his third season. Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Gainey will coach the Canadiens for the rest of this season.The
Associate coach Doug Jarvis and assistant coaches Kirk Muller and Roland Melanson will continue on the coaching staff.
In addition, the Canadiens have added Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Don Lever to their staff. Hamilton assistant coach Ron Wilson will take over as bench boss of the AHL club.
The Canadiens were the top team in the Eastern Conference last season with a 47-25-10 record, but have struggled this season due to inconsistent goaltending, power-play woes and low production from some of the expected team leaders.
"Not long ago, I responded to a question that was asked to me about my best decision since taking over as general manager, and that Guy was my best decision," Gainey said during a press conference on Monday night. "The decision today can be seen as a contradiction, but in the last eight weeks the performance has been below average. I believe that a change in the direction at ice level is necessary."
The Canadiens have been solidly in second place in the Northeast Division this season, 18 points behind the Boston Bruins, but have slipped in the Eastern Conference standings lately. They are 35-24-7, good for 77 points, only two points ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes. The Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins all have 76 points.
The Canadiens started 10-4-2 but are 25-20-5 since Nov. 17; 17-16-1 since Dec. 22; and 7-8-1 since Feb. 2. They were 5-4-1 in Carbonneau's last 10 games.
"I think there were certain games where our team would not seem to be emotionally engaged," Gainey said.
The 2008 Northeast Division crown was the Canadiens' first since 1992, when Carbonneau captained the team. He led them to the Stanley Cup the next season.
The Canadiens finished out of the playoffs in Carbonneau's first season as coach. They beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, their only playoff series victory under Carbonneau.
The Canadiens have won only three playoff series this decade and have missed the playoffs four times. Gainey, who likely won't be the coach beyond this season, said he thought about replacing Carbonneau after a 2-0 loss at Atlanta last Friday.
Carbonneau's final game, though, was a victory. Montreal earned a 3-1 win at Dallas on Sunday night.
"With 16 games left in the regular season, I felt this change was necessary in order to maximize our chance at being one of the teams to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring," Gainey said. "I would have loved not to be with you today, but I find ourselves in a position that requires my intervention. I feel like it's necessary to make a change, but the real results will be several weeks from now."
Carbonneau played 18 seasons in the NHL, posting 260 goals and 403 assists for 663 points in 1,318 NHL games. He had his best offensive season in 1984-85 when he had 23 goals and 34 assists for 57 points. He had a career-high 26 goals in 1988-89.
Carbonneau won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward in 1988, 1989 and 1992. He was also a member of the Canadiens' 1986 Stanley Cup championship team and the Dallas Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup winners.
He was an assistant coach in Montreal in 2001-02, under head coach Michel Therrien, and returned as assistant coach for the 2005-06 season under head coaches Claude Julien and Gainey.
"We've both been around the NHL and pro sports for a long time in different capacities," Gainey said. "It isn't something that hasn't crossed our paths a number of times."
Gainey became the Canadiens' 15th general manager on June 2, 2003. He spent his entire playing career, 1973-89, with the Canadiens, notching 239 goals and 263 assists for 502 points in 1,160 NHL games. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoff Most Valuable Player in 1979 and won four-straight Selke Awards, 1978-81, more than any other player.
He coached one season in France and then was hired to coach the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars, who lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Gainey was then named general manager and head coach in 1992. He coached two more seasons in Minnesota and three seasons as head coach of the Stars after the team moved to Texas.
In addition to the 1999 Stanley Cup, the Stars won five-straight division titles (1997-2001) under Gainey and his hand-picked successor, Ken Hitchcock. Gainey retired as Dallas' general manager in 2001, replaced by Doug Armstrong.
Gainey replaced Julien as Canadiens' coach on Jan. 14, 2006, and guided the team to a 23-15-3 record. The Canadiens lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes in six games. In 456 games behind the bench, Gainey has a career record of 188-205-63. He is 25-25 in 50 postseason contests.
"I would like to see us reduce or eliminate out-numbered rushes against our team and increase some for ourselves," Gainey said. "It isn't going to be a black-and-white changeover, but we need to start to move towards being a better, stronger, more consistent team defensively and an offensive team that can take advantage of opportunities."
Gainey will conduct his first practice Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the Bell Sports Complex, in Brossard, Que. The Canadiens host the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Carbonneau is the seventh NHL coach to be fired this season. The others are: Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay), Peter Laviolette (Carolina), Denis Savard (Chicago), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa), Michel Therrien (Pittsburgh) and Tom Renney (New York Rangers).