He believes he's found his man in Jacques Martin, only now the Florida Panthers need to find a new GM.
Martin, the 56-year-old French-Canadian, was introduced as the Canadiens' new coach Monday at Bell Centre. Martin, who signed a multi-year contract with Montreal, is giving up the final three years left on his contract as the Panthers' GM, one he signed last May.
Under the NHL bylaws, the Panthers had to grant Montreal permission to speak with Martin. Once they did, it was just a matter of time before Martin and Gainey came to terms on a contract. Montreal is not required to send Florida any compensation.
"He fits very well with what the job description I had in my head," Gainey said of Martin.
The move reunites Martin with Habs' Assistant General Manager Pierre Gauthier and Director of Player Recruitment and Development Trevor Timmins. Gauthier and Timmins worked with Martin when he was the coach in Ottawa from 1996-2004.
"I really believe this organization is rich with people and to me that is a very important ingredient," Martin said during his introductory press conference at Bell Centre. "We had the opportunity to discuss at length philosophy, operation, players, the League and I was really excited by those conversations with Bob (Gainey). I feel there is good chemistry and the fact that I have had the opportunity to be a general manager gives me a better appreciation now of the relationship between general manager and coach."
Martin, who was named the Panthers' GM on Sept. 3, 2006, is returning to the bench after a one-year hiatus. He coached the Panthers from 2005-08 -- setting franchise records for wins (110) and games coached (246) -- but was forced to give up the job after finishing outside of the playoffs for a third-straight season.
He signed a new deal to stay on as GM after last season and hired Peter DeBoer last summer, but Florida again missed the playoffs this spring.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have been searching for a permanent head coach since Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau in March and took over behind the bench on an interim basis. He guided the Habs to an eighth-place finish and a first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a disappointing ending to the club's centennial season.
"It was a priority for me that we find a head coach that had seen a lot of situations," Gainey said. "We love Montreal as a marketplace, but it comes with demands and expectations and pressures and I think Jacques has already proven that's well within his capacity to handle not only the coaching, but the environment in Montreal."
Gainey is banking on the fact that Martin will make the Canadiens look like the Senators of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Martin, who is known more for being a defensive coach, went 341-255-96 with Ottawa from 1996-2004 and led the Senators to the Conference Final in 2003 after winning the Presidents' Trophy.
Current NHL stars Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Havlat and Zdeno Chara blossomed under Martin's watch. Jason Spezza also got his start under Martin. But those Senators teams had a penchant for coming up short when expectations were long.
Under Martin, Ottawa had five first-round exits from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and one second round departure. The Senators went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2003, but lost to New Jersey in seven games.
"I kind of shudder when I think back to the style we faced when he was coaching the Senators," Gainey said. "It was a style that was always in our end zone. I thought that was not a very good style for us and a pretty good style for them."
Martin, though, hasn't had much success since his days in Ottawa and now he's taking on the biggest challenge of his career by accepting the head coaching job in arguably the most challenging market in the NHL.
The spotlight is always on le bleu, blanc et rouge in Montreal.
"It didn't take me a long time to make up my mind," Martin said. "Having had the opportunity to work in a market like Ottawa, both French and English, where hockey is really a religion, to get back into this kind of market with fans that are so committed and so passionate, it's a great opportunity."
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