Since the (mostly) out-of-the-blue firing of Jacques Martin and the hiring of Randy Cunneyworth as “interim” coach a couple of days ago, we have heard a lot about the fact that Mr. Cunneyworth doesn’t speak French. This has sparked the usual reactions from the usual suspects. The French media characterize the hiring as a slap in the face to the French majority in Quebec, saying that the Canadiens are an “institution” in the province and, as such, have a responsibility to the (mostly francophone) community. The media outside Quebec wonder what all the fuss is about – shouldn’t the team simply hire the best coach, regardless of language? Who cares what language the coach or the players speak? Would they turn up their nose at a Mike Babcock? a Sydney Crosby? (As usual, Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski has skillfully summarized the reactions in this Puck Daddy blog post)
But, for all the bluster, the underlying truth is that there is much less to this story than it seems, at least from the language perspective. To me, the issue is not that the coach of the storied Montreal Canadiens, the team of Maurice Richard and Guy Lafleur, doesn’t speak French. The issue is simply that Randy Cunneyworth doesn’t speak French. If a coach with an A-1 NHL resumé has been hired, no one would care what language he spoke. It’s at least partially because Mr. Cunneyworth is not seen as The Answer that he has been attacked as a unilingual anglophone.
The hiring of Mr. Cunneyworth is quite logical, from a certain point of view. Canadiens’ management saw the season slipping away and probably felt the team simply wasn’t responding to Jacques Martin anymore. (It happens; most coaches have a shelf life, at least with one team.) So the Habs’ brass probably thought the team would get a lift from not having JM as coach, no matter who the replacement was, and figured Mr. Cunneyworth was “good enough” to at least do no harm. People can talk about lame ducks all they want but, ultimately, the team wants to win (so goes the thinking of Canadiens’ management) so, freed from the shackles of JM and his boring style, let’s see what they can do. We can use this information to help us make both player and coaching moves down the road.
From this perspective, management is treating the remainder of the season as a kind of experiment that will determine, not only if Mr. Cunneyworth can make it as a head coach in Montreal (with all that entails), but also which players will make up the core group going forward.
What do you think? Comments are welcome.