When the time came for Guy Carbonneau to fill out his coaching staff in the summer of 2006, when he was named head coach in Montreal not long after the Hurricanes eliminated the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, he started with veteran Montreal assistant Doug Jarvis. That was an easy hire.
For his other assistant, he turned to a former NHL teammate whose only coaching experience was at Queens University in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario -- not exactly the upper echelon of the hockey world.
“I wanted somebody who played in the league,” Carbonneau said Tuesday afternoon. “Someone in the right frame of mind, someone who was real. … I kind of had other candidates, but the one thing that I liked about Kirky was his passion for the game. I knew he had that in him. He fit the mold.”
Kirky, of course, is new Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller, who won a Stanley Cup with Carbonneau in Montreal in 1993 and back went to the finals with him in Dallas in 2000. It was Carbonneau’s first head-coaching job, but he had no qualms about hiring an equally inexperienced assistant, because he believed that strongly in Muller.
“When you work together like that, I expected to be a head coach for a long time,” said Carbonneau, now the president and co-owner of the junior team in Quebec he played for as a teenager. “I wanted him by my side.”
It didn’t work out for Carbonneau in Montreal, where he was among the Habs' many legends as a player, and he was fired late in the 2008-09 season. General manager Bob Gainey replaced him on an interim basis before turning to veteran head coach Jacques Martin.
Carbonneau not only stayed aboard under Martin, but his role increased, running practices, made in-game adjustments and, after running the penalty-kill for Carbonneau, took over the power play for Martin with great success.
Having worked with him, and watched him from afar, Carbonneau could see Muller grow into the job, hone his coaching skills and put himself in a position to become a head coach.
“It’s not something he maybe thought about right away,” Carbonneau said. “But he has all the attributes. He ran practices. He ran meetings. Most of all, he knew what was right and what was wrong. I’m sure he’ll be a good one.”
Carbonneau said he hasn’t yet spoken with Muller, but when he does, he’ll give him some advice both for the long term and the short term -- as a coach, and as a coach taking over a struggling team.
“What I will tell him is just to have fun with it, and not be afraid to make mistakes,” Carbonneau said. “That goes for everybody, whether they have a lot of experience or no experience. He’ll get better with time. … He has to be patient. You don’t turn teams like that on a dime. It takes a little time. They may go on a tear for five or 10 days, but it may not last. He just has to be patient, be himself.”