MONTREAL (AP) -Guy Carbonneau was fired as coach of the struggling Montreal Canadiens, hockey's most historic franchise that is in danger of missing the playoffs in its 100th season.
The timing of Monday's move was a bit surprising because the Canadiens are currently in a playoff position and there are only 16 games left in the regular season.
General manager Bob Gainey, who handed the coaching duties over to Carbonneau three years ago, will return behind the bench when Montreal hosts Edmonton on Tuesday.
The Canadiens started Monday in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but they were only two points above the postseason cutoff. What was supposed to be a season of celebration has turned into one of difficulty.
Montreal (35-24-7) went into a free fall in late January and February, losing 10 of 13. The Canadiens, 5-4-1 in their previous 10 games, won 3-1 at Dallas on Sunday in their last game with Carbonneau as coach.
"The last eight weeks of performance have been below average, and I believe a change in the direction at ice level is necessary," Gainey said.
Carbonneau officially became an NHL head coach for the first time on May 5, 2006, after serving as an associate to Gainey for the final 41 games of the 2005-06 season. Gainey took the job after firing coach Claude Julien. He announced then that Carbonneau would take over as head coach the following season.
In 230 games with the Canadiens over three seasons, Carbonneau was 124-83-23. He is the seventh NHL coach fired this season, and the fourth in five weeks.
Associate coach Doug Jarvis, along with assistant coaches Kirk Muller and Roland Melanson will remain on Gainey's coaching staff.
Gainey, a Hall of Fame forward in 16 seasons with the Canadiens, had a coaching stint with the Minnesota-Dallas franchise from 1990-96 while also serving as GM. He was 23-15-3 behind the Canadiens bench.
Last season, the Canadiens finished first in the NHL's Eastern Conference with a 47-25-10 record and 104 points, but were bounced from the playoffs in the second round by Philadelphia. Carbonneau was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.
Expectations were high this season, especially with the club celebrating its 100th anniversary.
After a strong start, the Canadiens went into a skid starting just before Montreal hosted the All-Star game on Jan. 25. The team won only three of 15 games and fell into the thick of the tight postseason race.
The Canadiens rebounded with four close wins, then lost two more on the road - including a 2-0 defeat to lowly Atlanta - before beating injury-riddled Dallas.
Just a few weeks ago, Gainey said his best move as general manager was hiring Carbonneau, but now the former Canadiens captain is out.
There had been calls for the coach to be replaced recently from fans and media members who felt he had no answers to the way opponents had been shutting down Montreal's quick-transition game.
"There were certain games when I had a real confusion about the overall ... it showed up as effort, but I felt like it was emotional engagement to a game," Gainey said. "Our team (did) not seem to be emotionally engaged."
Carbonneau, 48, played 13 seasons for the Canadiens between 1980-94, the last five as captain, before moving on to the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. He won the Stanley Cup twice with Montreal and again with Dallas.
After retiring as a player, Carbonneau worked for the Stars and then joined Montreal for a season as supervisor of prospect development and a brief stint as assistant coach.
The last time Gainey took over as coach, he led Montreal into the playoffs, but lost in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina.