The Montreal Canadiens are at a crossroads. Poised at the juncture of several possible paths, the most important decision they make this off-season will be choosing the person who will lead them forward. The new general manager will be responsible for selecting the team's highest draft pick in more than thirty years, deciding what to do with Scott Gomez, shoring up the defence and the second line and signing P.K.Subban and Carey Price to new contracts. And that's just before September. After this season's debacle and the steady erosion of the Canadiens' reputation for first-class behaviour under Pierre Gauthier's regime, it's vital the Habs carefully choose the right person. To that end, it's very important to examine all available candidates.
So far, we've heard many of the names of the men Serge Savard and Geoff Molson are considering for the job. Julien BriseBois is a popular choice. So is Pierre McGuire, for some. Claude Loiselle, Patrick Roy, Marc Bergevin, Vincent Damphousse, Pat Brisson and Blair Mackasey have also joined the list. It's an impressive list by any measure. Still there's a candidate who should be considered, whose name hasn't been, and won't be, mentioned.
This former player has won a scoring title, three Olympic gold medals and five World Championships. The candidate earned an honours degree in psychology from Harvard, while becoming the all-time NCAA scoring leader and while coaching younger players. The family genes are good too, with a famous sports-psychologist dad who counsels NHL teams, a brother who's already an assistant NHL GM, without nearly as good a resume, and a mom who represented Canada twice at the Olympics. And, yes, this candidate speaks both English and French fluently.
Her name is Jennifer Botterill.
Right now, many of you are probably immediately dismissing the idea that a woman could be qualified to be the Canadiens general manager, but if you are, stop and think about it for a moment. What, precisely, qualified Pierre Gauthier to take the job? Certainly not his playing career or front-office success. Bob Gainey's resume wasn't better than Botterill's, only he played in the NHL, while she was played at the highest level of competition in the women's game. Garth Snow had no pedigree when he became the Isles' GM. Neither did Brett Hull when the Stars hired him. The point is, there are likely as many good female candidates out there as male, but they won't be considered because of their sex. That's as stupid as passing over a great person because they don't speak the right language.
Take Hayley Wickenheiser, for example. She's probably the greatest player ever in women's hockey. There's nothing she hasn't accomplished on the ice, including becoming the first woman to score in a men's pro game. Away from the ice, she's studying to attend medical school after hockey, she's a mom and she's a member of the Order of Canada. Sports Illustrated named her to its list of 25 Toughest Athletes, and The Hockey News placed her #59 on its list of the top 100 Most Influential People in Hockey.
Or what about Vicky Sunohara? She's a hockey legend and generally regarded as one of the greatest leaders ever to play the women's game. She's instructed young players for years, and is now the head coach of the Toronto Varsity Blues women's team. Or maybe Danielle Goyette? She's got a pair of Olympic gold medals and is the head coach of the Calgary Dinos varsity women's team. One of the players she coached last year? Hayley Wickenheiser.
Women have been making their mark in hockey for a long time, but are only now beginning to make inroads into the professional ranks. Teams like the Montreal Stars, featuring some of the best in the game, are slowly seeing their popularity increase. The fact that more people don't come out to watch them, however, doesn't mean their hockey minds aren't as keen or their ability to become managers in the sport any less than a guy who punched his GM ticket as an NHL player. (In fact, considering the number of head shots handed out in men's versus women's hockey, I'd be more inclined to trust an ex-player of the female variety when it comes to logic and solid decision-making.)
The Canadiens won't hire Jen Botterill to be their GM, or even give her a shot as an assistant GM so she'll have a chance to learn the front-office ropes. It's a shame, because she'd be a great candidate. And, really, talent and potential in management are just as important as they are on the ice. The NHL team that decides to look for that talent and potential among the entire hockey community rather than just half of it, will someday, perhaps, be pleasantly surprised. The Canadiens would be wise to be trailblazers and think about it.