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Canadiens fire Jacques Martin; can Cunneyworth rescue season?

Guess Pierre Gauthier ran out of assistant coaches to sacrifice. From the Montreal Canadiens, eleventh place on Dec. 17 just isn't good enough:

The Canadiens have announced that Jacques Martin has been relieved of this duties.

Randy Cunneyworth is named interim head coach of the Montreal Canadiens until the end of the season. Larry Carrière becomes assistant coach. Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier will meet the media after the team morning skate today.

Montreal sits 11th in the Eastern Conference with 33 points in 32 games; last season on Dec. 17, they had 40 points in 32 games. They're actually 2-1 since the Tomas Kaberle trade. (Incidentally: eight points in five games, Tomas? Don't make us have to retract rumors of your demise.)

The rumblings about Jacques Martin getting turfed for his team's underachievement were heard as early as mid-October, despite a decimated blue line. Rather than firing Martin, Gauthier opted to relieve respected assistant coach Perry Pearn of his duties, calling it "a change from a global perspective, from a big picture perspective where we need to be better."

Then the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings made the world safe for middling teams with high payrolls to axe their coaches.

The Martin rumbles started again; on Saturday, he was fired after a 96-75-25 record with Montreal and consecutive playoff appearances (including that 19-game run in 2010).

There have been two lingering criticisms about Martin and the Canadiens: That his offensive-hampering system had run its course in Montreal, with the team averaging 2.48 goals per game; and that the loss of assistant coach Kirk Muller, now in a cushy and secure gig with the Carolina Hurricanes, meant the loss of Martin's great communicator with the players and his best strategist.

Last season, the Habs were seventh in the NHL on the power play (19.7 percent); despite continuing their dominance on the kill (89.9 percent), their power play is third-worst in the League (12.1, just 16 goals on 132 chances).

So Randy Cunneyworth is the interim coach "until the end of the season," which is a distinction GMs apparently have to make as the Los Angeles Kings watch John Stevens twist in the wind while waiting for Darryl Sutter to get his affairs in order.

What kind of coach is Cunneyworth, the former Hartford Whalers and Ottawa Senators player?

Know this: Despite spending just over a year with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs (following Guy Boucher's departure), Cunneyworth has been considered one of the top coaching prospects in the NHL for the last several seasons. From his hiring in July 2010:

"We were looking for a strong leader to coach our farm team in Hamilton. In Randy Cunneyworth, we get an individual who knows the game inside out and who brings a wealth of experience, both as a player and as a coach, to the table. Together, Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur combine for over 20 years of coaching experience at the professional level. We are extremely pleased that they have joined the Canadiens' organization", said Gauthier.

Randy Cunneyworth was an assistant coach with the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers over the past two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10). He previously spent nine seasons with the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans, including seven seasons as head coach from 2000 to 2008. During his tenure with the Americans, he led his team to three 40-plus win seasons, two 100-plus point seasons and six playoff berths. He left Rochester as the longest serving coach in franchise history and ranks second on the club's all-time wins list. During the 2004-05 season, Cunneyworth led the Americans to a 51-19-4-6 record (112 points), en route to the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the league's top team in the regular season standings. That season, Cunneyworth would earn the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Trophy as the AHL's Coach of the Year. He also reached the AHL's Calder Cup Finals with Rochester as a player/assistant coach in 1999-00, earning the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award that same season (sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey). He played a total of 273 career AHL games with Rochester and Springfield, recording 270 points (166 goals, 104 assists) and helping Rochester win the Calder Cup in 1983.

The Ottawa Senators and Phoenix Coyotes considered Cunneyworth in 2007; the Panthers were urged to hire him in 2008; there were calls to have him added to the Montreal staff this season to replace Muller. Instead, he replaces Martin, if only on an interim basis.

The constant mantra with Cunneyworth: Working well with young players. Montreal has 12 players 25 years old and younger, most of them making up the depth that's let them down.

The Canadiens enter play tonight against the New Jersey Devils just two points behind their opponents for the No. 8 seed. Martin Brodeur plays in Bell Centre. A new coach makes his debut. It should be a memorable one.

It also marks the point at which fans and media stop blaming the bench for the Canadiens' woes and start really blaming the men who just got Jacques Martin fired.

From Red Fisher:

Michael Cammalleri has only six goals and 10 assists in his 27 games. Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty have been fine with 12-10 and 11-13 marks, but team leader Tomas Plekanec has only six goals to go along with his 19 assists.

I'm not saying they aren't working hard enough. Against the Flyers, for example, Cammalleri had seven of his team's 31 shots. Two were blocked, and he missed the net with another. Trouble is, Cammalleri came out of the game without a point, and points are what the Canadiens need from him.

What, you thought by "men" we were limiting this to the players?

Gauthier fired Martin, but he also got Martin fired.

He has constructed a team that needs an all-star goalie (Carey Price) and a stifling system to keep them in games, because they lack the quality depth to compete with the conference's elite.

The Markov contract continues to look like a terrible decision. There isn't enough fire power up front, although the Erik Cole move is looking better each game. Gauthier is hoping Cunneyworth can revive the dead weight on the roster. He had better.

This move was as much about taking Martin's job away as it was Gauthier desperately trying to keep his; the next few months could determine that.

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