The Montreal Canadiens announced yesterday (April 17th) that Sylvain Lefebvre was relieved of his duties as head coach of the AHL Laval Rocket. The move was overdue, as Lefebvre failed to impress in any capacity as coach of the Habs farm team. As soon as the firing was announced, speculation began about his possible replacement. With Lefebvre gone, someone needs to fill the role. The Canadiens need to find a new Laval Rocket head coach.
Montreal Canadiens Top Candidates For New Laval Rocket Head Coach
Many felt that the move to relieve Sylvain Lefebvre of his duties was long overdue. His track record is not exactly something to be proud of. With six season’s as the head coach of the Canadiens top AHL affiliate, Sylvain Lefebvre has only one playoff appearance to show for himself. Lefebvre and the Rocket just wrapped up another disastrous season. They finished dead last in the entire AHL, with a 24-42-7-3 record and 58 points. While this season’s woes can’t be completely put on Lefebvre’s shoulders, his overall performance has left little doubt that he is right for the job. Perhaps even more damning than his record and team play, was his overall inability to develop and graduate players to the NHL level.
During his tenure, only Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Sven Andrighetto have developed into everyday NHL players. Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak, and Jacob de La Rose seem to be on their way as well, but it could be a matter of their talent overcoming Lefebvre’s coaching. While an argument can be made about whether or not he had the best talent to develop, these numbers are simply not good enough.
Entering his most important offseason, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin‘s first important decision will be hiring a new Laval Rocket Head coach. He will undoubtedly be assembling a list of candidates to replace Lefebvre in Laval. It’s a move he can’t afford to screw up.
Even before Lefebvre’s firing, fans and media were clamouring for a change at the AHL level. The top name on everyone’s list was Drummondville Voltigeur head coach Dominique Ducharme. Most will know him as the head coach of Canada’s World Junior Championship teams for the past two years. He guided the team to two finals appearances and one gold medal.
Ducharme checks most of the boxes.
He has the pedigree. Along with his success with Canada, Ducharme was the head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads from 2011-2015. The team twice made it to the President’s Cup Semi-Finals (2011-12 and 2013-14). In 2012-13 Ducharme led the Mooseheads to an incredible 58-6-3-1 record, a President’s Cup championship and a Memorial Cup. Also, his familiarity with the QMJHL could give the Canadiens some insight into drafting. The Habs, for one reason or another, have struggled to cultivate talent from the junior league in their province.
Ducharme is comfortable speaking in both English and French, which is essential to the Canadiens. He is also only 45 years old. This means he can be groomed and grow into an NHL coach. Ducharme seems to be the heavy favourite for the job.
Another strong candidate is Manitoba Moose head coach Pascal Vincent. While he is not talked about as much as Ducharme, he would be an excellent choice as well. While his pedigree is not quite on the level of Ducharme, he still has an impressive resume.
He coached (and managed) in the QMJHL for 10 seasons (2001-2011) with Cape Breton and (the now defunct) Montreal Juniors. He won general manager of the year in 2007 and coach of the year in 2008. His teams made the playoffs in every season, although he was never able to win a President’s Cup. He has NHL experience as he served as an assistant with the Winnipeg Jets for five seasons (2011-12 to 2015-16). He also has AHL experience as he has been the head coach of the Jets AHL affiliate in Manitoba for the past two seasons.
Vincent also speaks both English and French, so communication won’t be an issue. He is also a Laval native, so it would be a homecoming for the coach. The slight edge he has on Ducharme would be his experience as a coach at the professional level. While still only 46, Vincent’s experience would make him better equipped to take over at the NHL level quicker. His ties to the Winnipeg Jets organization makes his hire a bit more complicated. He might also be a hot commodity among open NHL coaching jobs.
Joel Bouchard is the current head coach, general manager and president of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. While not quite as ‘sexy’ a name as the other two, he deserves some consideration.
Since taking control of the team in 2011 (then Montreal Juniors, which he moved to Blainville-Boisbriand) the Armada have become one of the most successful franchises in the “Q”. While never winning the President’s Cup, the Armada have never missed the playoffs. Currently, Bouchard has led the team to a 50-11-4-3 record, the top team in the league. They are currently about to begin their President’s Cup Semi-Final series, against Charlettown.
Again, Bouchard is very comfortable speaking in both French and English. He is also quite media savvy as he was an analyst for RDS during their Montreal Canadiens broadcasts. He also played for the better part of 14 seasons at the professional level, bouncing between the AHL and NHL. Bouchard has less coaching experience than Vincent or Ducharme, but he has found quite a bit of success. At 44, he can really cut his teeth and be groomed at the professional level, should he be hired. And, for those who know Montreal geography, Laval is an island off the North Shore of Montreal, where Blainville-Boisbriand is, so it wouldn’t be a far move. His deep involvement with the Armada, however, might prove to be a big hurdle. He is essentially everything to that team and he might not be interested in moving on.
Outside The Box
Most people who follow the Montreal Canadiens know the team has a hiring policy where the candidate must also speak French in order to better communicate with the media and fan base. But, what if they decided to forgo that requirement? It opens up possibilities, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, the likeliness of that happening is extremely slim. Still, it would be fun if the Habs considered someone outside the box.
This one is a long shot to be sure. Currently the head coach of the Toronto Marlies, Keefe has been the Marlies coach since 2015. Since his hiring, the Marlies have made the playoffs in every season and been among the best teams in the AHL. Keefe has also helped develop some of the Leafs better players. He had a hand in developing Toronto regulars William Nylander, Connor Carrick, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman.
If the Habs could poach him, assuming they would be open to the idea, it would be a blow to a rival. Perhaps Keefe would be open to the idea as his road to the Maple Leafs job is blocked by Mike Babcock. Still, this would be highly unlikely to happen. Keefe probably has his eye on an NHL job. Even still he is unlikely interested in leaving his situation with the Marlies – especially for the mess in Laval.
Regardless of who the Canadiens pick as the new head coach of the Laval Rocket, they can’t afford to make a mistake. The Habs seem to have an issue drafting and developing their own players. When only three NHL regulars are graduated in six years, there is an issue. The Canadiens have a unique opportunity here to change the course of the team.
The Canadiens are seemingly stuck in an old mentality when it comes to hockey systems and development. Now with this opening, the Canadiens can affect a shift in their organizational philosophy. Bringing in the right coach to develop and cultivate talent and the AHL level will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the NHL team. It’s also important that the coach be able to develop and grow with the players. Should the Canadians feel the need to make a coaching change at the NHL level, it’s always a good idea to have the next coach in the system for a smooth transition.