Grant’s Slant – Habs Need a New Team President
November 19, 2017
By Grant McCagg
If you love something, set it free.
Geoff Molson..are you listening? The time has come my rich friend. Reach into those deep pockets and do what should have been done the moment your family re-acquired the Habs….step down and hire a president.
The powers that be in Toronto and Chicago finally figured out that president is where you truly start the rebuild, and I’m not talking about hiring a “Seabass”….a former team great known more for his passion and toughness than his brains who like Marc Bergevin appears to be stuck in a past era.
Team owners simply should not be running the hockey operations…you hire people with the proper connections, experience, and most importantly, the time, to do the job correctly.
When did the Chicago Blackhawks finally turn around a team that in 2004 was named by ESPN as the worst franchise in sports?
Team owner Bill Wirtz passed away in 2007 after 41 years as club president and zero Stanley Cups, and his son Rocky had the wherewithal to not install himself, but instead hired John McDonough, formerly with the Chicago Cubs, to become the new president.
The club went on to win three Stanley Cups in the next decade and are considered by many to have been the best team in the NHL ever since.
Then there are the Habs’ southern Ontario neighbours that just spanked them 6-0 in front of an embarrassed city.
Many point to MLSE’s decision to hire Brendan Shanahan as team president as the turning point for the Leafs, and it’s hard to argue that contention. Since he began running the hockey operations he has made smart hire after smart hire, and a club denigrated for decades in regards to inept management is now the envy of Canadian teams in that department.
Few NHL teams struggled more mightily than the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first dozen years of existence, but since they hired John Davidson as team president…he made some smart hires, and now the team is a contender for the first time in franchise history.
You start at the top, and right now that’s where the Habs are most broken.
Molson comes across as a nice enough fella; he’s cheerful, rich, handsome and affable, but that doesn’t win championships. The Canadiens need a team president who has 16 hours a day to devote to the job, not one who is also more than occasionally distracted by a billion-dollar company that also requires his attention.
It’s not just because of time and lack of hands-on experience that you rarely see an NHL owner these days who also serves as team president; it also comes down to conflicts.
A president who also controls the purse strings is going to be more reluctant to agree to the firing of employees with long-term contracts.
A prime example of that is the handling of Michel Therrien, who by most accounts should have been fired during the 2015-16 season when the team fell completely apart and the players most evidently had tuned him out.
Yet Bergevin had recently and inexplicably penned Therrien to a four-year contract extension, and it was going to cost Molson many millions to fire MT so soon after that error. It was an ideal time to replace Therrien with Guy Boucher and I was one of many who were calling for that move to be made. Alas…Therrien was owed so much money that it was decided to give him another opportunity, and it was only after another 12 months or so of salary were off the books that the proper decision to fire Therrien was made. Meanwhile, Boucher got snapped up by Ottawa and has done a stellar job turning that team’s fortunes around.
What did Bergevin have to do? Replace Therrien with yet another old-school conservative coach…and to lure him from his Boston commitment felt the need to also sign him to a lengthy contract before he had proven a single thing as Montreal’s coach. Boston fired Julien for a reason…it wasn’t like he was getting better as a coach, but Bergevin had few options midway through the season, and looks like he ended up repeating the same mistake he made with giving Therrien a far-too lengthy contract that only makes it difficult to replace until it’s far too late, especially when…here we go again..the team’s president is also the person who signs the cheques.
Wash, rinse, repeat……and lose.
One of the NHL owners making the most money from his fan base (years of sellouts in one of the league’s largest buildings) is coming across as a penny pincher, and that perhaps is the most troublesome of all. The rabid fan base shouts for the firing of Bergevin, but not the replacement of Molson as President? That one baffles me. Because he’s likeable and behind the scenes?
One wonders if Molson simply won’t spend the money to hire a president…he waits too long to replace coaches/GM’s that will still be owed plenty of money. He even cuts corners on his scouting staff, having gone more than a full season without a full-time amateur scout in Ontario between firing Frank Jay and replacing him with Serge Boisvert 1 1/2 years later while the Leafs have about five scouts covering the league that is the top producer of draft prospects in the world.
The evidence of his reluctance to spend his money goes right back to when Molson corporation once again became the owners of the team in 2009. When Bob Gainey stepped down as the general manager, Molson didn’t do his homework, conduct interviews and hire the best possible candidate. Instead, he promoted Pirre Gauthier without interviewing or considering one other person. Gauthier was long known in NHL circles for being the most frugal NHL GM on the planet, and that reputation was only enhanced in Montreal. Gauthier was now the GM, assistant GM, chief pro scout…hey…why pay for all of those positions when Gauthier not only will do them…but insist on doing them?
Gauthier proceeded to dismantle the scouting staff…letting go of several scouts on both the amateur and pro level, and never replacing many of them. He liked a “skeleton staff” was the explanation…but it meant a significant saving in cash doled out for Molson too. In fact, there are still some positions that remain unfilled to this day. When one compares Toronto’s scouting staff to Montreal’s as an example..it’s not even close in terms of financial commitment and numbers.
Gauthier was such a spendthrift that he even cut back on team meals, eliminating some food items like cheese…and for a team owner who makes millions at every home game, it’s not something I’ve ever been able to understand; why he seems intent on cutting corners when he’s making a boatload of cash. It would be fine if it wasn’t affecting the team, but evidence points to the opposite being the case, especially on the pro scouting side. Head scout Trevor Timmins has done a remarkable job still finding talent considering draft position, lack of top 90 picks and minimal scouting help; I’m not sure the same can be said with the pro scouting staff, though.
Were there Montreal scouts watching Karl Alzner last season, and especially in the playoffs? You have to wonder…because if so there is a good chance he’s not given that contract. Same thing with Hemsky and Mark Streit…were Montreal scouts watching those guys last season? I almost hope not.
It all makes one wonder if Molson has never hired a team president so that he simply doesn’t have to pay the salary.
A modern-day Bill Wirtz? Well, we know how that ended up…a once-storied franchise making several appearances in the finals with Mikita and Hull run into the ground.
I’m not exactly sure how this would have to go down; I suppose Molson’s board of directors would need to hold a vote and elect to have Geoff step down. Well…that time has come as difficult and acrimonious such a move would be. I suppose the other option would be for Molson to resign the position, but that doesn’t look like it’s about to happen.
You google “Geoff Molson” and the first article that comes up is “Canadiens owner Geoff Molson pleased with GM’s offseason moves.” That headline looks pretty farcical right now. Pleased that Bergevin saved him another $9M? Pleased that Markov was replaced by Alzner/Streit and Radulov by Ales Hemsky?
It is time for a new club president to make the hard decisions that lay ahead…whether Bergevin and Julien and Lefebvre and Carriere and so on need to go, and if so, who to bring in to turn around this team.
The one person who I think would be ideally suited for the huge task ahead would be Bobby Smith. Yes…I realize that the name will ruffle some Francophone feathers as it’s not Robert Smitheau, but perhaps even more importantly for this organization, it is time to stop eliminating 90 percent of viable candidates for senior management positions because some reporters won’t be getting a few quotes in French.
How often is the team president interviewed? There is a simple solution for those infrequent occasions – have an interpreter…for both languages. They do it in government, do it for North America’s most bilingual sports team on the rare occasion that it’s needed.
Bobby Smith is one of the sharpest hockey minds around, and a former Cup-winning Hab. If Smith had not been so proficient athletically there is every reason to believe he would have been a doctor. He was such a brilliant student in high school that they eventually created a scholastic Trophy for the OHL and named it the Bobby Smith Trophy.
On top of his renowned intelligence, Smith has run the Halifax Mooseheads for the past 15 years and with the possible exception of London, has had the most successful junior franchise during his tenure…pumping out tons of high-end NHL players and consistently assembling a junior team that is a Memorial Cup contender.
Smith has the smarts, experience and track record to run an NHL team and put all the proper pieces in place. He would be the ideal choice to be the next president of the Canadiens. And yes…he can even speak some French, even if it’s predominantly perfunctory.
I have no idea if Smith would accept the job, but you would have to think at the very least he’d be flattered and willing to listen. Offer him what he wants; give him carte blanche to fix what is ailing the team.
I like Geoff Molson. He seems like a great guy any time I see him interviewed, and I’m sure he does a fine job with Molson’s and is even a half-decent hockey mind. It’s not like he would be going away..just handing off some of his responsibilities.
I didn’t mind his hiring of Bergevin even if it bothered me how close he came to hiring Pierre McGuire instead, and I by no means think he has done a horrible job as president of the club all things considered. I do, however, think there are plenty of others doing a better job, and quite possibly it’s because they are also not hindered by being the team owner, and if this club is to truly get back to being a serious contender, it’s time to being in a sharp hockey mind to ensure that it happens.
I did not know about the lack of scouting in Ontario. Good lord. That is unforgivable for an organization of this value.