MONTREAL — Jacques Martin has paid the price for the Montreal Canadiens’ poor season.
The Canadiens fired their head coach, announcing assistant Randy Cunneyworth will be the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Larry Carriere, Montreal’s assistant general manager, will become an assistant coach.
The Canadiens (13-12-7) are last in the Northeast Division.
Martin was in his third season with the Habs and 17th in the NHL. He reached his 600th NHL career victory last April making him the ninth winningest coach in league history.
Martin is known for team play and careful defensive hockey, but there were many careless mistakes made in games this season. The Canadiens are 5-6-6 at home, often blowing leads in the third period.
"What system is in place doesn’t matter if everyone buys in and plays the right way," said defenceman Josh Gorges. "If you only have half the guys doing what’s asked of them, everything is in disarray and I think that’s where we got to.
"We weren’t playing together and doing the things we need to do to win. And consequently we lost games we shouldn’t have lost and changes needed to be made."
"The bottom line is winning games — we weren’t winning and changes happen," said defenceman Hal Gill. "I don’t think it was about losing the room or anything like that."
In Cunneyworth, the Canadiens get a younger, more tech-savvy coach, although one who is not expected to make major changes to the team’s system. Cunneyworth was promoted to the NHL club along with assistant Randy Ladouceur after coaching their AHL farm team in Hamilton last season.
Martin joined the Canadiens in 2009-10 and took them on an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to Philadelphia. The Habs reached the playoffs the following year but bowed out in the first round.
Before joining the Canadiens, the 59-year-old spent five seasons coaching the Florida Panthers and before that nine seasons as head coach of Ottawa, where he left as the all-time leader in regular-season wins (341), playoff wins (31) and games (692).
Known for his defence-first philosophy, Martin led the Senators to its first President’s Trophy in the 2002-03 season.
He also won the NHL coach of the year in 1998-99 and was part of Team Canada’s gold medal triumph at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games.
There were hints of tension between Martin and Pierre Gauthier. After a poor start, Martin’s closest ally Perry Pearn was fired just before a game on Oct. 26.
But Martin’s firing was a surprise to the public and the players.
"When we are where we are and expect to be a better team than we’ve been, you definitely are aware there might be changes," said forward Michael Cammalleri. "For it to be Jacques was somewhat surprising.
"We’re in 11th place, that’s what went wrong. I think Jacques was still trying to work on thing and improve the team. I don’t think there was anyone not listening to him."
Do you think firing Jacques Martin is the right move by the Montreal Canadiens?