Martin St. Louis agreed to a three-year contract to remain coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
“A three-year contract like this gives time to build something, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” St. Louis said. “I think we have a bit of wind in our sails, we are not going to start from scratch. The idea is to keep moving forward.”
Montreal was 14-19-4 under St. Louis, who replaced Dominique Ducharme as coach Feb. 9 after the Canadiens won eight of their first 45 games (8-30-7). St. Louis’ only previous coaching experience was with his sons’ minor hockey teams.
“I don’t think I’ve proved myself to be a good coach,” St. Louis said. “I feel like when I came into the League, I knew I had the ability to be a good player in this league, but it took me some time to prove to people that yeah, I cold execute in this league. I think as a coach I feel the same way. I think I have the experience and qualities that I think can make me a good coach, but my actions, the way I succeed, will speak for itself.”
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St. Louis played 1,134 NHL games as a forward with the Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers from 1998-2015 and had 1,033 points (391 goals, 642 assists). He won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL most valuable player in 2003-04 and the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play three times (2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13). He helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
“During his short stint behind the bench last season, Martin showed he has the required qualities to lead the Canadiens in the right direction,” vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton said. “Despite difficult circumstances when he took over, he was able to bring a breath of fresh air to the locker room and the players benefited from it as much individually as they did collectively. Martin thinks the game at a high level, and we believe that he is the right person for this job.”
Cole Caufield scored 22 of his team-leading 23 goals and had 35 points in 37 games after St. Louis was hired; the rookie forward had eight points in 30 games under Ducharme.
“I think once the shift changed to Marty we just had a lot more fun around the rink, just embracing playing the game, playing with each other,” Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki said April 30.
Video: FLA@MTL: Caufield completes hat trick with 23rd goal
St. Louis said he is proud that the Canadiens enjoyed playing for him last season.
“I felt the boys were excited to come to the rink in a difficult season,” he said. “I think the boys played loose, I think they were excited to get on the ice and practice even if we didn’t practice a lot. … There wasn’t many games that the guys felt we were out of it. So I’m really proud of the fight that the players showed in some of the games that we got down.”
The Canadiens (22-49-11) finished last in the NHL standings this season. They won the NHL Draft Lottery on May 10 and will have the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre in Montreal on July 7-8.
“I don’t think this team, based on my experience, the 37 games that I coached, was a 32nd-place team,” St. Louis said. “I don’t know how close we are to the playoffs either, but we’ll have a better idea as we progress here next year. Who’s here in October and how we come out of the gate, we’ll have a pulse on where we are as a team.”
St. Louis said he was never worried about agreeing to a contract with the Canadiens, noting that he expected a deal to get done before July. General manager Kent Hughes said Tuesday at the 2022 NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo that a deal “was imminent.”
“We are happy to officially appoint Martin as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens,” Hughes said Wednesday. “Martin is a proven leader, a great communicator with a deep understanding of and passion for the game of hockey. His arrival brought a renewed energy to our group, and we look forward to him returning behind the bench to continue guiding our team for the foreseeable future.”
Hughes was asked about the future of goalie Carey Price, who met with a knee specialist in Pittsburgh after the season. The GM said he doesn’t expect any further clarity about whether Price will be able to play next season before the draft.
“It’s sometimes just a situation of how will his knee respond to additional treatment,” Hughes said. “I think the only way we would have complete clarity on it is if somehow we learned that he could not play. Otherwise we have to go into the season and see how the knee responds once he’s back to the rigors of a regular-season schedule. But the draft itself, probably not as critical as maybe July 13 (the start of NHL free agency). And knowing his situation from, if he’s not playing, then we would have [long term injured reserve] that we could use. Without that information, we don’t have the luxury of using it.”
Price made his season debut April 15 after missing the first six months following knee surgery and a 30-day stay in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program for substance use. He was 1-4-0 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .878 save percentage in five starts.