Habs get dull and duller

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The list of candidates to coach the Montreal Canadiens is, by its political nature, always a short one.

The guy has to be bilingual.

Jacques Martin, a St. Pascal native and former Senators coach who became the Canadiens' newest bench boss yesterday, passes the test.

Now the Habs have a coach who can be dull in both official languages.

That was always the knock on Martin and his teams when he coached the Senators here from 1996-2004.

Really, whether a guy is colourful and entertaining in his daily media scrums shouldn't matter that much. How his teams do on the ice should be all that matters, right?

But don't underestimate the importance of personality and the ability to cultivate relationships with the key media players in the Montreal market. Martin knows his stuff on the ice. You don't rack up 517 victories without knowing your way around a whiteboard.

(Just as an aside, which probably best summed up Martin's career in Ottawa: In his stats, it mentions he is the Senators' all-time leader in playoff wins (31) and playoff games coached (69). Do the math.)

Dealing with the media -- especially in Montreal -- is an important part of the job.

I remember a prominent Quebecois columnist -- an influential guy -- greasing the skids under Claude Julien when he was coaching the Habs because he wasn't "telegenetic." It didn't matter that Julien had the Canadiens playing well, it apparently mattered that he didn't look good -- according to that columnist -- while doing it.

That's Montreal for you.

Martin always looked like a guy given the job of cleaning out a Port-O-Let when it came time to deal with the media (though the way this business has gone the last few years, a lot of people probably agree with him).

It will be interesting to see how Martin's style -- on and off the ice -- plays in a city where it has often not been enough just to win, you had to do it with panache.

"When I started in Ottawa I was categorized as a defensive coach," said Martin yesterday after being introduced by Habs GM Bob Gainey, "but when I left, they were one of the highest-scoring teams."

True.

NOT ENOUGH FORECHECKING

But I was always left to wonder how many more goals and how much more success the team might have been capable of had it forechecked more often with two players. Did the Senators score all those goals because of Martin or in spite of him? Was playing a defensive style the best way to go when you had offensive teams and almost always lost -- on paper, anyway -- the goaltending matchup?

"I shudder when I think of the style (Martin's) teams played in Ottawa," said Gainey. "They were always in our zone. It was a pretty good style for them. Not so good for us."

So Gainey has gone about assembling the Senators East. Assistant GM Pierre Gauthier, director of player development Trevor Timmins and amateur scout Frank Jay are all ex-members of the Senators organization.

When asked if he was trying to recreate the Senators, Gainey replied: "Just their record from a few years ago."

Gainey approached the Florida Panthers about letting Martin out of the last couple of years of his deal as GM a couple of weeks ago. After failing to make the playoffs in the five years he was there as coach, then as coach and GM, then as GM, yesterday's developments reveal the Panthers obviously had little interest in keeping him.

After last season's Habs' Centennial celebration disintegrated into a quagmire of an on-ice collapse and a torrent of off-ice rumours and innuendo -- and now the owner is letting everybody kick the tires -- the Canadiens are badly in need of stability and structure.

Martin, the first coach with NHL experience the Habs have hired since Jacques Demers (Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Julien and Guy Carbonneau were all rookies) will give them that.

That's probably more important to a reeling Canadiens organization right now than a colourful quote.


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