Canadiens GM 'sorry' for hiring Cunneyworth

Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier speaks to the media in Brossard, Que., Jan. 2, 2012. (BEN...

Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier speaks to the media in Brossard, Que., Jan. 2, 2012. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:36 PM ET

BROSSARD, QUE. - Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier seems to have changed his tune.

Just two weeks after defending his choice of unilingual Anglophone Randy Cunneyworth as the replacement for fired Jacques Martin, Gauthier apologized for creating such a fuss in the French-speaking media.

"We're disappointed and we're sorry if we offended anybody by hiring someone who is not bilingual right now, but when you're in the middle of a season and you're trying to effect change and you're having the difficulties we were having, you evaluate all your options.," Gauthier said Monday during his mid-season press conference. "We felt the best option at this time was to work from within the organization."

Last month, when Gauthier fired Martin and promoted Cunneyworth, who was an assistant coach, many in the media, particularly on the French-speaking side, questioned Cunneyworth's ability to communicate with the fans. But Gauthier was was defiant as the furor around him grew, saying a language could be learned.

Clearly, he thinks differently now. And his about-face has the backing of Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, who outlined in an open letter to fans that hiring a bilingual coach would be a "very important factor" in hiring the team's next coach.

"What will happen in the future, at the end of the season, is that we will re-evaluate the whole file," Gauthier said. "As Molson said in his communique a week ago, it's very important to us that our head coach be bilingual. So that will be part of our decision at that point."

Gauthier also reiterated Monday that Cunneyworth was hired on an interim basis and his status would be looked at when the season ended, words that would appear to cut the legs from under him. The Canadiens have won just one of seven games with Cunneyworth calling the shots, adding fuel to the fire.

Now Gauthier is on the hot seat.

Although he says he isn't worried about his own job, the reality is the Canadiens are 14-18-7 on the season and sit 13th in the Eastern Conference. If the Habs expect to make the playoffs, they need to make a move now, he said.

"We have 11 of the next 15 games at home," Gauthier said. "We have to use this stretch to get back on the right track. Our fans deserve better."

If he stays employed, Gauthier will have his work cut out for him between now and July.

A number of key players, including goaltender Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban, will become free agents in the off-season. Re-signing them is a priority.

"We have the intention to keep our young players like Carey Price and P.K. Subban in our organization long-term," he confirmed. "We also have the resources to do it."

Gauthier made sure defenceman Josh Gorges wouldn't go on the market, signing him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract extension Sunday.

"I don't think it's Pierre Gauthier's usual way to sign guys during the season but it's more of an extension of negotiations from the summertime," Gorges said. "I said right from the start this is where I want to be."

With Gorges' $3.9 million cap hit, the Canadiens have more than $45 million committed to just 13 players.


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