Written by Habsterix, AllHabs.net


PENTICTON, BC. — With the Canadiens struggling to pile up the wins and as more and more fans are getting off the Jacques Martin bandwagon, the debate often turns to whom he should be replaced with. While names are brought forward, the focus of the debates are not so much focused on the candidates’ qualifications as much as on the language they speak.

It’s no secret to anyone that Montreal is in a very unique position not only for its history, but for the language spoken in the city, in the province which they rule. Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden are three perfect examples of players who, in the glory years of this storied franchise, were learning the language in order to establish a better relationship with their fans.

But how important is it for a head coach to be bilingual when the language spoken on the ice and in the room is solely English?

Over the last 30 years, only one unilingual Anglophone head coach was hired by the Habs and that was Bob Berry, who was at the helm from 1981 to 1984. Since then, the Canadiens have had 11 consecutive bilingual coaches in Lemaire, Perron, Burns, Demers, Tremblay, Vigneault, Therrien, Julien, Gainey, Cabonneau and Martin. Many of them ended up having great careers after they left the organization — they have the Canadiens to thank for giving them their first opportunity in the NHL.

Just last year, the Canadiens had to let go of one of the best upcoming head coaches, all languages combined, when Steve Yzerman came knocking at Pierre Gauthier’s door for Hamilton’s coach, Guy Boucher. The Canadiens replaced Boucher by Randy Cunneyworth, who has since been replaced with another bilingual coach in Clément Jodoin.

Montreal is the busiest, craziest place to coach when it comes to media coverage. Most of the media is French, as is the majority of the population in Quebec. Further, the only TV station to broadcast all 82 Habs games is RDS, a French sports channel. Some feel that the Canadiens have an obligation to serve their local fan base, their media and their sponsors in French and it’s not too farfetched.

Others do, however, feel like it is the organization’s duty to win, to put the best candidate available in that position regardless of the language spoken. They feel that players all speak English and that an assistant-coach could be bilingual and do some of the interviews. It’s hard to argue against that train of thoughts as well.

When choosing a new head coach and general manager what do you believe is the best hiring policy for the on-ice success of the Montreal Canadiens?

  • Merit should be the primary consideration. (98%, 304 Votes)
  • Language-spoken should be the primary consideration. (2%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 310

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Having lived in Quebec in French only for the first 25 years of my life, and now for living in BC 20 plus years, I do realize that there are legitimate points made on both sides, none better than the other. Writing, tweeting and exchanging in both official languages, I also can’t help but to notice that the difference in opinion is often highly driven by the language of the individuals and/or their physical address.

Either way, it will be hard to get everyone on the same page with this debate and the only way I can see a quick end to it is to see Jacques Martin getting replaced with someone who will bring back the pride in wearing the CH, with someone who will be able to turn this franchise around.

En français: Meilleur entraîneur bilingue ou meilleur entraîneur disponible?

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J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.


    • In Québec we have Bill 101. That means the Canadiens are obliged by law to hire French speaking managers and executives (and employees but I guess the players have some kind of exemption), and create a French speaking environment. …. Imagine if the journalists could not speak to the coach in French? Hell would break loose in the province.

  1. Excellent posting. I have been a Habs fan for over thirty years. I understand it is a complicated issue, but I think it is time to hire the best coach available. If they don’t speak French, they could get up to speed quick with the right language training.

  2. You can always learn a new language.

    Possessing the ability, experience and knowledge to coach an NHL franchise is not something you learn so easily.

    Go with best available.

    Great post.

  3. I can see both sides of the coin, being fluent in both languages. I can understand those who don’t speak English wanting to hear from the coach in French. But news are translated and sub-titled on TV.

    If both candidates are equally qualified and one is bilingual, it should be the tie-breaker. Otherwise, I’d rather have the most qualified coach.

  4. Non.lavenir du hockey au quebec passe par le CH.le monde chiale au repechage parece que on prend pas des quebecois imaginez si on prend pas un quebecois pour allez deriere le banc tout les commentaire negatif ki va avoir sur le CH.Tout les entraineur quebecois derriere le banc d’une equipe de hockey a passer tout d’abort derriere le banc du CH(Therrien,vignalut,Julien…)si le ch leur donne pas leur chance quel equipe le fera?

    • Le CH est en effet une belle porte d’entrée dans la ligue pour les entraineurs québécois. Mais québécois ne signifie pas toujours “meilleur homme disponible”.

      Montréal se prive de gens talentueux et qualifiés en adhérant coûte que coûte à cette politique.

      • Il y a la loi 101 au Québec. Le Canadien est obligé par la loi d’embaucher des gens qui parlent le français, surtout les gestionnaires de l’équipe.

          • Très bien mais comment ca change la situation du coach? Jacques Martin est aussi un gestionnnaire et c’est lui qui rencontre les journalistes à tous les jours. Je suis certain que l’Office de la langue française aurait des sérieux problèmes avec un personnage public comme le coach du Canadien si’il ne parlait pas le français.

  5. C’est une obligation pour le Tricolore d’embaucher un entraîneur qui parle les deux langues.

    Avec le français qui perd de plus en plus de plumes dans la région de Montréal, l’organisation recevrait une tonne de critiques si elle engageait un entraîneur unilingue anglophone.

    L’équipe se prive peut-être d’excellents candidats, mais elle n’a pas le choix étant donné le marché dans lequel est elle plongée.

    • Some of the best coaches in NHL history, if not the best, were bilingual; Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, Pat Burns, and Jacques Lemaire.

      There are also plenty of bilingual coaches that have made a major impact on the NHL; Jacques Demers, Marc Crawford, Bob Hartley, Michel Therrien, Larry Robinson, and Bob Gainey.

      And don’t forget, the two coaches in the 2011 SC Final were bilingual; Claude Julien and Alain Vignault.

      Plus, add the fact that Québec has the 2nd largest population in Canada (big pool of hockey coaches to chose from) and has its own major junior hockey league which is loaded with bilingual coaches.

      Therefore with all that in mind there is no valid reason to search for a competent and effective coach that’s not bilingual.

      • malm,
        Oh, I see what you like to do. You take successful outcomes and argue backwards. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

        I’m thinking about Dany Heatley, a very good goal scorer wouldn’t you say? He was born in Freiburg, West Germany. So I suppose if the Habs wanted to improve their goal scoring, they should go out and sign a bunch of players born in Germany. Makes sense?

        You did say you were a Habs season ticket holder, so you’ll probably be familiar with Dainius Zubrus — smooth skater, great hands.. He plays for New Jersey now and was born in Lithuania. Maybe we should fill the line-up with players from Lithuania (the country is currently ranked #24 by the IIHF, but I forgot, merit doesn’t matter)

        But let’s really follow your “logic” stream. Remember Canadiens defenseman Rod Langway? Was there a better shot blocker? Langway was born in Taipei, Taiwan, so following your example, let’s…. Well you get the idea.

        Silly huh? Yeah, that’s what I think too.

        Successful organizations don’t start at the end with a defined result and work backwards to justify a narrow-minded decision. They open the search to the best and brightest no matter where they were born or what language they speak. A meritocracy is how they get to be successful.

        • ???? Your whole post is silly. I have no idea how it relates to my point.

          Argue all you want but the fact remains that Québec and Francophone Canada possesses more than enough competent and capable bilingual hockey talent and minds to do the job in Montréal. There are dozens of “best man” for the job here in Québec. Moreover, ignoring this pool of bilingual talent would be irresponsible and also disrespectful. It would certainly create a MAJOR public relations problems for the Canadiens. Geoff Molson is not stupid. He will never hire a unilingual coach. He, his team, and his bank account do not need the problems.

          • His post is silly? It uses the same logic as what you’re bringing up: There were plenty of French speaking coaches in the past, therefore tons are still available.

            There are dozens (plural) “best man”? That means at least 24, right? I challenge you to name them and we’ll decide. Then off those, which ones are currently available, not employed by a pro team somewhere?

            We’ll be waiting… :)

  6. This isn’t politics. This is sport. Furthermore, it’s business.

    Hire the man with the right skill set and leave language out of it. Last I checked, all of our Anglo coaches can still operate within the realm of media, and the language spoken on the ice and in the room is English.

    Time to stop being so hung up on language, and do what any team in the NHL is supposed to do. Compete for a Stanley Cup.

    • Only an Anglophone would write such a thing. It shows that the Rest of Canada still has a long way to go before it accepts our cultural differences.

  7. Only Anglos and non Québecois will think a French speaking coach or GM is not needed in Montréal. Boy, are they are really out to lunch on this one.

      • That’s nice but you’re totally ignoring what the province of Québec is like and its history. Hiring a unilingual Anglophone coach would only create problems for the team. Like I mentioned before, imagine if the coach could not speak French. We would never hear the end of it from the journalists, politicians, business people, the ROC, etc. Hiring a unilingual Anglophone coach would be a very dumb idea and would not help things at all.

    • Euh.. I was born and raised in Quebec, my first language is french. I agree with Iain, this isn’t politics, it’s sports.

      • Sorry, life in Québec just doesn’t work that way. The reality is the language, politics, money, etc, are all mixed up with the Canadiens. It’s been that way for over 102 years now and it’s not going to change. No matter what your view is or what you wish for, you can’t separate those things here. Again, hiring a unilingual Anglophone would be a major marketing and public relations gaffe. In other words, it would be suicidal for the team to do such a thing. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in Dreamland/Utopialand.

        • It’s painfully obvious that you’re mixing politics and hockey here and those simply don’t mix. The questions raised in this article are not political, but rather hockey decisions. I think that everyone would agree that at equal qualification, the Canadiens should hire a bilingual coach. No argument there.

          And your last sentence is absolutely silly and immature. We’re talking opinions here and mine isn’t better than yours, and it works both ways. ;-)

          • ” The questions raised in this article are not political, but rather hockey decisions.”

            Hockey decisions in Montréal must consider culture and politics (like any business). Again, anyone who thinks otherwise has their head in the sand.

            “And your last sentence is absolutely silly and immature. We’re talking opinions here and mine isn’t better than yours, and it works both ways.”

            That’s nice but what I wrote are facts, not opinions. I don’t know where you have been for the past 102 years but politics and culture are most definitely mixed up with hockey in Montréal. In fact, the Canadiens were created with the idea that the team would represent French Canadians (that’s a fact, not an opinion). It doesn’t get more mixed up than that. … moreover, what do you think the “Richard Riots” were all about? Hockey? LOL! No, politics! Richard is a hero here because he’s Québecois and represents the “us against them” mentality (Québecois vs. Canada/French vs English), and more often than not, to the delight of the Québecois, Richard beat the “them” time and time again. The movie “The Rocket” does a good job at presenting this issue (it’s more accurate to watch it in French than English). … anyhow, that “us vs them” mentality is alive and well in Québec and the Habs need to be careful of that. Hiring a unilingual coach would only be a slap in the face to the province and a major marketing disaster.

          • malmn,
            Your major complaint about Habsterix was that he was living in the past, with his story about the trade of Patrick Roy that occurred a full 16 YEARS AGO! And then, you trash your entire point by bringing us another 40 years back to 1955 and the Richard Riots. Essentially you are arguing against yourself. Rather pathetic I think.

            Your arguments are weak, inconsistent, bigoted, and consist of silly logic (by your own admission.)

            I think what we have here is a problem with your GPS. You are lost. Trolls are welcomed and the sum total of the comments at H/IO and HockeyBuzz. At All Habs we enjoy intelligent discussions and respectful hockey debate something you know nothing about. I suggest that you head to one of the other sites. You will find more of your friends there.

            So long!

          • Maybe my complaint wasn’t clear enough; the Patrick Roy saga is boring, over played, tiresome, keeps unhealed wounds open, and only give the fan base more to be upset and angry with (as if there is not enough right now). HabLand has been a miserable place this year and articles like this only add oil to the fire.

            The Canadiens, Mario Tremblay and Patrick Roy have all made up and moved on. It’s a non issue now, thus there is no reason why fans need to find someone to blame or stir up bad feelings again.

            Again, Habs history is loaded with good and bad stories. The Roy Incident is just one of many. There is no need for the media and internet bloggers to keep going back to that terrible moment in Habs history when there are so many great things to teach and discuss.

  8. the answer is both.. there is ALWAYS a coach or assistant totally capable to fulfill the job and speak both languages..

  9. and as for the politics, the story of Rocket Richards has a lot to reveal for the aficionado on the subject of Quebec ( including some locals, as sadly demontrated previous posts ). and for the ones who would like to argue Maurice Richard is a thing of the past, well, this is modern history and yet the basics of Quebec identity very much relate to him yet…

  10. Many of Rocket Richard’s teammates were either not French speaking or Quebec born natives. You seem to think that The Rocket won all those games and cups singlehandedly. If he secretly despised his non-Francophone teammates then shame on him. They helped him to become a hockey legend.

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