MONTREAL (AP) — Jacques Martin was fired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, with the storied team undone by sloppy play and in last place in its division.
Assistant Randy Cunneyworth was appointed interim head coach for the rest of the season. Larry Carriere, the assistant general manager, was made an assistant coach.
"The primary reason is the team wasn't performing as well as it should be in our minds," general manager Pierre Gauthier said at a Bell Centre news conference.
The Canadiens (13-12-7) are at the bottom of the Northeast Division. However, they are just two points out of second place in a division led by Boston.
Martin was in his third season with Montreal and 17th in the NHL. He reached his 600th NHL career victory last April making him the ninth winningest coach in league history.
Martin is known for team play and careful defensive hockey, but there were many mistakes this season. The Canadiens are 5-6-6 at home, often blowing third-period leads.
"Especially in the last few weeks, we didn't really know what was coming out of the box every night," Gauthier said. "And the way we were losing the leads and the way we were coaching the games wasn't very consistent, and that's what we hope to change."
There were hints of tension between Martin and Gauthier. After a poor start, Martin's closest ally, assistant Perry Pearn, was fired just before a game Oct. 26.
"We were on the same wavelength right to the end, but that doesn't mean that the team's performances were acceptable," Gauthier said.
The players were told of the coaching change when they arrived at the Bell Centre for their morning skate before their game against New Jersey.
"When we are where we are and expect to be a better team than we've been, you definitely are aware there might be changes," forward Michael Cammalleri said. "For it to be Jacques was somewhat surprising."
"We're in 11th place, that's what went wrong," he added. "I think Jacques was still trying to work on thing and improve the team. I don't think there was anyone not listening to him."
In Cunneyworth, the Canadiens get a younger, more tech-savvy coach, although one who is not expected to make major changes.
"I would hope that my coaching style was similar to the way I played," said Cunneyworth, who was Ottawa's captain under Martin in the late 1990s. "I felt for the most part that I competed very hard."
Cunneyworth was promoted to the NHL club along with assistant Randy Ladouceur after coaching their AHL farm team in Hamilton last season.
"What system is in place doesn't matter if everyone buys in and plays the right way," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "If you only have half the guys doing what's asked of them, everything is in disarray and I think that's where we got to."
"We weren't playing together and doing the things we need to do to win," he added. "And consequently we lost games we shouldn't have lost and changes needed to be made."
Added defenseman Hal Gill: "The bottom line is winning games — we weren't winning and changes happen. I don't think it was about losing the room or anything like that."
Martin joined the Canadiens in 2009-10 and took them on an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to Philadelphia. Montreal made the playoffs the following year but was eliminated in the first round.
Before joining the Canadiens, the 59-year-old Martin spent five seasons coaching the Florida Panthers and before that nine seasons coaching the Senators, where he left as the career leader in regular-season wins, playoff wins and games. Martin led the Senators to its first President's Trophy in the 2002-03 season.
He also won the NHL coach of the year in 1998-99 and was part of Canada's gold-medal triumph at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.