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Canadiens hire Jacques Martin as coach @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL (AP) -Jacques Martin was hired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, leaving his general manager's job with the Florida Panthers for a storied NHL franchise that was swept in the first round of the playoffs.

He replaces Montreal general manager Bob Gainey behind the bench. Gainey took over after firing Guy Carbonneau on March 9.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to join this organization," Martin said at a news conference. "When you look at the players who are in the organization, there is a strong nucleus, a strong base, to build a winning team and I'm really looking forward with excitement to leading this team next year."

The 56-year-old Martin has been the Panthers' GM the past three seasons and coached the team from 2004 to 2008. This is his fourth NHL coaching job, having also coached St. Louis and Ottawa. He was coach of the year in 1999 with the Senators. He has a career record of 517-406-119 for a .551 winning percentage.

Martin's deal with Florida runs through the 2011-12 season. It isn't clear if the Canadiens must compensate the Panthers.

Montreal is the second team to hire a coach in less than a week, following Pat Quinn at Edmonton.

Carbonneau's dismissal was part of a season that began with Stanley Cup hopes but ended with a first-round playoff ouster by Boston. Montreal had a strong first half, but its season unraveled amid injuries and the coaching change.

Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins were among several Canadiens to struggle this season, along with brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, defenseman Ryan O'Byrne and goaltender Carey Price.

Finding a new coach was one of Gainey's main offseason tasks. The other will be to make decisions on 10 unrestricted and four restricted free agents.

Those free to go on the open market are Alex Kovalev, captain Saku Koivu, winger Alex Tanguay, center Robert Lang, checking forward Tom Kostopoulos and defensemen Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Schneider.

Panthers owner Alan Cohen thanked Martin and said a search for a new GM will begin immediately. Martin became the Panthers' GM in 2006. He was stripped of his coaching duties in April 2008, but had a hand in selecting successor Pete DeBoer.

Bill Torrey, Florida's first team president, will lead the Panthers' GM search. Torrey helped build the 1995-96 Panthers team that reached the Stanley Cup finals. He spent 20 years with the Islanders, helping build the team that won four Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

He and Florida assistant GM Randy Sexton will work together until a replacement is selected.

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