Former Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme spoke to The Athletic’s Marc Antoine Godin in his first one-on-one interview since being fired, making it clear he disagreed with the direction of the team.
Ducharme helped lead the Canadiens to an improbable run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final — where they lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning — but the team stumbled to an 8-30-7 record in 2021-22 before he was dismissed on Feb. 9. The 49-year-old said he never spoke to executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton or general manager Kent Hughes about how to navigate the remainder of the year, prior to being fired.
“If the plan was to lose the most games we could and to play the young players, I would have liked to have known because I would have had a different approach with them,” Ducharme told Godin. “I was trying to squeeze as much as I could everywhere to try and get some results. I saw teams that had games cancelled because five of their players had COVID. We had 10, and another eight who were injured, and we still played.”
Montreal has arguably the most dialled-in fan base in the NHL and when things go awry as they did last season, the supporters can turn merciless. Ducharme defended himself against the notion that he was rooting against Cole Caufield, a popular preseason Calder Trophy pick who struggled out the gate with one goal in 30 games. Caufield caught fire with 22 goals in 37 games after Martin St. Louis was named head coach.
“Everyone was saying he would score 40 goals before the season even began,” Ducharme said. “If he’d had a good start, he could have done it, but he got stuck in a spiral and the fact the team was struggling didn’t help him individually.
“When I hear things like that, it’s as if I didn’t want Cole to score 40 goals. I would have loved it if Cole scored 40 goals!”
Ducharme also opined on the new direction of the rebuilding Canadiens, providing St. Louis with a ringing endorsement, while also speculating that Nick Suzuki will eventually be named captain — a position rendered vacant after Shea Weber was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in June. However, Ducharme can’t help but reflect on what could’ve been and strongly believes his tenure with the Canadiens would’ve been sturdier if it weren’t for a string of injuries and COVID-19 complications.
“Maybe we would have had a chance to battle for a playoff spot if we had ideal conditions, and that means having Carey (Price) and Jake (Allen) in goal, having (Joel) Edmundson … having everyone start, having everyone healthy, having everyone playing their best, and if we played some great hockey, we would have had a chance to make the playoffs.”
Montreal now begins its rebuild in earnest and with 2022 first-overall selection Juraj Slafkovsky headlining a promising group of prospects, maybe the worst is over with. Ducharme hopes he’s not remembered as the face of the franchise’s lowest point of the past century.
“How many Canadiens coaches have reached the Stanley Cup Final? There hasn’t been any since 1993 and there have been only four since 1980. So I’m proud of that. Nothing’s perfect and you can’t pick and choose.”
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