Friday, April 27, 2012

The Senator

Serge Savard still carries quite a bit of influence in Montreal hockey circles. One doesn't become a Canadiens captain, multiple Stanley Cup winner and Hall-of-Fame defenceman without building up some impressive street cred. Savard's also got some clout with current Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson. Molson remembers hanging around the '70s Habs dynasty team as a little kid, and the memory makes him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He naturally respects and admires Savard as a hockey man, and those factors have led him to place his trust in Savard's knowledge as the pair select the next Canadiens general manager.

To date, the scuttlebutt about candidates under consideration for the post is positive. While the names up for public speculation are mostly French Canadian, the fact that Detroit's Jim Nill and New York's Doug Risebrough made the list indicates language will not be an inflexible requirement for the job. The question now becomes: what will primarily motivate Serge Savard's recommendation to Molson?

The answer to that  will be based not only on what Savard's personal preferences might be, but also on what Savard's role with the Canadiens will be after the new GM is selected and installed. Radio Canada reported there's been discussion about making Savard a Vice President in the organization, and that the new GM will be answerable to him. Savard has categorically denied that, but it raises a legitimate question about what Molson intends to do after Savard's current role has been fulfilled. The most concerning part of the Radio Canada report was the idea that he would be somehow in charge of the GM he hires.

If that's the case, there's a new question: How much power will Savard have to approve or deny the general manager's decisions? Should Savard be responsible for overseeing the GM's moves, it would, naturally, undermine the latter's authority. In that case, one must wonder why the team would bother to hire someone else to begin with.

On the surface, it seems reasonable that Savard might be the de facto GM. He's got the aforementioned ties to the team. He built the Habs' last two Cup-winners when he held the GM post in truth. Those are the positive things. With a deeper look, though, anyone would have to admit the game has changed since Savard has been seriously involved.

It's well recognized that a lot of things happen behind the scenes in hockey management, and who you know is more important in some cases than what you know. Savard has been away from the inner machinations of the NHL for many years as he's developed his hotel and real estate interests. He likely still has acquaintances in the league, but he probably isn't the first guy a rival GM would call to float an interesting trade. There's also the fact that the last time Savard was a GM, a rich team could go out and buy itself a winning lineup. Trading picks and prospects for "win right now" veterans was acceptable. The philosophy behind building a winner is different now than when he last managed in the NHL, by a lot. The post-lockout world demands a different type of player as well. Players Savard would have dismissed for being too small or passive in the '80s are perfectly acceptable now.

It might be that Savard has been keeping up with his contacts within the league and he's modified his views to match the kind of game the NHL is moving toward. It would be much more clear-cut, however, if he took a step back after his work in advising Molson in the selection of a new GM is done. His remaining securely in the management mix will serve only to muddy the waters in a time when clarity of purpose is vital.

I like Serge Savard. I have deep respect for his accomplishments with the Canadiens as both a player and a manager. I also think it's time for a new direction for the team, and clinging to the past isn't the most productive way to go. If Savard can be instrumental in hiring the person who will constructively lead the team forward, that's great. After that, the new guy should be allowed to do the job for which Savard selected him. On his own.


sheldon said...

Excellent post JT, i love Serge, but IMO the Habs need a new direction and someone fresh to lead them in the new NHL.

Anonymous said...

Savard becoming VP of Hockey Operations is just another silly rumour. The Habs have nothing to gain from not announcing this kind of appointment.

On the other, not being straight about Savard's future role, could cost them some potential GM candidates. Who would want to work for an organization that plays these kind of games?

If the Habs hire an inexperienced GM I could see Savard assuming a mentorship/sounding board role with him. The nature of this relationship would be discussed during the interview process.

If the Habs hire an experienced GM then I could see Savard being Molson's hockey buddy. Someone to watch games with and reminsce with about the Habs' glory days.


PS Happy belated birthday. And by the way things get easier after 40 because it's all downhill.

zaskar said...

JT, I totally disagree. At first I felt the same way however I think there is an important role for Savard. It was a terrible loss when Molson got rid of his president Boivin. Although I did not agree with Boivin's strong feelings about french speaking Managers/coaches/players there is no denying that Boivin is an excellent manager and ran the business very successfully. All the time he allowed his hockey staff (we think) to act independently. Now that he is gone I feel that same role should and could be filled by Savard. Provided he takes the same hands off approach to hockey ops. I believe it would be a much better situation than the alternative which is to have the GM answer to the owner. Owners should be owners and step away from the hockey operations completely. Having a direct line from GM to owner is in my opinion a recipe for disaster.

Keep up the great blogs!

HabFab said...

@zaskar - Boivin was replaced by Kevin Gilmore. You can check him out on the Canadiens web site. I don't see much involvement for Savard after the GM is selected except maybe in some "special advisor" role. I suspect like Kevin Gilmore that the new GM will be of the "young brilliant type" aka one of the B's (BriseBois, Bergervin or Blair)

Anonymous said...

I usually like your takes on Habland, but I cannot honestly say I like this one. It is based on speculations and too many unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable (is that a word?) rumours and guesses.

What makes anyone believe that Savard WANTS to be working for the Habs given his other commitments? And his inability to own the team? And I do not buy into the speculation that the game has changed so much. Sure Bettman wants to spread the jam on the entire slice of bread so we cannot expect dynasties, but the game is predicated on the ability to hire staff who understand the basic fundamentals of the game. Btw, didn't Gainey bring in many small, quick, scooters for a cost of around $18M?