The NHL Coach Farm Team

An interesting post is up at Eyes on the Prize. Robert L recommends that fans have patience with Coach Carbonneau.

When questions arise about the competency of Canadiens' coaching, the club's recent history of head coaches looms large. There are a couple of noteworthy observations:

- In the last decade, the team has hired four consecutive rookie head coaches.
- In the last fifteen years, every head coach has had a francophone name.

The francophone thing is simply a reality of the Montreal market. The political climate dictates that not only must a coach be fluently bilingual, but his mother tongue must be French. The fluently bilingual Pat Burns was hired back in 1988. I strongly doubt that a rookie head coach with a name like 'Pat Burns' would ever be hired nowadays. It wouldn't matter if his mother tongue was french or if he could speak like Gérard Depardieu. It's an unfortunate limitation for the organization, but c'est la vie. What are you gonna do.

The francophone requirement informs the hiring oddity noted in the first observation. In a competitive endeavour, when you hold yourself to a constraint to which your direct competition is not held, you are at a disadvantage. There just aren't as many good options available. That's why we've seen a series of coaches with zero NHL head coaching experience upon their arrival. To be sure, good coaches are out there that fit the constraint (Lemaire, Jacques Martin), but there are many more that don't. If this were the Hamilton Canadians, the string of Vigneault-Therrien-Julien-Carbonneau would not have evolved. One would have to think that a good, veteran non-francophone coach would have broken in at some point.

I'm not saying that Vigneault, Therrien, or Julien are bad coaches. Au contraire. The Canucks, Penguins and Bruins obviously think highly of them. The thing is, these guys had to cut their teeth in Montreal. They were fired from the Canadiens, presumably for a perceived lack of performance. If there was a lack of performance, how much of it could have been attributed to inexperience? It looks like these guys learned from their mistakes.

On to Carbonneau. Back in 2003 when Bob Gainey jumped back into the biz, he inherited Claude Julien as head coach. Gainey was patient and waited a season and a half before canning Julien. His record over that time was 60-46-7-10. Gainey filled in as interim coach for the remainder of the 05-06 season bringing with him Carbonneau as an assistant. Gainey stated openly that 'his man' Carbo was being groomed for the head coach position starting 06-07.

Carbonneau's qualifications at the time? He spent two seasons as an Assistant Coach behind Michel Therrien in Montreal. Then he was hired by Gainey as Assistant GM in Dallas, a title he held until Julien was fired in 2006. To summarize, he had accumulated 2.5 years of experience as an Assistant Coach at the NHL level and zero as a Head Coach anywhere prior to his Head Coaching job with the Habs.

When Claude Julien was hired, he had spent 2.5 years as Head Coach in Hamilton, plus four as coach of the QMJHL Olympiques. Therrien was a Head Coach for four seasons in the AHL and another four in the Q. Vigneault spent 7.5 years as Head Coach in the Q, and another 3.5 as an assistant with the Senators.

One of these things is not like the others. Yes, the Habs have introduced four cookierookie coaches in the last ten years. Yes, all four currently hold NHL Head Coaching jobs. Three had accumulated extensive head coach experience before their hiring. One had not. Carbonneau's pedigree makes one wonder whether he will learn from his mistakes and become a better coach.

There is evidence to suggest that Carbo's not exactly doing a bang-up job (see below). I won't get into it in this post because I have a feeling that pretty much everything I have to say in this space will, in some way, comment on Carbonneau's performance.

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Anonymous olibou said...

I think you misjudge the french thing. Let's see:

1- It's not politics, it's marketing. The habs aren't marketed to the Montréal market, but to the Québec market, wich is 80% french. The coach is a mediatic figure. He *needs* to speak french. It's a promotional necessity. I know it's tempting to always bring it back to politics (heck, Réjean Tremblay keeps doing it!), but it's simple marketing.

2- Who cares about the guy's name? Let's say they fire Carbonneau and hire Bob Hartley; I don't think anyone will think ill of it because the guy's name is english. Hell, the Nordiques hired Marc Crawford, whose french was perfectly acceptable but still heavily accented, and nobody tought ill of it; they were beating the crap of everyone anyway (during the regular season that is)...

3- Hopefully Carbonneau will learn on the job. If he doesn't, Gainey is probably gone too, so...

Again, toughtfull post. Keep it up!

12/11/2007 3:15 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff J said...

To me (and this is just semantics), politics and marketing are essentially the same thing. And I completely agree that the coach needs to speak French. It comes with the territory. I wonder how much money it would take to lure Jacques Lemaire back...

Sure, historically there were anglos - Bob Berry, Toe Blake - but I think things are different now. Personally, I'd be shocked if they hired an anglo from Ontario these days (even Bob Hartley), no matter how fluently he could speak French.

12/11/2007 3:39 p.m.  

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