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The Apprentice

Hiring coaches and GMs with little or no experience has been part of the Canadiens' organizational DNA these past 3 decades. Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Guy Carbonneau, and Dom Ducharme got their first gig as coaches in the NHL in Montreal. The same can be said with regards to the hiring of the vital role of the general manager. There too, the Canadiens brought in one apprentice after another in the role (with the exception being Bob Gainey). This, however, is not the modus operandi of most successful sports franchises.

But then again this is Montréal, and I, as a francophone (or Franco-Anglo) understand the importance of giving French-speaking Quebecers an opportunity. But there are circumstances when this simply cannot be possible.

The results since the mid-90s have been dismal, and it was nice to see Geoff Molson finally put his foot down this past week, and completely overhaul his team. Bringing in the most experienced person available as VP of Hockey Operations was the right move, regardless of language (btw how did Martin Lapointe and Rob Ramage preserve their jobs, both respectively in charge of player personnel/amateur drafting and player development- areas this organization precisely struggled in during the past few years).

Jeff Gorton was behind the great Bruins teams of the past decade or so, helping draft key young players, acquire the right veterans at the right time. He notably ran the 2006 NHL Entry Draft which produced for the Bruins players like Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand. He swung a steal of a deal when he shipped Andrew Raycroft to Toronto in return for Tukka Rask. He was also the mastermind behind the young, talented Rangers team we see battling for the top spot in their division this season. He has sat in several chairs throughout his career, has multiple contacts around the league, and finally brings credibility and experience to Les Canadiens. Again, en anglais (though it would be nice if he tried, real hard, to learn our beautiful language).

So everything should be rosy around here, right?

Well, not quite.

Some prominent francophone journalists have been critical of Molson's hiring of Gorton. Questioning why a Québécois was not put at the helm instead. Names like Stéphane Quintal have been brandied about. I find this, quite frankly, preposterous. Comparing Quintal's "feuille de route" next to Gorton's is a testament to just how biased some in this market are. A few years as one of the individuals in charge of player safety makes him credible in areas like drafting, player development, and salary cap management? The same can be said of Patrick Roy and other local names we have heard mentioned. Gorton has been involved in every facet of a professional hockey organization, dating back to the early 90s. There is no comparison.

The segment of the population (likely smaller than these "pur et dur" media types lead us on to believe) that want a "gars de chez nous" running their fable franchise will still get their wish. Somewhat.

A less experienced GM will be hired and be Gorton's trainee for a couple of years, till he learns the ropes. But this has yet to appease these journalists and their staunch, hard-core views (meaning they would much prefer a far less competent president of hockey ops as long as he is a Francophone). Unfortunate, to say the least. They may also be forgetting that Rick Dudley was hired as VP of Hockey Operations, precisely to provide experience to former apprentice, Marc Bergevin. There is no other choice. This market is an extremely difficult one to build a winner in (for reasons we all know: attracting top UFAs, having to pay players more when negotiating contracts given the tax situation here, harder to sell a rebuild, etc).

Jeff Gorton, as experienced and credible as he is, has a tough road ahead of him. He inherited a bunch of contracts that will be extremely hard to get rid of.

And true enough, the hire of an inexperienced GM because of the fait français may mean that Gorton will be in fact the puppet master pulling many of the strings behind the scenes. But, after having failed miserably over the past quarter-century, and given the current landscape where few, if any, local candidates were available to fill this crucial role, those bitter fans and media, who are tired of seeing the Canadiens disappoint year after year, need to realize that they cannot always have their cake, and eat it too.

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