The Montreal Canadiens began their offseason moves with a bang on Monday, as general manager Bob Gainey announced that the club has hired Jacques Martin as their new head coach.
Montreal will be Martin's fourth NHL stop as head coach after working for the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators and holding the head coach and general manager positions for the Florida Panthers. The Canadiens also announced that goaltending coach Roland Melanson would not be returning next season.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to join this organization," Martin told a news conference in Montreal. "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 move reunites Martin with assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier and head of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins from their time together with the Senators.
"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."
It also marks the first time since 1992-93 that the Canadiens have formally hired a coach with NHL experience. The team hired former Blues and Red Wings coach Jacques Demers that season, and have since hired first-timers Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau.
"It was a priority for me to find a head coach that had a lot of experience in all situations," explained Gainey. "Jacques has proven himself in all capacities as a coach and he understands this environment. I like his professionalism. He's a coach at heart, a teacher who is here work as team and bring people together."
The Canadiens were in the market for a new coach after the club fired Carbonneau in March. Gainey took over as interim head coach for the second time in his tenure with the club, guiding the team to an eighth-place finish and a first-round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
Martin spent five years with the Panthers after joining the club in May 2004 as the team's head coach. He served as the coach for three seasons and assumed the duties as general manager in 2006. Last May, Martin agreed to a contract extension to remain as general manager through the 2011-2012 season.
In three seasons as the Panthers' bench boss, he posted a 110-100-36 mark and stands as the club's all time leaders in wins and games coached.
In 2006, he became the 13th head coach in NHL history to record his 450th win and became only the 12th coach in NHL history to coach in his 1,000th NHL game in 2007. He ranks in the NHL's top 10 all-time coaching leaders with 1,098 games coached (eighth) and 517 wins (ninth). Prior to joining the Panthers, Martin guided the Senators to a 341-255-96 regular-season record in nine seasons. He is Ottawa's all-time leader in games coached (692), regular-season wins (341), playoff wins (31) and playoff games coached (69).
Under Martin, the Senators earned their first President's Trophy, posting a 52-21-8-1 mark in 2002-03. He also led Ottawa to its first trip to the Eastern Conference Final, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.
"I think he has a really good reputation from what I hear," Canadiens forward Georges Laraque told TSN on Monday. "He did really well in Ottawa and as GM in Florida and the people will be happy here (in Montreal) because he's bilingual."
The 2008-09 season marked the Canadiens' 100th anniversary and while they started well, it has to be considered a disappointment for the franchise. The team won seven of their first nine games in October. With the great beginning came talk of capturing a Stanley Cup to cap the Centennial season, but off-ice scandals, rumblings of in-fighting, goaltending issues and the coaching change all took a major toll on the team.
Montreal is facing a summer of questions, with several of the clubs bigger names - captain Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Mike Komisarek - among 10 regulars heading toward unrestricted free agency on July 1.
Last week, a Russian newspaper even reported the team offered Kovalev a new deal that would include being named captain and were prepared to let Koivu walk away.
With so many players potentially moving on, the duo of Martin and Gainey will have much to do when re-working the roster before the start of the 2009-10 season.
Note: On June 1, 1988 Pat Burns was named the 21st head coach in team history, replacing Jean Perron.