The Pierre Gauthier era in Montreal is over.
The Montreal Canadiens fired their general manager on Thursday, team owner and president Geoff Molson announced during a news conference.
"Effective immediately, Pierre Gauthier has been relieved of his duties as the team’s general manager," Molson said in Brossard, Que.
Molson said there is a deadline to hire the team's next GM, but he wouldn't reveal any prospective candidates.
'This organization going forward must set its sights on competing for the game’s ultimate prize every season — and no lesser standard should be accepted.'—Geoff Molson, Canadiens owner and president
He also said that former general manager and Hall of Fame player Bob Gainey will no longer be adviser to the team. That role now belongs to another former GM and Canadiens Hall of Famer, Serge Savard, who ran the Habs from 1983-1995.
"After discussing this decision with Bob Gainey, Bob and I agreed that he would no longer be acting as an adviser to the club, given Pierre’s departure," Molson said. "I would like to thank Pierre and Bob for many tireless years with this great organization. In our search for our next general manager, I’ve retained Serge Savard to act as my adviser in this matter."
Habs basement dwellers
Molson personally addressed the players Thursday morning of his decision to let Gauthier go, and will travel with the team to New York when the Canadiens take on the East-leading Rangers Friday (7:30 p.m. ET).
The Canadiens sit in the basement of the NHL's Eastern Conference with a 29-34-14 record.
Gauthier, an executive vice-president with Montreal, was appointed to the general manager position on Feb. 8, 2010, after Gainey stepped down.
The season began horribly for the Canadiens from the minute the puck dropped on the NHL season.
Montreal struggled with a 1-5-2 mark, and several injuries to key players in addition to sub-par performances. The Canadiens hit rock bottom on Feb. 4, when they fell to last place in the East.
"Our priority in the few months will be to solidify our contractual arrangements with our core group of players, prepare for the draft and prepare for this summer’s free agency market," Molson said. "Just qualifying for the playoffs cannot be our goal or our standard, not for this team, not for this organization. This organization going forward must set its sights on competing for the game’s ultimate prize every season — and no lesser standard should be accepted."
While some may view Gauthier's firing at this time as odd, Molson stressed he didn't want to make the move with Montreal technically still in the playoff race — a minute possibility that officially ended Saturday.
"We need to remember that our fans want us to win, period," he said. "Our organizational culture is to support and adopt this passion for victory. Nothing else matters."
Aside from solidifying contracts for the team's core players, Molson wants the team improved at every level.
Speculation swirls about Patrick Roy
With Gauthier out, there is speculation that the team might turn to Hall of Fame goaltender and Canadiens legend Patrick Roy, who has been linked to the job in the last couple of weeks.
Other names to pop up include one-time Canadiens forward Vincent Damphousse, Marc Bergevin, Julien Brisebois and Claude Loiselle. Bergevin, a colourful former NHL defenceman, is a rookie assistant GM with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brisebois holds the same position with the Tampa Bay Lightning and used to work for the Canadiens. Loiselle has worked under Brian Burke in the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization and in the league office.
As the Canadiens struggled this season, the house of cards began to fall with the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn, and then the ousting of head coach Jacques Martin on Dec. 17.
The news didn’t get better when Randy Cunneyworth was named interim coach. Immediately after his appointment, management faced criticism for hiring a coach who doesn’t speak French.
With a few Quebec nationalist groups protesting the move, Gauthier apologized, assuring fans and the media that the team would hire a French-speaking coach next season.
Gauthier, a 58-year-old Montreal native, joined the organization as director of professional scouting in July 2003.
"The traits that are common for all successful organizations have been lacking in recent years," Molson admitted. "When one looks at the great organizations of the past or the ones that are performing particularly well currently, the root of their success lies in their consistency and stability."
Molson had one final message to the Montreal faithful.
"I receive thousands of letters, emails and tweets with recommendations, suggestions, support and criticisms. And I wish I can reply to them all. But trust that I do listen and I absorb what you said. I truly appreciate your passion."