Montreal Canadiens: Mediocrity from the Top Down
May 29, 2009 8:15 am.
Office of the President
Executive Assistant: Mr. Boivin, I have the general manager on the line.
Boivin: Put him through.
Boivin: Pierre!! Ça va?
Gainey: Ummm, Mr. Boivin, it's Bob. Bob Gainey.
Boivin: *Deep sigh*
Gainey: Well sir, I'm just calling about our new coach. I think I've found him.
Boivin: Is he francophone? You know that's my top priority, Bob.
Gainey: Yes, sir. Yes, he is.
Boivin: OK fine, then hire him.
Gainey: I thought you'd be interested in hearing about his qualifications.
Boivin: *Deep sigh*
Gainey: Remember we agreed that he should have NHL coaching experience?
Boivin: If you say so.
Gainey: He has experience. Almost 15 years as a head coach.
Boivin: Did he win anything?
Gainey: I didn't say it was winning experience, just experience. His teams only made it past the first round of the playoffs three times. Once he even got past the second round. Unfortunately, since the lockout, there haven't been any playoff appearances.
Boivin: You did say he is francophone, right?
Gainey: Yes sir, I did.
Boivin: Good job, Bob. Gauthier will be proud of you. Anything else?
Gainey: I really wanted a coach who will demand that our players aggressively pursue the puck. We really need a coaching system to match our team. With the new additions, we'll have players with speed and skill.
Boivin: Whatever. So does he have that?
Gainey: Well, he says that he wants a puck possession team. Although, his previous teams have never used that style.
Boivin: That's good enough for me.
Gainey: So, shall I go ahead, sir?
Boivin: You had me at "Allo," Bob. But do me a favour. You better run this past Pierre.
Gainey: Yes, sir.
Boivin: One more thing, Bob. I'll have my assistant send over the TV schedule for the Winter Olympics. I wouldn't want you to miss a minute.
While some of us still reminisce about 24 Stanley Cups, the Canadiens continue to fight down to the wire in a struggle to secure one of the final playoff spots. What's next? A pessimist (or maybe just a realist) will predict that a few postseason games will bring an end to a frustrating season.
But why should we expect any better? When the dynasty teams of the Canadiens were winning Stanley Cups, they had some of the best players in the game. We are reminded of them as we look at their retired sweaters in the rafters of the Bell Centre: Richard, Beliveau, Harvey, Savard, Plante, Dryden...
But it should not be forgotten that the Habs also had the best off-ice talent in the league, too. Dick Irvin, Toe Blake, and Scotty Bowman are all Hall of Fame coaches. As general manager, Sam Pollock built nine Stanley Cup winning teams, and Franke Selke had six.
When was the last time that the storied Montreal Canadiens franchise declared that they were in the market for the best available person to fill a hockey department vacancy, without caveat?
The Detroit Red Wings currently own the longest consecutive playoff streak at 20 years and have won the most Stanley Cups in the last 15 years. Is that not a measure of success?
So why would the Canadiens insist on sending a message to the NHL's best and brightest, like Ken Holland or the promising executive Steve Yzerman, that they need not apply? Even McGill University alum Mike Babcock is not welcome by the bleu, blanc, et rouge.
So how would we rate our current crew? Based on his management record, would Pierre Gauthier rank in the top 20 GMs in the NHL? Not a chance. Was the pro scouting department one of the gems of the organization under his tutelage?
Perhaps the most positive thing that can be said about Jacques Martin is that his coaching style is a poor match for the type of players on the team. Being more critical, the game has probably passed him by since the lockout.
For his part, President Pierre Boivin has decided that a social engineering experiment is far more important than hockey excellence. The Canadiens are no longer a meritocracy. The organization is set on a path of continued mediocrity.
Should we have any expectations that the new owners will right this bobbing ship? Sadly, no. Hope was dashed when Gauthier was not given an interim title when taking over from Bob Gainey. These guys are here to stay.
It's discouraging that the league's most dedicated fans will likely continue to ride the rollercoaster of hope and disappointment. Some of us will wonder what it would be like if those at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens shared the same passion for the team of its loyal supporters.
So next time you have the urge to complain about a lack of first line talent on the ice, instead think about the group of fourth liners that we have running the show.
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