MONTREAL – General manager Bob Gainey felt it was time the Montreal Canadiens had some experience behind the bench.
Gainey announced the hiring of Jacques Martin as the Canadiens new head coach Monday, ending a string of five straight rookie coaches dating back to when Jacques Demers was fired in 1995.
“It was a priority for me to find a head coach that had seen a lot of situations,” Gainey said. “We love Montreal as a marketplace, but it comes with demands and expectations and pressures.
“I think Jacques has already proven that it is well within his capacity to handle not only the coaching, but also the environment in Montreal.”
Martin spent the last five years with the Florida Panthers but relinquished his coaching duties prior to this season to focus on his role as general manager. He was under contract with the Panthers until 2012, but the Canadiens won’t have to give Florida any compensation for hiring Martin away.
Martin said he missed the action of being behind the bench and relished the opportunity to come back not only to his French-Canadian roots, but also to a city where hockey is at the forefront of the sports scene.
“I’m a professional coach and it was always my first love,” the St. Pascal, Ont., native said. “This is an opportunity to come back to a market where the fans care, where the team is a part of them.
“It’s a unique chance to come back and work in a market like this one.”
Martin is one of only 12 coaches in NHL history to appear in 1,000 games and he’s 10th on the all-time victories list with 517, most coming over nine seasons at the helm of the Ottawa Senators. Martin had a .582 regular season points percentage with the Sens and was a four-time nominee for coach of the year, winning in 1999.
But his playoff record in Ottawa was only 31-36.
Prior to Martin, the Canadiens gave Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau their introductions to the NHL, but none lasted more than three years in Montreal.
“Reviewing back the history of our team over the last 10 years, all of the coaches have been good coaches, ones with potential, ones trying to learn, ones hoping to find their legs for their career here,” Gainey said. “Not many have lasted a long time.
“So we wanted to look in a different direction and find someone who has already lived through getting his sea legs and having experience in a similar market where the attention and the following is there every day.”
Martin joins a growing list of former Senators among Canadiens management along with assistant GM Pierre Gauthier, director of player recruiting and development Trevor Timmins and amateur scout Frank Jay.
But Martin said it was Gainey’s reputation and leadership that clinched his decision to leave Florida.
“If you look at Bob’s track record, that was a big factor in my decision,” Martin said.
Martin also addressed his own reputation as a coach who stifles offence in favour of a trapping, defensive system.
“When I first started in Ottawa I was categorized as a defensive coach, but when I left the last five years in Ottawa we were one of the highest scoring teams,” Martin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a coach that stifled offensive ability.
“To me it’s all about the work ethic and commitment.”
Martin will meet with the Canadiens assistant coaches this week and then make a decision with Gainey whether any of Kirk Muller, Doug Jarvis or Don Lever will be retained. Gainey announced goaltending coach Roland Melanson was informed Sunday that he would not return with the club.
With Canadiens owner George Gillett exploring the possibility of selling his 80.1 per cent stake in the club, Gainey said the uncertainty surrounding the Canadiens ownership situation was no impediment to hiring Martin.
With a coach in place, Gainey said he could focus his attention on attacking the stable of 10 Canadiens players set to hit the unrestricted free-agent market July 1. Included are captain Saku Koivu, wingers Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev and defenceman Mike Komisarek.
“In my eyes, Mr. Gillett and his family and the Molson company are still the owners of the team and I’ve been given the authority to move ahead and prepare the team for next year,” Gainey said. “Putting the head coach in place allows me to speak more clearly to some of the players who are under contract with us and who we still have a month to see if we can sign them.”