MONTREAL — You can hold an endless debate on whether or not Michel Therrien deserves to return as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens next season. But there’s one thing you can’t deny: general manager Marc Bergevin has no incentive to guarantee Therrien’s job before he explores all options this summer.
A report from TVA’s Renaud Lavoie — that people within the Canadiens organization see no reason Therrien and his staff won’t return next season — has generated a frenzied response from the team’s fans.
But Bergevin said this to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and reporters covering the GM meetings this week: “don’t believe everything you hear,” before adding he wouldn’t comment on the report.
When Therrien was asked Tuesday morning about whether or not he could confirm he’s been told his job is secure, the coach said he hadn’t had any conversations with Bergevin to that effect.
If Bergevin has proven anything this season, it’s that he’s a man of his word. On Jan. 21, Bergevin met with reporters to pledge his allegiance to Therrien and his staff. When pressed further, he said he was willing to go as far as to guarantee their jobs through the end of the season no matter what happened in between.
He’s kept his promise.
Therrien has led the Canadiens to just 14 wins in their last 44 games, but he’s been deprived of MVP goaltender Carey Price for all of them. Plus, Montreal’s injured reserve list has more regulars on it than their current lineup sheet does.
Bergevin, when he defended him in January, described Therrien as a “foxhole guy” you want beside you in a fight. He hasn’t abandoned him.
But guaranteeing Therrien’s job through the summer is a promise Bergevin can’t necessarily keep, especially if a more viable option becomes available. There are two men — Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher — who currently have the prerequisites for the job. Both of them speak French, both have NHL experience, and both are actively seeking employment.
The French issue can’t be overlooked. Crawford was in the running for a job with the Canadiens four years ago when Bergevin sought to replace Jacques Martin.
“We went through an extensive interviewing process,” Crawford told Sportsnet Tuesday afternoon. “It’s no secret I really wanted the job.”
Crawford learned French to take on the head coaching job of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994. He had rededicated himself to the process in 2012 before interviewing with the Canadiens, going as far as to hire a tutor in the lead up to discussions with Bergevin.
“I actually got pretty good within the span of a month,” Crawford said. “I had a base and I improved. I was dedicated to continuing to improve.”
But Crawford couldn’t confirm whether or not his rudimentary grasp of the language dissuaded Bergevin from hiring him in 2012.
“Over the last four years in Zurich [Switzerland], my French has only improved,” said Crawford. “You can speak French here because a lot of the people speak French, and I don’t speak very good German.”
Crawford also said his most recent experience has turned him into a better coach. Bergevin would be wise to revisit Crawford’s passion, his language skills and his coaching ability.
"I want to be a head coach in the NHL. I'm very hungry to do that. That's my main focus. But I'm certainly willing to be an asst."–Crawford
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) March 15, 2016
Boucher doesn’t need French lessons but there are questions about whether or not Bergevin would be interested in the type of tactics — the one-three-one trap — he employed when he coached the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010-2013. And sources close to the Bergevin say Boucher’s strong personality might not be a match.
Bergevin won’t know for sure unless he sits down with Boucher and closely assesses the situation.
The Canadiens’ GM might not be inclined to go with Crawford or Boucher but what if one of Montreal’s former head coaches becomes available on the market this summer? He can’t turn his back on the opportunity to at least consider what Alain Vigneault or Claude Julien could offer, if either one of them (or both) fell out of favour with their respective teams.
Vigneault and Julien, who both have tremendous pedigrees, would attract a lot of interest on the open market. The idea of them remaining available in-season is practically unfathomable. Crawford and Boucher won’t just wait for an opportunity in Montreal only to end up without a chair when the music stops.
If Bergevin commits to Therrien now, puts him on a short leash next season, and ends up having to fire him at the first sign of trouble, the options will be more limited than they already are.
“I’m not happy with our situation and we’re going to evaluate everything,” Bergevin told Lavoie Monday.
He’s best served to keep his word on that.