MONTREAL — The struggling Montreal Canadiens have fired general manager Pierre Gauthier and parted ways with franchise icon Bob Gainey, saying the direction of the storied franchise had to change.
The NHL team announced the Gauthier firing first in a terse statement, ahead of an 11:45 a.m. ET news conference with owner Geoff Molson.
Gainey, whom Gauthier succeeded as GM, is also leaving his role as a team adviser, Molson told the news conference. Gainey and Gauthier are longtime friends.
Serge Sarvard, another Habs icon, will serve as an adviser to Molson in the search for a new GM.
Molson praised the Canadiens’ fans and spoke about restoring the team to its former glory, pointing to a stockpile of draft picks and promises of acquiring new talent.
“We need to remember that our fans want us to win, period,” Molson said. “Our organizational culture is to support and adopt this passion for victory. Nothing else matters.”
Gauthier paid the price for a 29-34-14 season that has the Habs languishing in the Eastern Conference basement.
“Everyone in this organization, including our players, expected better,” Molson said.
The Canadiens’ standard is to reach the top, not just make the playoffs, he said.
A string of moves this season did not revive the battered Canadiens.
Gauthier fired assistant coach Perry Pearn and then head coach Jacques Martin in mid-December, only to find himself in even hotter water for appointing the unilingual Randy Cunneyworth as interim coach.
With protests from some Quebec nationalist groups and an ongoing controversy in the media, Gauthier elected to apologize and promise there will be a French-speaking coach behind the bench next season.
The Habs have reeled with injuries and sub-par performances.
In February, Molson resorted to Twitter to deny rumours during the season that Gauthier too had been axed.
“Rumours of Pierre Gauthier’s firing are false,” he tweeted.
Rumours had been swirling in local media and online that Gauthier was no longer calling the shots.
Gauthier was named GM and executive vice-president in February 2010, taking over from Gainey.
He joined the organization in July 2003 when he was appointed director of professional scouting.