general manager Pierre Gauthier apologized Monday to the team's fans who did not approve of his decision to hand the coaching reins of the club to Randy Cunneyworth
because of his inability to speak French.
"We're disappointed and we're sorry if we offended anybody by hiring someone who is not bilingual right now, but when you're in the middle of a season and you're trying to effect change and you're having the difficulties we were having, you evaluate all your options," Gauthier told reporters at the Canadiens suburban practice facility in Brossard, Quebec. "We felt the best option at this time was to work from within the organization. Those things can be taken care of in due time, but having a bilingual head coach of the Montreal Canadiens
is very important and it's something that will be part of our decision going forward."
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Gauthier was giving his mid-season review of the Canadiens and said despite an extremely disappointing first half that sees the club sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference, all hope is not lost on salvaging the season. The Canadiens just completed a season-long six-game road trip with a 1-5-0 record, and the club has just one win in seven games under Cunneyworth.
"Our goal for the second half of our season is to play better hockey," he said. "We are coming back from a long road trip and we will play 11 of our next 15 games at the Bell Centre in front of our fans. We are counting on using these games to turn our season around."
The Canadiens, however, have won just five of 18 games at home all season, the lowest total in the NHL.
Gauthier identified three areas he sees as the most important factors in the Canadiens engineering a massive turnaround.
"First of all, we need to get some players back," he said. "Injured players like Scott Gomez
, Brian Gionta
and Ryan White
are getting ready to return. These are veterans that can help the team."
Another injured veteran, defenseman Andrei Markov
, will be visiting with doctors this week to evaluate the rehabilitation on his injured knee, but he will not be ready to play until the All-Star break at the earliest, Gauthier said.
That’s why he feels this turnaround needs to come from the players who are currently with the club, because if they wait for Markov to arrive, it will be too late.
"Secondly, our improvement needs to come from within," he said. "Everyone needs to get involved with everything they have. We have yet to find the cohesion that allows a hockey club to play in an efficient way."
Finally, Gauthier also took responsibility himself for the current state of affairs.
"We also need to do our part as a management team," he said. "We never know in advance what we will be able to do, but we will look at all of our opportunities."
Without using it as a crutch, Gauthier made the point that with all the injuries the team has suffered, the Canadiens have played just four of their 39 games where they were icing a team that stood above the NHL’s salary floor of $48.3 million.
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 10
SOG: 28 | +/-: 6
"We normally find ourselves sitting $2 million below the floor," he said. "This puts us among the 10 lowest-salaried clubs in the League. But let’s be honest, six of those 10 teams with the lowest payrolls would make the playoffs if they began today. That’s not the case with us. That means injuries are not the sole cause of our season thus far. There are other problems we need to solve, and that’s why we are not satisfied with our performance."
The primary reason Gauthier was addressing the media Monday was to discuss the six-year, $23.4 million contract signed by defenseman Josh Gorges
on New Year’s Day.
"It's a good news day for me, personally, but it's a bittersweet time," Gorges told reporters. "Obviously for me, it's a great opportunity. I'm more than excited to be here for a number of years. I love it here. This has become my home. I'm very grateful for the opportunity from the organization, Geoff Molson and the Molson family, who gave me the opportunity to play here.
"With what's going on with the team, it's tough timing, but at least now it's over and done with and I can focus on winning hockey games."
Gorges was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but his importance to the team was exhibited by Gauthier breaking from the Canadiens' general rule of waiting for the offseason to conduct contract negotiations.
There are two other big contracts to sign coming up, as young stars Carey Price
and P.K. Subban
are set to become restricted free agents, though Gauthier said it was a priority to keep both players with the franchise "for a long time."
When Gorges was asked if his contract may pave the way for the other two to get signed, he suggested that was an assurance he sought from Gauthier before signing his own deal.
"One thing that was important to me before signing this was to know the direction we're heading, not just for this year but for years to come," Gorges said. "And I think we're making strides to put the right team together and obviously, those players you mentioned are going to be keys to this team, not only this year but in years to come. I've been here with Carey a few years. We've started something here and we've had some good years, we've had some down years, and we're building something here. I think he'd give you the same answer. We want to see this through to the end. We want to work together and win together until we get to the final goal."