MONTREAL - It's what many fans have been calling for not just for months, but for years.

The day has finally arrived.

Thursday morning the Canadiens tweeted a brief announcement: Pierre Gauthier has been relieved from his duties. The search for a new General Manager is underway.

Team president and owner Geoff Molson said Gauthier's dismissal was based on a lengthy period of underperforming.

"This season did not deliver on those expectations. Our fans can trust that ownership will accept nothing less than a winning culture from this organization," said Molson.

"Everyone in this organization, including our players, expected better," he said.

Former player Serge Savard will be acting as "an advisor" to the Canadiens while the team searches for a new General Manager.

Molson said that former player, GM, and coach Bob Gainey was also departing the team's organization. Gainey and Gauthier are longtime friends.

"The Bell Centre the other night when the Florida Panthers were in town was as empty as it's been all season, that's as clear a warning sign as ownership needs that a change had to be made," said Conor McKenna, radio host at Team 990.

Fans seemed happy with the news, "I was relieved, to say the least, and I'm pretty happy about it," one told CTV Montreal.

"I think it's about time that team finally reacts," said another.

Paying the price

Gauthier paid the price for a 29-34-14 season that has the Habs languishing in the Eastern Conference basement.

A string of moves this season did not revive the battered Canadiens.

Gauthier fired assistant coach Perry Pearn and then head coach Jacques Martin in mid-December, only to find himself in even hotter water for appointing the unilingual Randy Cunneyworth as interim coach.

With protests from some Quebec nationalist groups and an ongoing controversy in the media, Gauthier elected to apologize and promise there will be a French-speaking coach behind the bench next season.

The Habs have reeled with injuries and sub-par performances.

In February, Molson resorted to Twitter to deny rumours during the season that Gauthier too had been axed.

"Rumours of Pierre Gauthier's firing are false," he tweeted.

Rumours had been swirling in local media and online that Gauthier was no longer calling the shots.

Gauthier was named GM and executive vice-president in February 2010, taking over from Gainey.

He joined the organization in July 2003 when he was appointed director of professional scouting.

Some have speculated that former Habs' goaltender Patrick Roy might be considered for the post. The mercurial Roy has a close relationship with Savard, who will be consulted in the quest for a new GM.

Roy had reportedly refused an offer to coach in Denver a few years back, preferring to run the Remparts, the junior team from his native Quebec City. He is also considered a candidate to run a future Quebec City NHL franchise. 

Former NHL coach Pierre McGuire has also been mentioned as a possibility. McGuire, currently a colour-commentator for NHL NBC TV broadcasts, is said to have a close relationship with Habs' owner Geoff Molson and is believed to have ambitions of running an NHL team.

With a file from The Canadian Press