The Canadiens finished admirably last season, losing a close seven-game-overtime series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. The team had some glaring issues heading into the 2011-2012 season, but failed to address many of them.
Eric Cole was acquired via free agency to add some size and scoring up front. Defenseman Chris Campoli was signed to a one year contract, to fill a void on defense left by the injured Andrei Markov. General Manager Pierre Gauthier stopped there and failed to fully address the team’s defensive problems.
Not surprisingly, the Canadiens started the season poorly, posting a 1-5-2 record through Oct. 24. In an effort to help satisfy Montreal’s fans’ concern, Gauthier dismissed assistant Coach Perry Pearn mere hours prior to a game on Oct. 26. Pearn is a respected member of the hockey community and the firing sparked widespread criticism.
The team seemed to respond to the firing, winning four straight games, but quickly faded back into mediocrity. By Dec. 17 the continued public outcry for change in Montreal caused Gauthier to sacrifice another innocent, firing head coach Jacques Martin just before a home game against the Devils. Martin was in his third season with the Habs and earned a 96-75-25 record in 196 regular season games with the team.
The firing was not very surprising, but many in the media posed the question: should it have been Martin or Gauthier getting the axe?
Gauthier immediately named assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth interim-head coach. The firing occurred directly before the game, making it impossible for Cunneyworth to address the media. This may seem like a non-issue, but the fact that Cunneyworth became the first only-English-speaking coach in Montreal since 1971 is still a major problem in Quebec. Had Cunneyworth been able to address the situation, he could have explained that he did indeed plan to learn French, as Marc Crawford had done when he coached the Nordiques.
Following a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 10, forward Mike Cammalleri was reported to have said that the team loses because they “play like losers.” Cammalleri said later that the quote was taken out of context and that what he meant was that the team needed an attitude adjustment if they planned on picking themselves up.
Gauthier decided to ignore one of the team’s most important leaders’ concerns and instead adjusted Cammalleri’s residence by trading him to Calgary, during a game against the Boston Bruins. Montreal still remains last in wins in the Northeast Division since the trade.
Since Gauthier’s hiring, Montreal has quickly dug themselves into a massive hole, but not all of the blame can be placed at the GM’s feet. There are a number of major issues facing the organization, young–gun P.K. Subban’s antics playing no small part. Montreal will not make the playoffs this year, and by then it will be ownership’s turn to deal with the fallout.