MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens, mired in a season-long tailspin, have fired Dominique Ducharme and named Hall of Fame forward Martin St. Louis as interim head coach.
The 48-year-old Ducharme was relieved of his duties Wednesday with Montreal languishing in the league basement at 8-30-7.
St. Louis, who ended a distinguished playing career in 2015, has no NHL coaching experience but served as a consultant with the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2018-19 season.
"We are very happy to welcome Martin to the Canadiens organization," general manager Kent Hughes said in a statement. "Not only are we adding an excellent hockey man, but with Martin we are bringing in a proven winner and a man whose competitive qualities are recognized by all who have crossed his path."
St. Louis joins the Canadiens after a stellar 16-season NHL career that saw him collect 1,033 points (391 goals, 642 assists) in 1,134 games with the Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers.
The 46-year-old from Laval, Que., won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
Just five foot eight, St. Louis loomed large as a player. He played in seven all-star games, won the Art Ross Trophy twice as the league's leading scorer and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy three times, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award and Hart Memorial Trophy.
The Canadiens went 23-46-14 record in 83 regular-season games under Ducharme — and 13-6 in post-season play, making the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993.
His dismissal comes in the wake of a 7-1 rout by the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
“Nobody likes to lose," Ducharme said after the game. "Guys' intentions are there. Within the game, there are moments where you need to bounce back and we need to do a better job of that.”
In a statement, Hughes thanked Ducharme for his work with the club.
"At this point in the season, we felt it was in the best interest of the club to make a change," the GM said.
St. Louis has plenty of work to do in Montreal.
The Habs have given up 33 goals in its last five outings and lost seven straight, including two overtime defeats. The nosedive goes deeper than that with 13 losses — four in OT — in the last 14 games.
After making the Cup final last year, the Habs opened the season with five straight losses. GM Marc Bergevin was fired Nov. 28 with the team struggling at 6-15-2.
Montreal has posted just two wins since and sits bottom of the league. It has yet to post back-to-back wins this season.
Ducharme paid the price for Montreal's awful start to the season, with the Canadiens appearing as a shell of the team that turned heads last year.
Ducharme agreed to an extension through the 2023-24 season on July 13. He had been interim head coach since he took over from the fired Claude Julien on Feb. 24.
However, he entered this season with a watered-down Habs team that lost centres Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Philip Danault in free agency, and is missing star goaltender Carey Price and captain Shea Weber.
Price voluntarily entered the joint NHL and NHL Players' Association's assistance program during training camp and is currently working his way back from off-season knee surgery.
Weber, who anchors the blue line, is on the long-term injury reserve list with a foot/ankle injury and is not expected to return.
Ducharme couldn't get enough out of his team. Notably, Nick Suzuki, who signed an eight-year contract extension worth US$63 million before the season, has 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) through 45 games. Cole Caufield, who impressed tremendously when called up as a rookie last season, has just eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 30 appearances.
The team initially struggled with Ducharme at the helm, managing a 15-16-7 record to finish the regular season and were the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the playoffs.
They couldn't get any traction under the interim coach thanks to a combination of new systems, inconsistent play, a COVID-19 shutdown, key injuries and a condensed calendar.
Then, the Canadiens caught fire in the post-season.
They came from 3-1 down to beat the favoured Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, then swept Winnipeg in the North Division final.
They then knocked off the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the semifinal before losing in five to defending champion Tampa Bay in the Cup final.
Ducharme watched much of the last two rounds from isolation at home after contracting COVID-19 in June, but returned to the bench in the final.
Ducharme joined the Canadiens' coaching staff on April 27, 2018. The native of Joliette, Que., previously spent 10 seasons coaching in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He led the Halifax Mooseheads to QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles in 2012-13, earning the Canadian Hockey League's Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award in the process.
He coached Canada to a gold medal at the 2018 world junior championship, and a silver the year prior.
Ducharme is the fourth NHL coach fired this season, following Philadelphia's Alain Vigneault, Vancouver's Travis Green and Chicago's Jeremy Colliton. Paul Maurice and Joel Quenneville resigned as coaches of Winnipeg and Florida, respectively.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022.
The Canadian Press