MONTREAL - In what proved to be a busy morning at the Bell Centre, Bob Gainey announced that he would not only be taking over as head coach for the remainder of this season, but that a familiar face would also be by his side-Guy Carbonneau.
In front of a jam-packed press conference, Gainey stunned the hockey world as he described how he will move behind the bench as head coach through the end of the 2005-06 season before handing the reins to Carbonneau in time for next season.
"I'm thrilled to be back in Montreal," said Carbonneau, who had been assistant GM of the Dallas Stars for the past three seasons. "I want to thank Bob for having confidence in me and believing that I'm the man for the job."
Once Gainey received permission from the Stars to speak to his former teammate, negotiations moved pretty quickly leading up to Saturday's announcement.
"Guy and I had two or three discussions over the past week and the process just accelerated once we were able to meet face-to-face in Denver this week," said Gainey.
Carbonneau, who served as assistant coach with the Canadiens under Michel Therrien from 2000 through the end of the 2001-02 season, didn't hesitate when asked what his top priority would be this time around.
"The main thing that stuck with me as player was the importance of there being a sense of family on a hockey team and that's thanks to my experience here with the Canadiens and Jacques Demers," said the 45-year-old Carbonneau, who won the Stanley Cup under Demers in 1992-93. "The leadership in the dressing room begins with that sense of togetherness where everyone must share the responsibility for what happens on the ice."
While Gainey said that the coaching workload would be shared among himself, Carbonneau and Doug Jarvis - his two associate coaches - he also made it clear where the buck would stop.
"I am the one with NHL head coaching experience and no one has followed this team as closely as I have since training camp," said Gainey, who also served the dual role as GM and head coach of the Minnesota North Stars from 1992 to 1995. "As of this point, I will take full responsibility as the head coach."
Gainey's decision to ease Carbonneau into the role of head coach is no accident.
"I didn't see the point of immediately dropping Guy into boiling water, when we could instead put him in and then warm it up gently," said Gainey.
Carbonneau couldn't agree more.
"As assistant GM in Dallas, I found myself travelling all over Europe and I watched a lot of U.S. college hockey and NHL Western Conference games," admitted Carbonneau. "Although there are still about eight players still here from when I was an assistant, I think learning more about this group of players makes more sense than me stepping in right away as head coach."
With Guy Carbonneau now by his side, interim Bob Gainey will look to guide the Canadiens deep into the playoffs before handing over head coaching duties to Carbonneau at the end of the 2005-06 season.
No one knows more about the players in the Canadiens dressing room than the man who put them there, and Gainey still likes what he sees when he looks up and down his lineup.
"We have a number of important, key players who are not playing to their full potential right now," said Gainey, who coached the underdog North Stars all the way to the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals. "I think the biggest challenge as a coach is to get a group of players from many different backgrounds to work, think and succeed together.
"There are eight teams fighting for four or five playoff positions with still half of the schedule left," added Gainey. "Now is the time to dig in our heels and make our move up the standings."
This wasn't the first time Gainey called on Carbonneau to help get the job done, having also reached out to Carbo when he signed the veteran center while still GM of the Stars back in 1995. After winning a Stanley Cup as teammates in 1985-86, they did the same in Dallas in the spring of 1999.
Word of Gainey taking over as the interim coach understandably sent shockwaves through the Canadiens dressing room.
"With Bob taking over, let's just say that no one at practice wanted to miss a pass or make a mistake this morning," said defenseman Mathieu Dandenault. "With Bob in the room every day, we are all going to be more accountable than ever. Everyone is going to want to show what they can do."
Back on June 2, 2003 when Gainey was introduced as the Canadiens' 15th GM, he refused to pull any punches and his mission was clear.
"We are going to work with our players make them better so that they can reach their potential," said a prophetic Gainey that day. "We are going to do whatever it takes as an organization to help our players have good seasons and better seasons, whether they like or not."
After seeing Gainey on skates at his first team practice on Saturday, it's apparent he wasn't kidding.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com