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WHAT THE PUCK: Canadiens coaching tree spreads its roots

 Head coach Michel Therrien and Montreal Canadiens forward Doug Gilmour are up in arms on Jan. 30, 2002.
Head coach Michel Therrien and Montreal Canadiens forward Doug Gilmour are up in arms on Jan. 30, 2002. JOHN MAHONEY/GAZETTE

Two of the Canadiens’ Eastern Conference rivals are going to have a real franco flavour to their off-ice staff.

On Sunday, Renaud Lavoie from TVA Sports reported that the Philadelphia Flyers will announce early this week that the team will be hiring Michel Therrien as assistant coach, working alongside head coach Alain Vigneault. Both are former Habs head coaches and, in fact, Therrien was coach of the Canadiens on two separate occasions.

Then on Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that the team has appointed former Montreal Canadiens (and Lightning) player Mathieu Darche to be head of hockey operations, working under vice-president and general manager Julien Brisebois.

The two teams have some high-profile francophone talent working for them even though they don’t live in the same universe as the Canadiens, where in recent years it has become essential that the general manager and the head coach at the very least speak French. I don’t want to weigh into that debate again today, though I am on record as saying I think the Habs should be hiring the best GM and coach available, not the best GM and coach who speak the language of Lafleur.

But let’s leave that smouldering cauldron aside for the moment. It’s a purely hypothetical debate in any case because owner and president Geoff Molson is clearly not about to deviate from that philosophy any time soon. A more pertinent question might be whether or not Montreal ended up with the best francophone coach and GM. I don’t know the answer to the question, but it sure is an intriguing debate.

In an ideal universe, who would you rather have behind the Canadiens’ bench, Vigneault or the current bench boss Claude Julien? I think many of us would probably go with Vigneault and, of course, I know he wasn’t available when the Canadiens changed coaches in February 2017.

Longtime readers of this column know that I was never much of a fan of Therrien when he was doing his second run as coach ici. And when he was fired on Feb. 14, 2017, I figured he probably wouldn’t coach again in the National Hockey League. He is back in the game, albeit as an assistant coach for the first time in the NHL.

Someone quipped somewhere on social media to say that clearly the Flyers aren’t interested in developing young players and that was the well-deserved knock on Therrien. The other weird thing is that the common wisdom is the head coach is, in theory, the bad cop and the assistant is the good cop. And anyone who thinks Therrien can do his best Colm Feore imitation — Bon Cop Bad Cop joke alert! — and be the nice guy has clearly never watched a Therrien post-game news conference. You know the ones, where Therrien looks at the journalists with a strange mix of rage and loathing.

So I’m surprised by the hiring. We are clearly living a new era of coaching in the NHL and fact is that neither Therrien nor Julien are particularly well-suited to that reality. The bottom line was that in spite of his inability to deal with young players and anyone with star quality, Therrien got a lot out of some pretty average Habs team between 2012 and 2017. When he was fired, he had a record of 31-19-8 that season. We all know he was thrown overboard at that moment because Julien had just been let go by the Bruins. (See discussion above about the French thing.) When a francophone coach became available, the Habs jumped.

I’m happy to see Darche nab a top job in the Tampa organization. Darche is a great guy and a smart guy, so it’s cool to see him get this chance. But, oh my, do Darche and BriseBois have a challenge in front of them. The have to figure out what to do with a team that romped its way through the regular season and was then swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.

What happens with Tampa will also feed the long-running debate as to whether BriseBois would’ve been a good fit as GM of the Canadiens.

BriseBois toiled for the Habs from 2001 to 2010, starting as head of legal affairs and eventually landing the gig as vice-president (hockey operations). If he can figure out how to fix the Bolts, that’ll cement his reputation and have us grumpy Habs fans grumbling even more about Canadiens’ management.

bkelly@postmedia.com

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