Each one of our lives is filled with learning lessons. There are certain events during our time on Earth that impact all of us. From Joe the Plumber to Joe the President of the United States – we all have defining experiences in our lives.
One such event in the life of Geoff Molson was when many were condemning his beloved entity – the Montreal Canadiens – for the selection of Logan Mailloux in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
There were widespread public demands for the GM to be fired immediately, for the pick to be renounced, and for Molson to resign his position as president of the hockey club.
In the 50 years that I have been following the club, there has not been another moment that came close in terms of public indignation. Even the Prime Minister, a lifelong Habs fan, felt the need to weigh in on the subject. The word “disgraceful” was brought up by many people.
The negative backlash was so extreme that several of the club’s sponsors demanded a meeting with Molson, and it is not a stretch to imagine that Geoff was going through the darkest period of his adult life at that moment.
Our characters are often defined by how we react to adversity. Some double down like Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, and refuse to accept any responsibility or offer humility. Some; like Molson, use adversity as a learning moment and become better human beings because of it.
This isn’t to say that Molson wasn’t already a good human being. I am only suggesting that he has become a better one, and in turn, has also become a better NHL owner.
Molson promised a few years back to start listening to the fans, and to be more transparent in what the club was doing. While it hardly happened overnight, the whole Mailloux fiasco certainly accelerated the process.
People weighed in more than ever on what was wrong with the culture of the club after Mailloux was picked, and to his credit, Molson listened.
He was told that more diversity and resources were needed in management and executive positions, coaching, development and public relations.
In other words: spend more money, hire more women in pivotal positions, get skills coaches, expand the analytics department, and hire a buffer between you and the general manager.
In the past 12 months, Molson has done all of those things, and for that, he should be commended.
Firing Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins after the disastrous start to last season may not have happened if they hadn’t drafted Mailloux. Molson’s decision to oust public relations director Paul Wilson at the same time was a clear indication that those three were taking the fall for the PR nightmare of drafting Mailloux.
This was Molson’s opportunity to wrong a right by hiring someone in a presidential position to be an added layer of decision-making between Molson and the new GM, and Molson did just that.
If there had been a Jeff Gorton in place before the 2021 draft, would the decision have been made to draft Mailloux? One gets the feeling that Molson didn’t get involved too much in the final decision – he left it up to Bergevin to make that call, just as he had in the past.
When it became clearer to me that the Canadiens, like all of the other teams at the top of the draft, preferred Juraj Slafkovsky over Shane Wright in the 2022 draft, I was confident that the club would pick the player they determined would help them the most in the future.
Word came from an NHL scout a week or so before the draft, however, that the Canadiens were having second thoughts and might take Wright at first overall.
That led me to wonder whether Molson was stepping in to influence the final decision. The media and fans were Wrightcentric for most of the season. There were very few cracks in the dam despite heavy whispers from me and others that Shane wasn’t the Wright choice. For many fans, it was Wright or bust – bust some heads.
Molson was under immense pressure to do what the fans wanted this time around, especially with his team hosting the draft and holding the first pick. Did the club want to face adversity on the first night of the draft once again, especially with them hosting the event?
Whether Molson ever weighed in on the pick is unknown, but it can now be assumed that he didn’t direct Gorton and Hughes to take the popular choice, and for that he deserves kudos. Let the people you hire do their jobs. Trust that the fans wouldn’t revolt over the club passing on Wright, and give the new regime the benefit of the doubt.
It also took a certain amount of temerity to replace a French-Canadian GM with two anglophones, albeit one who is a bilingual Montreal native that gets most of the screen time in new GM Kent Hughes. There were protestations from the French press when Hughes was hired but that soon dissipated when reporters were able to conclude that this Hughes fellow may actually be competent.
The Maple Leafs scored huge PR points in hiring women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser a couple of years ago to be part of the team.
The Canadiens answered that recently by getting Marie-Philp Poulin to help out as a skills coach. The most esteemed active player in women’s hockey working with young players to make them better.
Does this happen if Mailloux isn’t drafted and the Canadiens aren’t called out for having an old boy’s club from top to bottom within the organization? Perhaps not, but Molson deserves praise for addressing the critique head-on with a tremendous addition in Poulin.
The hiring of Chantal Machabee as the director of public relations was another smart move when it came to mending fences – her hiring received unanimous support among fans and media members. Highly respected and well-liked, one also can’t help but wonder how much better the whole aftermath of drafting Mailloux may have been handled if Machabee had been in charge last summer. One assumes that Machabee would have been far more prepared for the intense backlash than Wilson. Yet another case of “better late than never” one supposes.
The Canadiens under Marc Bergevin were reticent to have former players in the fold, and that made little sense for a hockey club with the richest history on the planet. No team has more Hall of Famers and Cup winners. Why keep their influence and wisdom from the current players?
Reminding young players that wearing the CH is a privilege, and not a right, is never a bad thing. They should feel pressure and pride to win and reclaim past glories. Ignoring the club’s former success made little sense – was it because Bergevin was worried that his mediocre record would pale in comparison?
Hiring Chris Nilan, Patrice Brisebois, Guy Carbonneau and Vinny Damphousse as ambassadors a few weeks ago was long overdue, and yet another smart move by MoHuGo.
The holy triumvirate seems to be getting it – that at least half of the world’s population is female, and there may be a bunch of them who can help the organization.
One need not look any further than the Canadiens’ website to see a profound change at the top of the executive chain:
Four of the ten are women, and that was certainly never the case in the past.
Molson elevated France Margaret Bélanger to the position of President, Sports and Entertainment of the Groupe CH in August of last year. Belanger is the first woman to serve on the executive committee of the Montreal Canadiens in its 104-year history. Coincidence? Perhaps not…but that’s okay. Once again, the “better late than never” principle comes into play, and Belanger was wholly deserving of the promotion.
It is often said that: “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” Slowly but surely, the hockey world is changing, and men who were at one time reluctant to have women weighing in on important decisions are finally realizing that it’s not only the right thing…but the smart thing to do.
Live and learn.
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