Canada's World Junior team lit the IIHF on fire this past winter, winning seven straight games en route to the gold medal. Sure, they had Connor McDavid and Samuel Morin and any other number of elite U20 talent, but the man behind the bench wasn't too shabby either.
Benoit Groulx, the 47-year-old head coach of both the Canadian world junior team and the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques, could be a candidate for any of the NHL head coaching jobs available this offseason. Might the Flyers be interested? Let's get to know Groulx a bit better.
Age: 47 (January 30, 1968)
Playing Career: 1 season in Belgium, 10 in France; none in NHL.
- Eleven total seasons as head coach of the QMJHL's Hull/Gatineau Olympiques in 2002-08 and 2010-15: 414-274-16-58 (W-L-T-OTL) in the regular season; league champions in 2003, 2004 and 2008.
- Two seasons as head coach of the AHL's Rochester Americans in 2008-10: 73-76-11 in the regular season; one Calder Cup Playoffs appearance (lost in 1st round in 2010).
- Team Canada Under-20 World Junior Championships head coach in 2014-15: Guided Canada to a perfect 7-0 record while outscoring opponents by a total of 39-9 en route to a gold medal.
- No NHL coaching experience as a head coach or assistant.
* * *
This profile is part of our "So You Want To Coach The Flyera" series, where we'll look at a bunch of different candidates for the Flyers head coaching gig. Ron Hextall says there will "be a hell of a lot" of guys considered for this job this offseason, so we're going to profile a hell of a lot of people. Let's have some fun.
* * *
What has he accomplished as a coach?
A lot! Groulx has spent a decade in the QMJHL, and things have gone pretty well for him and his teams while he's been there. In 11 full seasons in the league, all with the Gatineau Olympiques, his teams have made it past the first round of the playoffs eight times. His teams have won three QMJHL championships, and his Olympiques were the Memorial Cup runners-up in his very first full year on the job.
His teams haven't been quite as dominant in recent years, but they're always a threat -- such as in this year's QMJHL playoffs, when the 14th-seeded Olympiques knocked off the third-seed Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the first round of the playoffs. And over the long run, it's tough to argue with his record.
But what's really put him on the map recently was the job he did coaching Canada to a gold medal in the World Junior Championships this past winter. After being an assistant coach on the 2013-14 team that failed to medal, Groulx was, to the surprise of some, picked to be the head coach of this year's team, and he guided that team to a gold medal -- its first in that tournament in six years. For a position described, per Sportsnet's Gare Joyce, as "the toughest in the game," Groulx certainly seemed to be up to the challenge of handling it.
Why is he available to be hired?
Because he feels like it, more or less: it's expected that Groulx has coached his final game with the Olympiques and will be leaving the club to take his talents elsewhere next year. And with the success that a number of coaches who have jumped from the QMJHL have found (to name a few: Alain Vigneault, Patrick Roy, Gerard Gallant, even former Olympiques coach Claude Julien), it's hard not to think he's got the NHL on his mind.
With his already having successfully coached on one of Canada's highest-profile stages this past winter, he seems to be something of a rising star in the coaching ranks. If there was ever a time for him to make a big jump, it's now.
What do we know about him tactically as a coach?
Tactically, not much. I would be lying if I said I'd watched many Gatineau Olympiques games in the past ... uh, ever. The QMJHL is and always has been a bit more of a run-and-gun, high-scoring league, but the Q coaches we've seen in the NHL have shown some varying tendencies -- just compare Patrick Roy's high-flying attack in Colorado that shows no regard for defense whatsoever to the fairly low-event, defensively-sound structure that Gerard Gallant put in place in Florida this season.
With that said, Groulx does not quite appear to be a "players' coach". From that same Sportsnet piece mentioned above:
Groulx has a record of getting results over the long run, over the course of a season. Those who like him would say that he pushes teams hard. Those who don't, and there are more than a few, would just call him a bully.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? No -- someone who pushes a team is good. But it seems clear that he can rub some the wrong way.
Fortunately, Groulx already has one key ally in the Flyers' locker room ...
How does he fit with the Flyers' roster, both now and in the future?
That 2008 Gatineau team that won the QMJHL? You're very familiar with its best player: Claude Giroux. Yes, Groulx (Benoit) coached Giroux (Claude) for all of his three years in junior hockey, and helped coach him into a first-round prospect and ultimately into the player he has become today.
Reports indicate that, unsurprisingly, the two are still close, and there are obvious benefits to reuniting the two -- having someone behind the bench who you know can help get the best out of your best player, and having a coach and captain who are likely to be in lockstep more often than not.
Furthermore, Groulx has spent his entire career working with young players of all sorts of talent levels, from mediocre to good to incredibly talented junior teams. With the Flyers needing someone who, fairly soon, will have to guide this team's high-end young defensive prospects in the right direction, Groulx's experience in dealing with young players could come in handy.
With that said, in the near future, if he does come in hoping to play more of a Q-style, up-tempo system, he may struggle to do that with this fairly non-fleet-of-foot roster. If Hextall brought in Groulx, the guess would be that it'd be done moreso with the long-term in mind than the short-term. There would likely be some growing pains ...
What are the key reservations here?
... especially when you consider what will likely be the biggest knock on Groulx: his lack of NHL experience. That shouldn't disqualify him from consideration, but it's a fair question to ask whether a guy who's never spent a game behind an NHL bench in any capacity is up to the task of running a team.
Groulx's only other experience in coaching professionals -- in the AHL from 2008 to 2010 -- did not go so well. From Rochester Americans blog Let's Go Amerks, shortly after Groulx resigned in 2010 to go back to the QMJHL:
There's no hiding the fact that Groulx was not very liked as the coach of the Amerks so this news was a perfect way to get the summer started. The players disliked playing for him, the teams management did not understand him at times, everyone questioned his decisions during games and all of that led to the fans chanting for him to leave at the last game of the year.
So, other than the decisions in the playoffs what seemed to be the problems? The way he changed up the lines often. The lack of communication between him and players about who was not playing and why. The lack of calling a time out to try and stop the momentum of the other team or calm down the Amerks as they tried to get back into a game. The fact that he was rarely on the ice for a game day skate and would often leave the building before the players were off the ice. The fact that players would watch what they would say so that they wouldn't be punished in some way.
Yikes. Now, in Groulx's defense, the Amerks took a bit of a tumble the year after he left, going from 91 points and 2nd in their seven-team division in his last year to 72 points and seventh in the following year. So maybe these complaints are being overstated (though I'll freely admit that I don't know enough about the team's roster/actual talent in those two years to say that with conviction).
Still, there are concerns. In that same piece from Joyce earlier, he mentions how Groulx's style can frustrate talented stars or even just pros in general (Joyce offers this as an explanation for why things didn't work in Rochester). And it was Groulx who apparently drove Pascal Laberge, the No. 2 overall pick in the QMJHL draft last year, away from Gatineau earlier this year.
More Coaching Candidates
More Coaching Candidates
Then again, if you believe Ken Campbell of the Hockey News, a key part of that Canada WJC team's success was actually a more easy-going style of coaching from Groulx. So maybe he's learning. But there does seem to be a track record of him frustrating players who don't see eye-to-eye with him.
Are the good results worth that? Well, that's up to the Flyers to decide.
Is he someone that is likely to be high on the Flyers' wish list?
Tough to say. On the one hand, his qualifications and accomplishments as listed above are evident, and the upside of him working with Giroux as well as the team's young prospects is high. The Flyers know that, and they can probably sell themselves and the fanbase on Groulx on those merits.
On the other hand, we all know that the Flyers have never been one to make a low-key move. In a summer where there are expected to be several qualified veteran coaches out there who have had NHL success, are Ed Snider and Ron Hextall really gonna hire a guy from juniors who's never been an NHL coach of any kind?
That's not to say Groulx won't be a hire that draws attention -- he certainly would be. But I could pretty easily see the Flyers considering him to just be a fallback in case they can't pull in an established name like Mike Babcock or Todd McLellan.
Anything else worth noting?
Groulx's last name looks very similar to Claude Giroux's, and this fact is surely something that will confuse a sizable portion of this team's fanbase and media on a regular basis. Personally, I think that's hilarious. I can hear it now in a sports talk radio hot take: "In hiring Claude Giroux's dad to be the head coach of the Flyers, is Ron Hextall pandering to his stars a bit too much?" Frankly, that may make this worth it by itself.