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Jacques Martin has a .551 winning percentage (517-406-119). ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

Jacques Martin, a former head coach of the St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, became the 29th head coach in Montreal Canadiens history on Monday.

He succeeds general manager Bob Gainey, who stepped behind the Canadiens bench for a second time on March 9, taking over from the fired Guy Carbonneau and guiding Montreal to an eighth-place finish in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Boston went on to sweep the Canadiens in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to join this organization," Martin told a media conference at Montreal's Bell Centre. "When you look at the players who are in the organization, there is a strong nucleus, a strong base, to build a winning team, and I'm really looking forward with excitement to leading this team next year."

Assistant coaches Kirk Muller and Don Lever, along with associate coach Doug Jarvis, remain under contract and will talk to Martin over the next few days. Gainey said the team has an option to retain Lever until June 15.

He added that long-time Canadiens goaltending coach Roland Melanson will not return next season and is free to speak with other NHL clubs.

"We've had a number of years where there's been… a difficult task for the goaltending coach and feel in remaking the coaching staff, that rather than one simple change, that we needed some new ideas and some new direction," Gainey said at the media conference.

"Rollie's been here for a long time, he's given a lot. The goalies that have learned from him and the goalies we have here can retain what he's left him and look forward to having input from someone else."

It's believed the 56-year-old Martin, who most recently served as Panthers GM, was willing to leave money on the table to accept the coaching job in Montreal. His four-year deal with Florida runs through the 2011-12 season.

Pat Hickey, a sports reporter at the Montreal Gazette, told CBC Radio that Martin would bring a defensive style to the Canadiens. If so, Gainey could have some difficulty re-signing some of their offensive-minded free agents such as Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev.

"He's a former goaltender and that probably explains his emphasis on defence," Hickey said. "He has a lot of experience, he's cerebral. [The Canadiens] are not going to be very exciting, but they're going to be well-schooled."

Playoffs escape Martin

Martin, who has a career record of 517 wins, 406 losses and 119 ties for a .551 winning percentage, coached Florida for three seasons, but never earned a playoff berth.

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Martin moves to Montreal

With Stanley Cup champion coaches Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley available for hire, Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey opted for Jacques Martin, who has yet to appear in an NHL championship.

The 56-year-old native of St. Pascal, Ont., returns to a hockey-mad environment after four seasons in Florida, where the Panthers never tasted the Stanley Cup playoffs during Martin's four years as GM/head coach.

Martin, who has a career record of 517 wins, 406 losses and 119 ties for a .551 winning percentage, coached Florida for three seasons, stepping away from the bench on April 11, 2008, to focus on his front-office duties after compiling a 110-100-36 regular-season record.

During his nine-year tenure as coach in Ottawa that ended on April 22, 2004, Martin was named NHL coach of the year in 1999 and nominated three other times (2003, 2001 and 1997), but the club won just four of 12 playoff series during his stay.

After coaching the St. Louis Blues from 1986-88, Martin joined the Quebec Nordiques as an assistant coach and moved with the team to Denver in 1995. He remained on board until Jan. 24, 1996, when he replaced the fired Dave Allison in Ottawa, while the Colorado Avalanche won the Cup later that season.

Martin's coaching career began in Peterborough, Ont., with the Ontario Hockey League's Petes. He also won a Memorial Cup with the Guelph Platers in 1986.

In Ottawa, he won NHL coach of the year honours in 1999 and was nominated three other times (2003, 2001 and 1997), but the club won just four of 12 playoff series during his stay.

Martin stepped away from the Panthers bench on April 11, 2008, after compiling a 110-100-36 regular-season record.

His nine-year tenure as coach in Ottawa ended on April 22, 2004, two days after the team made a first-round playoff exit, losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.

Martin is Ottawa's all-time leader in games coached (692), wins (341), playoff games coached (69) and playoff wins (31).

Under Martin, the Senators captured their first Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team in the regular season, posting a 52-21-8-1 record in 2002-03.

Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins, both restricted free agents this summer, were among several Canadiens to struggle this season, along with brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, second-year defenceman Ryan O'Byrne and goaltender Carey Price.

Finding a new coach was one of Gainey's main off-season tasks. The other will be to make decisions on 10 unrestricted and four restricted free agents.

Martin and Gainey have already been discussing the future.

"I really believe this organization is rich in people and that is a very important ingredient," said Martin. "We had the opportunity to discuss at length, to talk about philosophy, talk about operations, talk about players, talk about the league.

"I was really excited by those conversations with Bob. It's good chemistry."

Others free to go on the open market are captain Saku Koivu, forwards Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos, and defencemen Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Schneider.

Montreal is the second Canadian team to hire a new head coach in less than a week. Pat Quinn joined the Edmonton Oilers last Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press