The head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs has become one of the most important positions in the Canadiens organization.  Replacing Guy Boucher is going to take up a great deal Pierre Gauthier’s time over the next month. 

What Boucher brought to the table last year was not only highly developed coaching skills but the communication ability required to deal with young players, many of whom, in the Canadiens scheme, were late-developing undrafted free agent signings. 

Where to start?

Do the Canadiens go for the best coach/teacher available or, do they limit themselves to a francophone or. are they one-and-the-same, as was the case with Boucher last year. After all, few have questioned of the promotion of Claude Julien, Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien from the Habs top farm club.

The rumour mill drums have been banging out a list of candidates for the job.  The names we’re hearing most are, from the QMJHL, Rouyn-Noranda head coach and GM Andre Tourigny; Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx, perennial candidate Patrick Roy and Montreal Juniors coach and GM Pascal Vincent.  The most mentioned English speaking candidates are Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller and coach of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones Chuck Weber.

The two favourites for the job are Andre Tourigny from Rouyn-Noranda from the Quebec side and Cincinnati Cyclones head coach Chuck Weber.

Tourigny has been coach and general manager of the Huskies since 2001.  He’s young, 36, and respected.  His programme as been consistently near the top of the QMJHL although he’s never won a championship.  He was QMJHL coach of the year in 2006.  Outside of the Quebec bubble, Tourigny has been highly regarded by Hockey Canada who have been naming him to regular coaching positions on their national teams.   He will be an assistant coach at the World Junior Championships for the second year in a row in 2011.  Prior to that he was assistant coach of Canada’s under-18 team that won the gold medal at the Czech Republic’s Ivan Hlinka Tournament in 2008. 

Weber is an interesting alternative.  His Cincinnati Cyclones won the Turner Cup for the second time the last three years.  En route to this year’s championship, theCyclones came from behind a 3-0 deficit to beat Reading Pennsylvania 4 games to 3 in the league semi-final before winning the championship in five games.  The 37 year old Weber, who is American,  has had a hand in developing David Desharnais, Cedrick Desjardins, J.T. Wyman and Greg Stewart.  Desharnais, Wyman and Stewart have seen playing time with the Canadiens.  Because he’s unilingual he has no future as Canadiens head coach, but his value as a developer of young players make him a valuable asset.  He was ECHL coach of the year in 2008.

Other candidates.  Kirk Muller-Canadiens assistant.  It depends, as rumours are promoting, on whether he’s prepared to take a coaching step-back in order to move forward.   His past indicates he’s ready to take all of the logical steps toward an NHL head coaching position.  He started his coaching career at Queen’s University before taking the Canadiens assistant coaching job under Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and now Jacques Martin.  Only thing missing in his dossier is minor league head coaching experience.    Benoit Groulx – just signed two year contract with Gatineau of QMJHL.  Like Tourigny, was a rumoured candidate for the job, won by Boucher, last year.  Resigned under a cloud as head coach of Rochester of the American Hockey League before joining Gatineau.  Pascal Vincent-Coach/GM of Montreal Juniors.  QMJHL coach of the year in 2008 when the Juniors were the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.  In his GM role with the Juniors, Vincent last week completed the trade that brought the team the junior rights to Louis Leblanc.  Other than that, nothing obvious stands out for the 49 year old Vincent or the teams he’s coached.     Patrick Roy-Owner/GM/Coach Quebec Remparts.  The perpetual candidate.  He’ll be mentioned every time there’s a Canadiens opening of any sort.  Not so sure he’s the right emotional type for the business of developing players for the NHL.  Chances of Roy going to a minor pro franchise seem remote.  We may be waiting until the Quebec Nordiques are re-established  before we seem Patrick in the NHL again.