BROSSARD, Quebec — Forget about that interim tag. Martin St. Louis is planning to stick around as the coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
In his introductory press conference on Thursday, only hours before his first home game in the Bell Centre, St. Louis said becoming a head coach in the NHL is a dream come true.
Accustomed to being the underdog during his Hall of Fame playing career, the 5-foot-8 St. Louis doesn’t mind that his first chance comes in the middle of a season with a team that’s bound to finish at or near the bottom of the NHL.
“I knew I was going to do it, it was a matter of time,” said the 46-year-old St. Louis, a native of the Montreal suburb of Laval. “I had no doubt that it was a great opportunity and that the time was now. The terms or the contract didn’t bother me, it was about the opportunity. That’s all I was looking for.
“I don’t need promises, just give me a chance and I’ll show you what I can do.”
There’s a lot to do.
The Canadiens, who made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing to Tampa Bay, had an 8-30-7 record and a league-worst 23 points heading into Thursday night’s game against Washington. They have yet to post back-to-back wins this season.
St. Louis’ coaching history is sparse. His only NHL experience outside of playing was a special teams consulting position with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018-19.
“I’m not coming in as a substitute teacher,” St. Louis said. “I’m coming here to show my work and we’ll see what happens this summer, but my intention is to stay here for a long time. But I’ll need to show and prove it.”
New Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes knew St. Louis back when St. Louis was starring for the University of Vermont in the 1990s. For Hughes, St. Louis “represents the culture” that he and vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton want to establish in Montreal.
“I worked for a law firm that represented some hockey players and I went to the lawyer/agent and said we want to recruit this kid as a freshman at UVM,” Hughes said. “He said he’ll never play in the NHL and I told him: ‘I know this kid will play in the NHL.’
“A lot of people bet against him. I, for one, have chosen to bet on him. And I’m pretty sure he’ll make the doubters revisit.”
St. Louis takes over for Dominique Ducharme, who was fired on Wednesday.
At his introductory press conference in early December, Gorton said Ducharme’s job was safe until the end of the 2021-22 season. But the Canadiens had dropped seven in a row heading into the matchup with the Capitals, including a 7-1 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night.
“In my conversations with Ken talking about what we had to do, we didn’t have five games to go, we had 37 games to go,” Gorton said. “There’s a lot of teaching that has to happen. There’s a lot of development that has to go on. And we felt as a group, it was time to make a change and move it forward that way.”