MONTREAL — Michel Therrien believes he will be a better, wiser coach than he was in his first stint behind the Montreal Canadiens bench.
New general manager Marc Bergevin reached into the team’s past Tuesday when he named 48-year-old Therrien to replace Randy Cunneyworth as coach of the team that finished last in the NHL’s Eastern Conference last season.
Therrien was behind the Montreal bench for parts of three seasons in his first NHL coaching job.
He took over from Alain Vigneault during the 2000-’01 season and leaving midway through the 2002-’03 campaign in favour of Claude Julien. Since then, Therrien has coached in the AHL, reached a Stanley Cup final with the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins, done pro scouting for the Minnesota Wild and, most recently, worked as a Canadiens’ television analyst.
“To take a step back is never a bad thing,” he told a packed news conference at the team’s suburban training centre.
“You analyse yourself, what went well and what went wrong, and you try to be a better coach. I’m certainly a better coach now than I was 10 or 15 years ago. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the game, too. And when I did pro scouting I saw the game in a little different way. The experience I got will certainly help me.”
Reaction to the hiring was split on social media, with some delighted to have the Montreal native back and others disappointed Bergevin couldn’t find a coach with new ideas.
Therrien stresses hard work, conditioning, playing physical hockey and staying within his defence-first system.
He has also shown in the past a temper that can boil over during games. And at times he not been shy about calling out under-performing players in public, leaving some of them bitter. Therrien has not coached since he was fired by Pittsburgh a few weeks before the end of the 2008-’09 season. He then watched Dan Bylsma lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title.
But Julien was also fired just before the playoffs by New Jersey in 2005 because GM Lou Lamoriello felt he wasn’t the man to win. Julien came back to win the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.
The Canadiens are a younger, more talented team in Therrien’s second tenure with Montreal, where he has budding stars in goalie Carey Price, defenceman P.K. Subban and winger Max Pacioretty, as well as some veteran leaders in Brian Gionta, Erik Cole and Tomas Plekanec.
There are also problem cases, such as centre Scott Gomez and defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who have been in a slide in recent seasons, although it remains to be seen how Bergevin will deal with them this summer.
The injury-plagued Canadiens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007 after turmoil that included the firing of general manager Pierre Gauthier and the mid-season ouster of coach Jacques Martin in favour of Cunneyworth.
”I didn’t like how it worked out, but this a team with good potential,” Therrien said. ”It has an excellent first line (Cole, Pacioretty and David Desharnais) you can compare with the good first lines in the league.
”There’s a guy like Plekanec who is a very intelligent player and Carey Price who is an elite goaltender. The defence has Andrei Markov who will be healthy to start the season. And there are a lot of good young players to work with.”
However, he wants to investigate whether there were conditioning issues.
”Why were there so many injuries? The fact that we blew leads in the third period. Those are red flags,” he said. ”That tells me it wasn’t a normal situation.
“I can’t make judgements from the outside, but it is something I’ll keep an eye on.”
Bergevin gave few details of the hiring process, other than he interviewed fewer than 10 candidates. He named no names, although it was believed Marc Crawford and former Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy were candidates.
The names of Bob Hartley, who signed last week with Calgary, and Alain Vigneault, who signed a contract extension with Vancouver, were also in the speculation.
Bergevin gave Therrien the news Sunday at the new coach’s house.
”I found a guy who learns, who adapts well and who understands that things change,” said Bergevin. ”His work ethic is second to none and that’s important to me.
”I made the decision and I’m really comfortable with it.”
They celebrated with a barbecue, and Therrien said he shed a tear when he told his 80-year-old mother he was going to coach the Canadiens again.
He said having done it before is ”a huge plus.
”There are new owners, new management,“ he said. ”There’s only one player from when I was there and that’s Markov. I know the expectations from the fans and the media.”
Therrien has given at least a short-term shot in the arm to both NHL clubs he coached.
In his first full season with Montreal, he took them to the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2002. In Pittsburgh, he oversaw the team’s jump from the basement to being a league power with its star-studded lineup.
Therrien was hired by Montreal in 1997 to coach its top farm team, which was then in Fredericton after taking the junior Granby Predators to a Memorial Cup the previous year.
He was named head coach of the Canadiens on Nov. 20, 2000. He had a 77-77-36 record in his first stint with the NHL club.