Thursday, March 29, 2012

Out With the Old

I confess, when I heard from a colleague that Pierre Gauthier had been fired, I wasn't surprised. I smiled really hard for the next hour or so, and there might have been dancing. Then I thought, I have to be fair. Gauthier wasn't all bad.

Sure, he was silent to the point of disdain. He made trades, in the cases of Jaro Halak and Michael Cammalleri, in which he appeared to deal only with one team when others might have made better offers. He was involved as pro scout in the trade that brought Scott Gomez to Montreal and threw away a great prospect in the process. He gave Josh Gorges only a one-year deal, then ended up signing him long term for more than he would have if he'd just done that in the first place. At the same time, he bet on Andrei Markov's knee and lost. He made several ill-timed firings and trades, largely out of panic this season. And still...and still...he signed Erik Cole. He was the guy who finally signed Alexei Emelin. He got a solid return for Hal Gill. He was working on a long-term deal with Carey Price.

Admittedly, on the scale of good versus poor decisions, the poor weigh in like the fat kid on the see-saw. On these occasions, however, you try to think of something nice about the dearly departed. In the end, you say thanks for Cole and good luck in future endeavors, as long as they're far away from the Canadiens. Then you look to the future.

The future. It's an interesting place with a whole lot of unknowns. Chief among them is who will be the person who will shape the team into a competitor and draw it out of the hole into which it's sunk? Today, team owner Geoff Molson gave us some hint of what values that person will have. Molson said he doesn't want one-and-done playoff teams anymore. He wants winners, and he's prepared to do whatever he has to do to get them. He even went as far as to say that the sacrosanct "must speak French" rule for the Habs' G.M. is negotiable, as long as the team ends up with the best possible candidate for the job. At the same time, he announced he's going to consult with ex-Habs G.M. and Hall-of-Fame defenceman, Serge Savard, in the all-important decision about who'll be the Canadiens' new hockey boss.

That's an interesting choice. Savard has an undeniably stellar record as a player, including a stint as Habs captain. As a G.M., he's got two Stanley Cups. He's also responsible for some very questionable trades, including the infamous Chris Chelios for an aging Denis Savard deal. And he drafted some of the biggest first-round busts in Habs history, including Brent Bilodeau, David Wilkie, Brad Brown, Lindsay Vallis, Turner Stevenson, Eric Charron, Mark Pederson and Jose Charbonneau. That's a lot of first-round busts.

Recently, Jason Farris, who's director of business operations and development for the Dallas Stars, published the book, "Behind the Moves." It's an in-depth look at what it takes to be a winning NHL general manager. In his research, Farris talked at length with several men who've built winning teams, including Serge Savard. Savard's comments are revealing, giving some indication of the way he believes a team should be run and what qualities he'll presumably be looking for in his hunt for a new G.M.

"As a manager," he told Farris, "My best friend was being a player. Whatever I lived as a player, I brought it as a manager. I think I was very respected from the players. I had always been a team player, and I changed the whole bonus structure to be based on the team. So after a year or two, nobody had personal bonuses, not even the highest-scoring player."

From that, we can presume Savard will be looking for someone who's actually played NHL hockey, rather than one of the new breed of intellectual students of the game. It can also be deduced that it won't be just any former player, but rather a player who was a respected leader in his on-ice career.

Savard also told Farris, "I had a plan when I first became a G.M. After a couple of weeks, I said, 'I want this team to be built like the teams I played on. I want to build from the base, right from the draft. I want to be a family again, and I want half the team to be local.' So I had my plan, and that's the way I drafted, and it paid off."

Okay. Obviously, Savard is dedicated to returning the local, French-Canadian flavour to the team on the ice. One can draw from that, that he'll be looking for someone with the same sensibility. Having told reporters today that the new G.M. will speak French, a Quebec-born man could very well be the preferred candidate. His desire to build a team from the draft up could indicate a leaning toward someone who's got a solid background in player development. And the "family" comment could mean he'd like the new guy to have some connection to the team and its history.

There are a lot of good candidates out there, and the decision, obviously, will rest with Molson. However, if Savard is going to have heavy input into that decision, we begin to get a picture of the kind of person for whom he's looking. The question is, if a highly-desirable candidate like Detroit's Jim Nill becomes available, would he really be considered without the ability to speak French? Molson says he would, Savard says he wouldn't.

Either way, it's good to look to the future with the hope that Molson will take his time with this decision and choose properly, rather than quietly slip an in-house candidate into the job as the team did with Gauthier. The new guy will have a lot to do to return the Canadiens to respectability. Gauthier might be gone, but he's left a Sherman-like trail of scorched earth behind him. That's enough to sober even today's most giddy celebration.


moeman said...

Wow. So well written. Merci J.T.

Steve said...

So who aside from Patrick Roy have you described?

pfhabs said...

the easy part has been completed; i.e., firing Gauthier and accepting Gainey's departure. after their 9 year reign even a blind squirrel could find that nut. I have my preferred GM and assistant GM but a lot of the named candidates are there because of their linguistic experience as opposed to their extensive hockey experience. I mean can anyone be really serious about Roy or Damphousse and their absolutely zero experience at anything at the NHL, AHL or even ECHL level. I hope my choices are hired but fearful that Savard's criteria (as much as I respect the man)leads Molson down the wrong trail.

btw; Savard traded Chelios on orders from Corey an anal retentive apple polisher if there ever was one.

Anonymous said...

I have that same smile JT,nice feeling isn't it.
I like Carbo and think he should be given another chance.I'm not sure about the GM but I hope they hit a home run on that choice.
Thanks JT

Raj said...

@JT: Another thoughtful article, written well as always.

@pfhabs: Is this true? And was it because Mr. Corey had personal reasons to order this? If THAT is true, that Serge Savard would have gone ahead and made a trade that clearly put the team at a disadvantage doesn't speak well of him. He should have dissuaded Mr. Corey from letting personal reasons interfere with the team's performance -- or resigned. It's letting go of players for "personal" reasons, rather than performance, that the Habs have little to show for in spite of their drafting well. Chelios, Roy, SK, Cammalleri and AK (to mention just some names) have brought back less in trade than we gave up.

pfhabs said...


will answer you re Chelios in this manner. you can do what your boss asks you to do or resign on principle and depending on specific circumstances you choose one or the other.

but let's cut Serge some slack. whom do you think "asked" Gainey to put together a deal for Lecavalier ? whom a couple of years ago made a public announcement at a civic event that soon the CH would have that superstar francophone centre ? the deal for those that missed that discussion was Subban, Plekanecs & Gorges for Vinny. Gainey made the deal but luckily for the CH, Bettman killed the deal because of the infighting of owners in TBay where one wanted Vinny gone and the other not.

being a GM, especially in Montreal, has aspects beyond just showing up for annual meetings oceanside in Florida. a GM has masters to whom he reports and at times a GM is told what to do by them. short of being illegal or immoral telling your boss to take a hike on an instruction is not a long term strategy to progress in your chosen field of endeavour

Anonymous said...

Gauthier was deservedly fired because of too many WTF moves (firing coaches on game days, trading a player during a game, the Kaberle trade, etc) and because his cone of silence mentality created an information void - a void filled by rumours, speculation, and confusion (why did Markov get a 3 year deal and Gorges just a 1 year deal? Maybe regular medical updates would have provided the answer).

Gauthier also had one other key failing - he was like a head chef who routinely created uninspiring meals out of good ingredients because he couldn't get the recipe right. He always used too much of ingredient A and not enough of B or C.

And it's this ability to get the mix of players consistently right that separates the great
GMs from the also-rans.


the Maritimer said...

@pfhabs, I think it was Price not Subban that was part of that deal which would have made it even worse. Also, was it GG who told Gainey to make the deal? Just curious.