It's certainly not my intention to open a language debate. Frankly, I don't think it has any place in this forum. I would prefer that any position in the Canadiens organization be filled on merit rather than political considerations.
But, I was astonished at some of the things said by Canadiens' president Pierre Boivin at Monday's news conference announcing the resignation of Bob Gainey. They would be unthinkable in any other market in the NHL. Given that Boivin opened the door, I think his comments are worthy of discussion.
I also wonder whether Boivin's preoccupation with non-hockey matters when making hockey decisions is a major reason preventing the Canadiens from taking the next step of once again becoming an elite team in the NHL.
While Gainey had to endure daily criticism in his position of general manager, it appears that Boivin is remarkably thin-skinned for someone in his position. Unprompted, Boivin responded forcefully to a rumour circulating that Gainey had less authority since the Molson brothers assumed ownership of the team than under George Gillett Jr.
"Unfounded. Nothing has changed," said Boivin, assertively. "The general manager has always had the full latitude to take hockey decisions."
It appeared that the rumours hit a nerve with Boivin. He could have been accused of protesting too much. Whatever it was, Boivin was being more than a little disingenuous. In an obvious example of the general manager not having complete autonomy, Gainey was restricted to a very small pool of candidates in his selection of head coach to one who met Boivin's language criteria.
Boivin's policy also applied to the general manager's position. He said that considering candidates from outside the organization was a brief exercise given his requirement that the person have the "ability to communicate in both languages." He conceded that the "list narrows down very quickly."
No kidding. Yet, it seems that the organization has not yet figured out that a diminished pool affects the quality of the candidates.
Having a "francophone presence" at all levels of the organization was mentioned by both Boivin and Gauthier in their media interviews.
When asked about the importance of bilingualism for the GM's position, Boivin responded, "You bet it's important. It's our mission. There's no question about it. Two-thirds to three-fourths of our fans and clients are francophones."
Boivin's statement about mission partly explains why the Canadiens may find themselves in tough against NHL teams who have "winning the Stanley Cup" as their organization mission.
While his statistics may be accurate for the city and province, I imagine that it may have been quite a surprise to millions worldwide that Boivin's myopic vision of the Canadiens' fanbase doesn't extend beyond the boundaries of Quebec.
I thought of all of the fans who don their Canadiens' jerseys and travel long distances to fill arenas in the 29 other NHL cities across North America who are not part of Boivin's select statistics. Also excluded are the European Habs fans who set their alarms for the middle of the night to watch games; the fans in Asia and Australia who scramble to find online video streams; and Brazilian fans who follow game tweets on Twitter as a way of keeping up with their beloved team.
With the Canadiens being Canada's team (as determined in a recent poll) and their worldwide following, Boivin seems oblivious to business and marketing opportunities. If all were tallied, French would be only one language of many spoken by their fans and potential clients.
Maybe it's not a surprise that global fans are out of his view when Boivin apparently can't even see a few blocks away to Percival Molson Stadium. There, the Montreal Alouettes' general manager, head coach, and star quarterback wouldn't meet the Canadiens' language requirements. The Alouettes hire on merit and the results speak for themselves. Not surprisingly, fans don't appear too upset to support a winning organization.
It's clear that in choosing Gainey's successor in Pierre Gauthier that Boivin didn't cast a very wide net. Don't the Canadiens deserve to choose from the best of the best?
In pondering a suitable replacement, is there another in the ranks of NHL executives with the intellect and class of a Bob Gainey? You would be hard pressed to name one. Perhaps the one who most readily comes to mind is Steve Yzerman, a future NHL GM in the making.
And sadly, according to Boivin, Yzerman is not qualified for any position with the Montreal Canadiens.