Sylvain Lefebvre’s firing clears path for Dominique Ducharme with Canadiens

Dominique Ducharme looks on from the Team Canada bench. (Mark Blinch/CP)

MONTREAL—The information conspicuously omitted from the Montreal Canadienspress release on Tuesday tells the entire story of why Sylvain Lefebvre was fired by the organization.

Here it is: Lefebvre’s record as head coach of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, St. John’s IceCaps and Laval Rocket was a shockingly bad 188-268. The amount of Calder Cup playoff appearances his teams made from 2012-18? One (swept in Round 1 of the 2017 playoffs).

Lefebvre’s coaching record in 2017-18? 24-52. The Rocket’s rank? 30th (or dead last in the AHL). Their final streak of the season? 0-10.

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Ooooffffaaaa! That Lefebvre lasted as long as six years in the position is the only shocker here.

“Challenges are extremely demanding as a head coach in the AHL,” said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin before adding “Sylvain and his group had to overcome several.”

Sure, there were times when the Canadiens had to deplete Lefebvre’s reserves to combat the injury bug in Montreal. They raided his cupboard and, at times, left it bare. They also gave him a couple of teams that just didn’t have the goods. And it must be noted that a big portion of his mandate was to graduate players to the NHL, which was something he was moderately successful in doing.

But none of that excuses Lefebvre’s abysmal record. The results were never there. So waiting any longer to address the situation would’ve smacked of indifference. And we know the Canadiens—coming out of a catastrophic season—could least afford to come across as indifferent.

So Tuesday’s decision was entirely predictable, and what comes next might not be too difficult to handicap either.

Though we can’t say with any certainty that Dominique Ducharme will be hired to run the Rocket in short order, we have to think the opportunity will inevitably arrive at his doorstep if it hasn’t already.

Joel Bouchard, who is the president and general manager of the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, will be the subject of speculation, too. But Ducharme, who won silver and gold, respectively, as Canada’s head coach in the last two World Junior Championship tournaments, just wrapped up his season as coach of the Q’s Drummondville Voltigeurs and seems like a perfect fit.

Pedigree? Check.

Capable of communicating in both of Canada’s official languages? Check.

Capable of eventually ascending to the NHL? That has to be the endgame here.

It never seemed like a real possibility for Lefebvre. He wasn’t even considered as a potential replacement for Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who was fired and replaced by Claude Julien on Feb. 14, 2017. But it must be the draw for someone like Ducharme, who has paid his dues and has been steadily rising through the coaching ranks since taking over his hometown Joliette Action in the Quebec Junior AAA League in 2004.

In 2008, Ducharme accepted an assistant coaching position with the Q’s now-defunct Montreal Junior. And then it was on to Halifax, where he quickly impressed and eventually won championships and was awarded Coach of the Year honours in 2013.

Ducharme worked his way up the chain with Hockey Canada, too. He started as an assistant coach for Team Quebec at the 2011 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge and moved up to be an assistant coach for Canada in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament. He was finally named head coach of the national junior team in 2017.

It’s an impressive resume, and Ducharme’s ambition to get to the top has to be appealing to the Canadiens.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

If they’re to get with the times while remaining true to their commitment to having a coach who can communicate with the fans both in French and in English, grooming one within the organization has become a necessity. It’s not as if great, French-speaking coaches are in abundance, willing and—most importantly—ready to take on all that comes with the job in Montreal.

What was clear about Lefebvre over his entire time with the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate was that he was anything but great.

And if assistants Nick Carriere, Donald Dufresne and Marco Marciano were doing an impeccable job, their positions wouldn’t be hanging in the balance. Their statuses, according to Bergevin, “will be determined once the selection process of a new head coach is completed.”

Don’t be surprised to see some, if not all of them joining Lefebvre on the sidelines. After all, the results speak for themselves.

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