MONTREAL - It was an opportunity Jacques Martin couldn't pass up.
The St. Pascal, Ont., native is leaving the Florida Panthers to become the new head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, a move that will bring Martin closer to his French-Canadian roots.
Martin, who has been the general manager of the Panthers for the past three seasons, said the decision didn't take long to make.
"The challenge, the opportunity to come back to my roots, French-Canadian, knowing the passion that exists in this market," he told a news conference in Montreal on Monday.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to join this organization," he added. "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."
Martin, a former head coach with the Panthers, St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators, has a career record of 517-406-119 for a .551 winning percentage.
Martin, 56, won the Jack Adams Trophy, awarded to the coach of the year, in 1999.
The Canadiens won't have to compensate the Panthers as per league rules.
Martin will take over behind the bench from GM Bob Gainey, who had been coaching the team since he fired Guy Carbonneau on March 9.
Carbonneau's dismissal was part of a roller-coaster season that began with Stanley Cup hopes but ended with a disappointing first-round playoff exit.
The Habs had a strong first half, but it all unravelled with injuries, controversy and the coaching change after the all-star game Jan. 25.
During the team's season wrap-up media conference, Gainey said injuries were a factor, but he also pointed a finger at Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton, whom he said disrupted the Canadiens by letting the names of players involved in failed trade talks for star centre Vincent Lecavalier become public.
Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins, both restricted free agents this summer, were among several Canadiens to struggle this season, along with brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, second-year defenceman Ryan O'Byrne and goaltender Carey Price.
Finding a new coach was one of Gainey's main off-season tasks. The other will be to make decisions on 10 unrestricted and four restricted free agents.
Martin and Gainey have already been discussing the future.
"I really believe this organization is rich in people and that is a very important ingredient," said Martin. "We had the opportunity to discuss at length, to talk about philosophy, talk about operations, talk about players, talk about the league.
"I was really excited by those conversations with Bob. It's good chemistry."
Those free to go on the open market July 1 are Alex Kovalev, captain Saku Koivu, winger Alex Tanguay, centre Robert Lang, checking forward Tom Kostopoulos and defencemen Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Schneider.
The Habs are the second Canadian team to hire a new head coach in less than a week. Pat Quinn joined the Edmonton Oilers last Tuesday.