Guy Carbonneau was fired as coach of the struggling Montreal Canadiens, hockey's most historic franchise that is in danger of missing the playoffs in its 100th season.

The timing of Monday's move was a bit surprising because the Canadiens are currently in a playoff position and there are only 16 games left in the regular season.

General manager Bob Gainey, who handed over the coaching duties to Carbonneau three years ago, will return behind the bench when Montreal hosts Edmonton on Tuesday.

The Canadiens are tied with Carolina for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point above the postseason cutoff.

Montreal (35-24-7) went into a free fall in late January and February, losing 10 of 13. The Canadiens, 5-4-1 in their previous 10 games, won 3-1 at Dallas on Sunday in their last game with Carbonneau as coach.

"The last eight weeks of performance have been below average, and I believe a change in the direction at ice level is necessary," Gainey said. "For sure, Guy was a special player for Canadiens, a captain.

"He took a very difficult job (as coach) and tried his best to advance the team. It's never an easy message to deliver to anyone, but it was at a point where I felt it was needed."

Carbonneau officially became an NHL head coach for the first time on May 5, 2006, after serving as an associate to Gainey for the final 41 games of the 2005-06 season. Gainey took the job after firing coach Claude Julien. He announced then that Carbonneau would take over as head coach the following season.

In 230 games with the Canadiens, Carbonneau was 124-83-23. He is the seventh NHL coach fired this season, and the fourth in five weeks. There are no plans for him to remain in the organization.

Associate coach Doug Jarvis, along with assistant coaches Kirk Muller and Roland Melanson were retained. Don Lever, coach of the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, will join the staff as an assistant.

What was supposed to be a season of celebration has turned into one of difficulty.

Three weeks ago, Gainey asked star winger Alex Kovalev to stay home for two games to reflect on his weak play, and that was followed by a report that three players had hung around with a suspected gang member and drug dealer. No players were charged or considered suspects in any crimes.

Gainey recently tried to boost his team by acquiring veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider and trading forward Steve Begin, but the Canadiens continued to struggle. Carbonneau changed the composition of his lines from game to game and tried everything from skating his team hard to taking players bowling to get them going.

Gainey, a Hall of Fame forward in 16 seasons with the Canadiens, had a coaching stint with the Minnesota-Dallas franchise from 1990-96 while also serving as GM. He was 23-15-3 behind the Canadiens bench.

Last season, the Canadiens finished first in the East with a 47-25-10 record, but were bounced from the playoffs in the second round by Philadelphia. Carbonneau was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.

"I'm not going to make black-and-white changes," Gainey said, "but we need to move toward being a better, stronger, more consistent team defensively and an offensive team that takes advantage of our opportunities."

After a strong start, the Canadiens went into a skid that began just before Montreal hosted the All-Star game on Jan. 25. The team won only three of 15 games and fell into the thick of the tight postseason race.

The Canadiens rebounded with four close wins, then lost two more on the road _ including a 2-0 defeat to lowly Atlanta on Friday _ before beating injury-riddled Dallas.

One day after the loss to Atlanta, Gainey told team president Pierre Boivin he was considering a coaching change. After the victory against Dallas, Gainey was convinced the time had come. He informed Carbonneau of his decision when the team arrived in Montreal late Monday afternoon.

"We need our players to play up to their potential, and that was not playing to our potential in Atlanta," he said.

Just a few weeks ago, Gainey said his best move as general manager was hiring Carbonneau, but now the former Canadiens captain is out.

There had been calls for the coach to be replaced recently from fans and media members who felt he had no answers to the way opponents had been shutting down Montreal's quick-transition game.

"There were certain games when I had a real confusion about the overall ... it showed up as effort, but I felt like it was emotional engagement to a game," Gainey said. "Our team (did) not seem to be emotionally engaged."

Carbonneau, 48, played 13 seasons for the Canadiens between 1980-94, the last five as captain, before moving on to the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. He won the Stanley Cup twice with Montreal and again with Dallas.

After retiring as a player, Carbonneau worked for the Stars and then joined Montreal for a season as supervisor of prospect development and a brief stint as assistant coach.

The last time Gainey took over as coach, he led Montreal into the playoffs, but lost in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina.

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