The new front office leadership of the Montreal Canadiens has made their first big move. Dominique Ducharme has been relieved of his duties as head coach, effective immediately. His replacement will be named later today according to the team and the status of the assistant coaches has not been changed. Kent Hughes, Montreal’s new GM, released a statement:
We would like to sincerely thank Dominique for his work and contributions to the Montreal Canadiens organization. At this point in the season, we felt it was in the best interest of the club to make a change.
Ducharme, 48, took over as head coach of the Canadiens in February of last year when Claude Julien was let go and ended up leading the team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Even during that run there were questions about whether he was the right person to continue leading the Canadiens, but the interim tag was eventually removed and Ducharme signed a three-year contract extension in July. That deal keeps him under contract through the 2023-24 season but he will no longer be behind the Canadiens bench as Hughes and Jeff Gorton start to put their stamp on the team.
It’s been a disastrous year for Montreal, with the leadership group in tatters after Shea Weber and Carey Price were sidelined by injury and players like Phillip Danault were lost to free agency. The team has cratered in the standings and on the ice, with some players even showing a lack of effort at times. The Canadiens are 8-30-7 on the season and were embarrassed by the New Jersey Devils last night, losing 7-1 on home ice. The final goal last night was scored by Tomas Tatar, notably a player that was scratched in the playoffs by Ducharme last year.
If the Canadiens hire someone else to take over as head coach right away, they would actually be paying three people for that job. Julien’s contract, which carried a $5MM salary, is still on the books for this season. That, plus the $1.7MM that Ducharme is believed to earn, is certainly not an insignificant amount to a team that has also dealt with attendance restrictions this season and will continue to do so for the next few weeks.
Interestingly enough, Gorton–who was given the role of executive vice president of hockey operations after Marc Bergevin was let go–actually told reporters earlier this season that he would not be making a coaching change until the summer. That plan has obviously changed with Hughes’ addition and the continued losses piling up in Montreal.
The Canadiens have a big offseason ahead of them that includes hosting the draft where they currently hold 11 selections. That number could grow as the trade deadline approaches, though there aren’t a ton of expiring contracts on the books. Whoever does take over as head coach will certainly not be able to bring the team back from the hole they’ve dug themselves, meaning it could very well be an interim position for the rest of this season.
Jean-Charles Lajoie of TVA Sports was to report that Ducharme had been fired.