Can one find oneself in a position in life so advantageous that it becomes disadvantageous? It is to believe that this is what happened to Benoît Groulx. At least, that’s the question he asks.
After seven years, Groulx’s tenure as head coach of the Syracuse Crunch came to an end this week, when the Tampa Bay Lightning farm announced the hiring of Joël Bouchard.
From what we understand, the decision was made by relatively common agreement. It was Julien BriseBois, general manager of the Lightning, who started the conversation in the spring. “I told him I was planning to come back, but he said he was thinking about a change, the team needed a new voice and I needed a new challenge. He asked me to think about it. »
At first glance, this looks like a dismissal. But Groulx himself initiated the discussions two years ago.
“The coaches, like the players, they want to go up! As that did not happen, the reflection began. »
Two days after BriseBois approached, he and Groulx agreed to move on. As we can read in the press release, Groulx remains with the Lightning, in a role to be determined, if the former Gatineau Olympiques pilot does not find another job this summer.
Met by La Presse in Nashville, BriseBois had essentially the same version of events.
“He did a great job. He released all the juice there was to release, we were the best prepared team. But when I looked forward, I thought, would our group, not that they need it, but would benefit from having a new day-to-day leader, a new voice, someone who would challenge our ways? to do ? Sometimes change is what drives growth. And he too is likely to learn more in a new environment. »
Groulx does not hide it: at 55, his goal is still and always the NHL. “I talk to teams, I’ve had interviews. But I’m tired of saying it, I’ve been saying it for 12 years! It’s redundant! »
The right opportunity has not presented itself and head coaching positions are filled everywhere. Go back to junior? “I’m not interested,” he snaps. I did it 12 years ago. »
Elsewhere in the American League? “It really would have to be another really good situation.” »
He was then told that his situation in Syracuse, within a model NHL organization, was perhaps just too good. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021. Under Jon Cooper, the Floridians also lost in the finals in 2015 and in 2022, reached the four aces two other times (2016 and 2018).
Cooper, speaking of which, is the longest-serving active head coach with the same team. He celebrated 10 years at the helm of the Lightning in March.
“You take the words out of my mouth!” launches Groulx. The quickest way to get to the NHL is to be an American League head coach and move up, or be an assistant and become a head coach. Me, the successes of Coop, it took the icing on the sundae for me. And I don’t blame Coop, he is a very good coach.
“I came into what I think were my best years, but also into years where the Lightning won back-to-back Cups. I understood that I would not go up there, because Coop will not be leaving tomorrow morning. It’s logic. Just understand it. »
Groulx tells us about Syracuse. He planned to return to Montreal this Thursday to spend the summer, as he has done for a few years, in the condo of Joël Bouchard. The same Joël Bouchard who will succeed him behind the Crunch bench. “Quebec coaches, we all know each other! »
What’s next ? Last summer, many rumors linked him to the Arizona Coyotes and André Tourigny. “We’ve had talks in the past,” Groulx acknowledges. But nothing imminent, he assures.
Every year, coaches end up getting their first big league shot. This spring, Greg Cronin (Anaheim), Spencer Carbery (Washington) and Ryan Huska (Calgary) all got it. Cronin was head coach in the AHL, the other two were assistants in the NHL.
The fact remains that French-speaking coaches are no longer represented as much as they once were. Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, Michel Therrien and Bob Hartley have long been part of the furniture. But there are only three Quebec head coaches left in the NHL. Two of them – Martin St-Louis and Jim Montgomery – however had a career in the United States for years and their network is more of an American hockey game.
Groulx and Pascal Vincent are patiently waiting their turn. But our man refuses to see an injustice based on language or origin.
“It’s all about timing. It is too easy to say that it is the French fact. Today, my network of contacts is much larger. But I know it doesn’t show! “, he adds, in a burst of laughter.
The fact remains that even without having won the Calder Cup, Benoît Groulx has proven that he can help an organization develop future players. Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak and Ross Colton, to name a few, became essential ingredients for the Lightning when he scored his double.
Julien BriseBois is considered one of the best general managers in the NHL. He is less talked about, but owner Jeff Vinik is also seen very positively. Add the name of Benoît Groulx to those who have good things to say about Vinik. “Yesterday, or the day before yesterday, I’m in my car and I get a call from Jeff Vinik. He took the time to call me to thank me for my years in Syracuse, to tell me that if he can do something, he will help me. How many owners in the NHL are going to call their coach in the minors to thank him? That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning. »