Habs bid Carbo adieu

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

In what would be his final game as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Guy Carbonneau probably did not notice the large banner pressed up against the glass behind the Habs bench in Dallas Sunday.

"Should he stay or should he go? Carbo-YES or Carbonneau?" blared the banner.

General manager Bob Gainey wasted little time in providing the answer.

Less than 24 hours after the Canadiens defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1, Gainey dropped the axe on Carbonneau yesterday in The Firing Heard 'Round La Belle Province.

There is no doubt the Canadiens were underachieving under Carbonneau. In fact, within hours of the announcement, stories were being leaked throughout Montreal concerning players who questioned Carbonneau's lack of communication skills, his strategic tactics and his ability to motivate.

Carbonneau had an abrasive side, sure.

Back in 1994, while playing golf with Patrick Roy and Vincent Damphousse, he flipped the finger at a nosy photographer who was loitering on the 18th hole. The next day the image was splattered all over the front pages of the Montreal dailies.

Soon after that, Carbonneau was shipped to St. Louis.

This time around, during his tenure as Canadiens head coach, there were examples of Carbonneau and Gainey rubbing each other the wrong way.

Remember when the team came out of 2007 training camp? Carbonneau wanted young goaltending prospect Carey Price to start the season with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. Gainey didn't.

Guess who won that battle of wills?

Bob Gainey.

The same Bob Gainey who pulled the trigger on Carbonneau yesterday.

The same Bob Gainey who takes over as interim head coach.

And the same Bob Gainey who had better lead this team deep into the playoffs.

Otherwise, he might be following Carbonneau to the unemployment line.

"The last eight weeks of performance have been below average, and I believe a change in direction at ice level is necessary," Gainey said at a press conference last night.

"There were certain games when I had a real confusion about the overall ... it showed up as effort, but I felt like it was emotional engagement to the game. Our team (did) not seem to be emotionally engaged.

Several weeks after claiming his hiring of Carbonneau was the best move he'd made as GM, Gainey gave the boot to the man he'd praised, partially because the team entered play yesterday just two points ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

But this move was about much more than Carbonneau.

It was about a season of hope and celebration gone bad, so much so that Gainey was forced to make a desperation move in order to salvage it.

This was supposed to be a season of triumph in Montreal, a 12-month party to celebrate the 100th birthday of hockey's most storied franchise.

Instead, it developed a rotten flavour the moment Gainey could not woo Mats Sundin to Montreal during the week leading to the opening of free agency July 1.

Cue the PR nightmare in Montreal.

One by one the headaches came. Price stopped winning. Photos of the young goalie smoking a butt in a party-like situation sprung up all over the internet. Enigmatic winger Alexei Kovalev was told to stay home from a road trip. And when the Kostitsyn brothers, along with Roman Hamrlik, were found associating with a seedy character who was under surveillance by police, enough was enough.

Gainey has qualified assistants in Kirk Muller and Doug Jarvis who could easily have taken over. Yet, while retaining those two and adding Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever to the staff, Gainey still opted to go behind the bench himself.

Maybe Gainey knows something.

Maybe he feels pressure from ownership, which can't be thrilled with the way the image of Les Glorieux has been stained in recent months.

Either way, all signs point to Gainey's actions as those of a man who maybe, just maybe, knows his job is on the line too.


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