After a season of high drama on and off the ice and 14 years of relying on untested coaching talent, there's a certain logic in opting for the safety and comfort of someone who has stood behind an NHL bench on nearly 1,100 occasions.
But that didn't lessen the surprise when the Montreal Canadiens announced they reached out to the steady hand of Jacques Martin to be the full-time replacement for former head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Martin, the former general manager of the Florida Panthers, reached a deal with Habs GM Bob Gainey yesterday, following negotiations to terminate his contract with the Panthers.
"It's a unique chance … to come to a market where the fans care, where the team is part of them," said Martin, the 13th coach in NHL history to chalk up 450 wins and a bilingual francophone who hails from St. Pascal, Ont.
The latter qualification ticks a box established by Canadiens president Pierre Boivin earlier this year, but the main attraction for Gainey was to have a tactically-oriented, experienced coach who values discipline and a defence-first approach.
It's a recipe that's paid dividends before for Gainey, who captured a Stanley Cup as GM of a Dallas Stars team coached by low-key bench boss Ken Hitchcock.
Martin stands as the antithesis of fiery flamboyance - as he displayed at yesterday's unveiling, he is reliably soporific in both official languages. "I really believe when you have the puck you're on offence and when you don't have the puck you're on defence," he said.
Martin's even-keeled, deliberate approach - and his experience with ravenous hockey media - may be a tonic for fans of an organization that has had its players linked with gangland figures, wild carousing and internal infighting during its centennial season.
One player who will surely sit up and take note of the appointment is goalie Carey Price, who had an up-and-down sophomore NHL season. In addition to hiring Martin, Gainey announced goaltending coach Roland Melanson has been let go after 11 seasons with the team in a move designed to "bring in some new ideas."
The skeptics will point out Martin's notable lack of past playoff success with the Ottawa Senators, who advanced beyond the second round just once in nine years under his tutelage, and the fact his Panthers missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.
But Gainey called Martin "the perfect match" for the criteria he set - experience in a Canadian market and an established record of working with young players - and phoned Panthers owner Alan Cohen two weeks ago to ask for permission to approach Martin.
"He's a coach at heart, a teacher who is here to work as a team and bring people together," said Gainey, who took over as coach for the final six weeks of the 2008-09 season, in which Montreal squeaked into the playoffs before being dispatched by the Boston Bruins in four games.
Another benefit is the appointment allows Gainey to focus on the free-agent market. The Habs have a rare opportunity, given the 10 impending unrestricted free agents on their roster, and Gainey is determined to seize it.
The first step was hiring a coach.
"Without that, speaking frankly and openly to players … is really like having a blindfold on," Gainey said.
This week, he will contact representatives for the Habs free agents, who include captain Saku Koivu and defenceman Mike Komisarek.
Asked whether the Habs might consider reviving a possible trade for Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier, Gainey answered: "I think there's going to be trade discussions, because teams are finding a new geography … almost anything is possible in the next little while."
Martin's hiring reunites him with former Senators executives Pierre Gauthier (assistant GM) and Trevor Timmins (scouting director).
When asked if he was building the Montreal Senators, Gainey quipped: "No, just their record from a few years ago."
Fans of swashbuckling hockey may want to avert their eyes from Habs games next season. After all, Martin is the man who once told a reporter he liked to watch New Jersey Devils game tapes to unwind.
But to those who accuse him of preaching a boring, aesthetically repulsive brand of hockey, Martin retorted: "It's interesting, when I started with Ottawa I was categorized as a defensive coach, when I left, the last five years in Ottawa, we had one of the highest scoring teams."