After getting off to their worst start in 70 years with a 1-5-2 record, most NHL fans figured the Montreal Canadiens had recovered well enough with their 13-12-7 record just a week before Christmas. They were in 11th place in the league’s Eastern Conference in Dec. 17, but were only two points out of a playoff position.
However, general manager Pierre Gauthier wasn’t satisfied with the team’s performance and fired 59-year-old coach Jacques Martin, replacing him with 50-year-old Randy Cunneyworth, one of his assistant coaches. Gauthier then sent assistant general manager Larry Carriere down behind the bench to assist his new head coach. Gauthier and Martin had worked together previously with the Ottawa Senators in the mid 1990s.
Martin had previously coached the St. Louis Blues for two seasons starting in 1986/87 then headed to Ottawa for a nine-year stint. After that he joined the Florida Panthers for three years, but missed the playoffs each season. He was hired by Montreal before the 2009/10 season got underway and led the club to the Eastern Conference Finals during his first season and a playoff berth last year. He left the Canadiens with a 97-75-25 record in his two years with the club.
Martin escaped a bullet earlier on this season when Gauthier fired his assistant Perry Pearn in late October. The team then won four games in a row and seemed to have turned the corner. However, in their last 12 games under Martin they only won four of them with a record of 4-4-4 and struggled at home where they were just 5-6-6.
Several Canadiens players said Martin wasn’t to blame for the team’s woes and the squad has to play a lot better if they’re going to make the playoffs. They felt his firing was a message to the players that they’re underachieving. The team has been without its best defenseman all season as Andrei Markov is recovering from knee surgery. They added defenseman Tomas Kaberle from Carolina to help out and he had five points in three games with Montreal at the time of Martin’s firing.
Cunneyworth played over 800 NHL games for six different teams in his career and then got into head coaching in the American Hockey League (AHL). His first NHL coaching stint was as an assistant with the former Atlanta Thrashers for two years. He then returned to the AHL and took over as head coach for the Hamilton Bulldogs, who are affiliated with the Canadiens. He joined Montreal this season as one of Martin’s assistants.
Cunneyworth is known around the league for his fondness of using video as a coaching tool and most Canadiens players believe that will continue now he’s the team’s head coach. Martin was known as a defensive coach and most NHL insiders felt he wasn’t utilizing his team’s speed and skill with his tactics. Carriere, who will now assist Cunneyworth, has about 40 years of NHL experience under his belt, but none of it is in the coaching department.