The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful franchise in NHL history with a total of 24 Stanley Cup championships. But they’ve been making headlines this season for all the wrong reasons. The team is struggling on the ice with a 14-18-7 record, good for just 13th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference and nine points out of the last playoff spot.
Along with their poor performance on the ice the club has also been a mess off of it. Coach Jacques Martin was fired a week before Christmas and replaced by assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth. The team hasn’t improved one iota under the new coach with just one win in his first seven games behind the bench. The fans and media are in an uproar, but not due to the team’s record, they’re furious that the Canadiens hired a head coach who can’t speak French.
It now appears that Cunneyworth’s days in charge of the squad are numbered since general manager Pierre Gauthier has caved into the pressure and thrown his coach under the bus. Gauthier has apologized to the press and fans for hiring a coach who can speak English only. Gauthier released a statement that said the club’s disappointed and sorry if it offended anybody due to hiring somebody who isn’t bilingual, being able to speak English and French.
He added that the team was performing poorly on the ice and thought promoting Cunneyworth into the head coaching position was the right thing to do at the time, but now realizes the organization has made a mistake. Gauthier has changed his tune quite a bit over the past few weeks since he defended Cunneyworth when he was promoted, saying his new coach could easily learn French.
Geoff Molson, the franchise owner, has also let Cunneyworth down by writing an open letter to the team’s fans. Molson wrote that the next coach hired by the team will definitely be able to speak French. Molson added that the whole situation will be reviewed at the conclusion of the season, so, unless Cunneyworth can master the language in the next month or two it looks like he’s out of a job.
Gauthier attempted to defend himself by reiterating that Cunneyworth was given the job on a purely interim basis. However, his own job could and should be in jeopardy now due to the team’s terrible showing and the furor created by the Cunneyworth situation. He’s in a no-win situation since the pro-Cunneyworth supporters are upset with the way the coach has been hung out to dry and the French-speaking fans are angry he was hired in the first place.
The Canadiens play 11 of their first 15 contests in the New Year at home and those games will likely decide whether they make the playoffs or not. Gauthier will also be faced with a lot of contract work since several of his top players are free agents at the end of the season, including defenseman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price.