In my last column, I hopefully convinced you of the need for the Montreal Canadiens to create a development strategy for grooming quality bilingual coaches and general managers. No successful business can hope to operate in the long term without having succession plans in place. In this column, I will now provide more specific details on how this franchise can go about doing this.
I know, what I have written here is complex but so too are Montreal’s current challenges. Super easy quick fixes will not work. If they did, the Habs would not have a 25-year Stanley Cup drought. What worked in the past no longer works. New innovative, proactive approaches are required.
Here is my six-year plan in quick summary form. Read this first and what I have written underneath it will then make more sense:
Phase I: 2018-2020
- Fire and replace unproductive coaching staff within the current organization. Almost done. A bit more culling needs to take place in Laval.
- Replace these people with the best personnel available regardless of language for two years 2018-2020. They will act as placeholders while training will begin for the best bilingual coaching talent in the QMJHL through the Molson Academy of Hockey Excellence.
- Simultaneously, begin training of the best bilingual general managerial talent in the QMJHL through the Molson Academy of Hockey Excellence.
Phase II: 2020-2022
- Replace the coaching placeholders in the ECHL and AHL franchises with the best Molson Academy trainees for two years.
- Hire the general manager trainees to work as assistant GMs for the Canadiens during the same time span.
Phase III: 2022-2024
- Promote the best of the coaching trainees to take on assistant coaching duties for the big club in Montreal.
- The general manager trainees will continue to work as assistant GMs for the Canadiens during the same time span.
- At the end of the 2024 season, hire the best of the assistant GM and coaching trainees for the positions of GM and head coach of the Habs or have them released from the Canadiens organization so that they can hopefully gain further experience with other clubs. That’s right. Just let them go. Hang in there, this will make perfect sense in a few minutes.
As summarized above, coaches will have three phases in their training in two-year increments while GMs will have two phases (two years in the QMJHL/Molson Academy plus four years of assistant management experience with the Canadiens).
Here now are the details of this succession plan. Let me begin with coaching.
Phase One 2018-2020: Cut Bait And Start The Succession Program For Coaches
Most fans, journalists and hockey people would agree with me when I say that the Montreal Canadiens needed to cut bait with some of its NHL assistant coaching staff. The firing of Sylvain Lefebvre from the AHL affiliate Laval Rocket was necessary. A bit more culling in Laval though still needs to take place. This organization needs some fresh new blood at all levels.
Who should they hire? They’ve done some hiring already but going forward, this decision should be done through a board of advisors under current team President Geoff Molson working in tandem with General Manager Marc Bergevin. You can read about this strategy in my previous column.
As I mentioned last time around, I have no problem in seeing people like Dominque Ducharme being hired or Martin Lapointe moving up in the front office but these moves were not good enough. These are reactive band-aid decisions. They are not proactive. More innovative approaches are required.
In the first two years of this three-phase, six-year plan for coaches, the Laval Rocket and ECHLs Brampton Beast (or wherever their affiliate is by then) would be coached by the best available talent that money can buy. These coaches, regardless of what language they speak, would ensure that nothing goes wrong with player development for the Montreal Canadiens. While this is going on, the best up and coming bilingual coaches will begin their two-year training program in the Molson Academy of Hockey Excellence.
Some of the academy trainees might also receive paid sabbaticals to work in the CHL, NCAA, or Europe. They would be employed by Montreal and not the clubs that would agree to take them on. In other words, these teams would get free, high-end help here while the trainees would gain more insights relating to their craft. This would also be a great opportunity to also assist Montreal’s scouting staff in these various leagues. These sabbaticals, then, would be a great win-win opportunity for all concerned.
The Montreal Canadiens will HAVE to emphasize to both Quebec based fans and the Francophone media that the hiring of Anglophone coaches (if they are the most qualified) is a temporary “scaffolding” measure. These coaches will be placeholders for the first two years of this plan. Their positions will be temporary.
Surely, even the most ardent of nationalists will see that a plan is being implemented here that will ensure the continued succession of multiple bilingual coaches over decades. The temporary hiring of the best talent available (in all likelihood Anglophone simply based on population numbers) will be done in order to ensure that the development of Montreal’s young hockey prospects will not be undermined.
This is a reasonable compromise. The Habs and their PR staff have to beg for their patience if needs be. They must continually assure any ultra nationalist that going forward ALL head coaches will be bilingual.
Phase Two 2020-2022: Start Hiring Prepared Bilingual Coaches
During this second phase, both the Laval and their ECHL affiliate will now be coached by the cream of the crop junior coaches from the QMJHL who are graduates from the Molson Academy of Hockey Excellence.
These coaches must be surrounded by high-quality assistants regardless of their linguistic backgrounds. No limitations should be placed here. The job of these assistants is to strengthen the bilingual coaches’ abilities. They, too, will act as scaffolding. (Think of this like what Montreal did by bringing in former VP Rick Dudley to consult with Marc Bergevin). Each assistant must be of such high quality that he could temporarily take on the head coaching reigns if needs be.
Yes, some of these assistant coaches will be poached by other NHL organizations. And that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a good thing. D
Phase Three 2022-2024: Welcome To The Big Leagues
Phase three involves moving the AHL and ECHL coaches to the next level.
With the second phase of training completed, the head coach of the AHL club will now join the assistant coaching staff of the Canadiens for two years. At the end of this time period, 2024, he may become the head coach of the Canadiens or be nicely let go and move on to another organization to further develop his skills.
Simultaneously, when the head coach from Laval will move to the big club as an assistant while the head coach from the ECHL will then take over the reins with the Rocket. The next best-qualified graduate from the Molson Academy then goes to the ECHL. This succession process of development will then continue in perpetuity.
What will happen to those trainees who ultimately do not make the cut with the Canadiens? That is, there is no room for them on the NHL team?
Let them go. That’s right. Let them go.
Let them find work elsewhere and continue to learn this highly sophisticated trade. The hope here is that many of these coaching candidates will reach a state of maturation worthy enough to be potentially hired back by Montreal.
In order for this succession plan to work, the Habs need to manage the expectations of these trainees. Being let go by Montreal should not be seen as a demotion for any of the trainees but an opportunity to spread their wings and further develop. All of them need to leave on very good terms.
One thing that Montreal must ask from all of these people is a promise that if they are ever in a position of power, they will “pay it forward” and give a fellow bilingual a similar break as the one that they have received. This too will further grow the pool of potential candidates.
A Two-Phase Succession Program For General Manager Candidates
My proposed strategy for the grooming of general managerial talent also would take place over a six-year period. Rather than three phases though, it would have two – beginning in 2018-2020 and then during the 2020-2024 seasons. Over this period, trainees from the Molson Academy will move up to assistant roles with the Canadiens and eventually, either take over the reins of the big club or move on to other organizations where they will continue to develop.
In the first two years, the best and brightest managers in the QMJHL will receive training with pay (Montreal needs to incentivize things here) from the Academy while still holding onto their day jobs.
As mentioned, in my previous column, the Montreal Canadiens should work in partnership with McGill University. McGill could provide advanced training in both the business and science of sport. A high-end educational institution like this university has the intellectual resources to introduce general managers to innovative ideas and best practices.
In addition, the Canadiens need to offer each management trainee (those who academically qualify) Masters Degree in Business Administration scholarships, along with training in analytics and other sciences (kinesiology and psychology) related to sports. It would not hurt as well to get help from historians who can give these trainees lessons learnt by former great general managers both with the Habs but also other organizations. Every little space between their craniums needs to be filled with both knowledge and wisdom related to excelling in their craft.
To maximize this investment in “human capital,” all of these trained individuals would also be required to act as scouts for the Canadiens. Finding quality Francophone players is extremely hard. The more eyes looking for talent in the QMJHL the better. In addition, this will give Montreal an accurate reading of how good these people are at evaluating talent.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance, plucked out Mark Hunter from the OHL’s London Knights to be their head scout. Why can’t Montreal copy this strategy?
This two year training period would separate the wheat from the chaff in this key general managerial category.
In addition, all trainees (both coaches and managers) will be given opportunities to attend sports symposiums and through Geoff Molson’s extensive contacts, opportunities to Skype or FaceTime with other sports leaders. These trainees need to learn 21st century best practices.
The things that trainees learn during their Academy training, 2018-2020, they should apply to their QMJHL teams. If they achieve measurable results with their junior league franchises, and positively contribute in the area of scouting for Montreal, they will then (in 2020-2024) be promoted both to AHL club (as managers) and NHL team as assistant managers to further ply their trade over four years.
Four years after their training and work as both Assistant GMs with the big club and GMs of the farm team, 2024, the best candidates will either be hired by the Habs or set free to further develop in other organizations. If Montreal needs a GM, then hopefully, some of these people will now have been groomed to the point where they can fully assume command of the wheel. If they fail with the big club, the next person in the line of succession takes over. Hopefully, the fired GM finds work elsewhere and continues to hone his skills.
Just as was discussed concerning coaches, this training succession plan will go on in perpetuity. The pond needs to be well stocked – not partially stocked. The Canadiens need options. The more, the better.
Now if Mr. Molson is adverse to take on this initiative due to money, he shouldn’t. The cost should be no more than what he pays for developing 2-3 drafted prospects who never pan out. In addition, he might be either be subsidized by other people’s money through tax write-offs (given that he would be creating a non-profit foundation for his Academy and offering MBA scholarships); or through “cultural” grants from the federal and/or provincial governments.
If the provincial government considers the Canadiens a national cultural trust, then it needs to put some money where its mouth is. A first-rate Montreal Canadiens will promote Quebec pride.
As I said in my previous column, the amounts required here are nothing even remotely close to what was given for the super expensive new Videotron Centre in Quebec City. The money is there to be had if Geoff Molson pushes for it.
The Future Is Now
I’m convinced that the longer that Montreal delays initiating this strategy, the harder things will be for this franchise going forward. They most certainly will be paying significantly higher amounts of money for future bilingual coaches and GMs that they hire. The Nordiques are likely coming back at some point and the Senators also are fishing from the same shallow pond.
The longer that the Canadiens delay, the longer they will remain mired in the mess that they are in. Again, as things stand, the best case scenario with the current approach to succession planning will lead to further mediocrity. It will not separate Montreal from the rest of the NHL pack.
These last few weeks show that Geoff Molson understands the need to create some form of a succession plan. This should give Hab fans some hope. However, all that he appears to be doing is re-embracing an old approach that is just not good enough. This franchise needs to be ahead of the curve in building an administrative powerhouse. Hab fans need hope – not Band-Aid solutions. They need a detailed plan of succession. No “national cultural trust” should be treated this way.
The Montreal Canadiens have everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose by investing in tomorrow. This is what billion dollar businesses do and so should the Habs. What do you think Mr. Molson?