MONTREAL - The early report cards are in and first-year coaches in the NHL don't come any better than Guy Carbonneau. Just past the one-quarter mark of the 2006-07 schedule, no new coach has graded higher than Carbonneau this season.
Among the eight coaches to have made their debut behind a new bench to start the season, Carbonneau is the leader of the pack with a 14-6-3 mark and a .673 winning percentage in 23 games. Carbo's next closest rival is Ted Nolan, who has drawn rave reviews of his own on Long Island.
Carbonneau's success has not gone unnoticed in the Panthers' dressing room either.
He may not be a former Habs player, but veteran Panthers centerman Joe Nieuwendyk is nonetheless a card-carrying member of the Guy Carbonneau fan club. The 40-year-old did after all play with and against the former Canadiens captain over the years, sharing a Stanley Cup triumph with Carbonneau in Dallas in 1999.
"Bob Gainey built our Stanley Cup team in Dallas piece-by-piece," recalled Nieuwendyk of the former Stars GM. "And now you see him doing the same thing with the Canadiens from his players to his coaching staff."
With familiar faces from his days with in the Lone Star State like Carbonneau, Doug Jarvis and now Kirk Muller behind the Habs bench, Nieuwendyk likes where the Canadiens are headed.
"Guy was a huge part of our team in 1999 and a great leader in our dressing room. I played with Muller as well," remembered Nieuwendyk, who playfully flipped a puck into the stands in the direction of his old buddies as they took in the Panthers' morning skate on Tuesday. "When I saw that Kirk was brought in, it made complete sense. I think they will all work really great together."
Seeing Carbonneau get an early leg up on fellow NHL first-year coaches has hardly fazed Nieuwendyk.
Head of the Class
Carbonneau is off to the best start of any other new coach this season.
| || ||G ||W ||L ||OTL ||PTS ||% |
|Guy Carbonneau ||MTL ||23 ||14 ||6 ||3 ||31 ||.673 |
|Ted Nolan ||NYI ||23 ||12 ||8 ||3 ||27 ||.587 |
|Paul Maurice ||TOR ||26 ||13 ||9 ||4 ||30 ||.577 |
|Claude Julien ||NJ ||23 ||12 ||9 ||2 ||26 ||.565 |
|Dave Lewis ||BOS ||22 ||11 ||9 ||2 ||24 ||.545 |
|Jim Playfair ||CGY ||23 ||11 ||10 ||2 ||24 ||.522 |
|Alain Vigneault ||VAN ||25 ||12 ||12 ||1 ||25 ||.500 |
|Marc Crawford ||LA ||26 ||9 ||13 ||4 ||22 ||.423 |
"I can't say I'm surprised to see Carbo be just as successful now as a coach," said Nieuwendyk. "When a player who related to teammates as well as Carbonneau becomes a coach, that same leadership and charisma is carried over to the dressing room. He respected his teammates, we respected him and I'll bet that his players do too."
According to the Nieuwendyk, the pieces of the puzzle are all falling into place for the Canadiens.
"Building a championship team is all about getting the right fit, and that includes players and coaches," said Nieuwendyk. "When you get that special chemistry, anything can happen. And Bob Gainey knows how to do it."
While Carbonneau has his work cut out for him given the high expectations that come with coaching the Canadiens, Nieuwendyk is convinced the new Habs coach has it all under control.
"Coaching in Montreal isn't easy," admitted Nieuwendyk. "But Bob couldn't have found a better match for what it takes to be successful here. There will be a plenty of pressure on Guy, but I'm not worried about him. I'm sure Carbo can handle it."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com