HabsWorld.net -- 

There seems to be a lot of chatter regarding the Montreal Canadiens hiring of a President of Hockey Operations. The names Pierre McGuire, Martin Brodeur, and Stephane Quintal, among others, have been bandied about. I like this idea. I would go one step further though. Why take the risk of having just one person correct this moribund organization’s course? A better alternative might be to create a hybrid managerial model along the lines used by baseball’s LA Dodgers. Please hear me out.

The Dodgers have arguably the best brain trust in baseball. The number of people it employs in upper management is triple that of most organizations. They are literally a managerial “factory” for other MLB teams. Looking at this model then, my suggestion is that Geoff Molson creates a temporary board of high-end advisors who would select the right president for the Montreal Canadiens and also advise Molson over a 1-2 year period on all facets of the club’s operations. This temporary solution would get this once illustrious franchise back on course.

Montreal’s Unique Challenges

The Montreal Canadiens have invested a lot of money in the current GM and new coach and are still paying out the last bench boss. Marc Bergevin also ensured that those around him had their contracts renewed. In order for Molson to clean house, it could cost him somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million once you factor in Claude Julien’s contract, Bergevin’s, and all of the assistant coaches and front office staff. Basically, mass firings cannot be an option. Molson has literally painted himself into a corner. Somehow, he needs to optimize the talents of all of these individuals while still cleaning up the mess that it is mired in.

Then there is the giant elephant in the room. The Habs have to have a Francophone GM and coach – which I’m fine with. However, the pool for bilingual Steve Yzermans, Stan Bowmans, Ken Hollands, Doug Armstrongs and the like is very shallow. How do you fix this matter? Is it possible that Bergevin can become an Yzerman or Armstrong? Not likely on his own – unless you want to give him another six years of making rookie mistakes. So what do you do?

With some good, sage help from a highly competent board of advisors, Bergevin can be much better than what he currently is. He can become the face of what is really a masterfully run organization with astute hockey minds guiding him through all the landmines associated with this job.

In many ways, this was the key to Montreal’s success back in the glory days. The great Sam Pollock surrounded himself with brilliant hockey minds – many of whom would go on to become great general managers or advisors for other highly successful organizations. Frank Selke also had an incredibly deep brain trust – so deep that Scotty Bowman, yes, the Scotty Bowman – was one of his junior scouts! In sports, you can never have enough smart people working for you. Never.

Bergevin has his faults – particularly with stubbornness and refusal to acknowledge and correct his mistakes. He relies far too much on instincts and not enough on scientific/sophisticated reasoning. He is also far too loyal to his friends and generally lets friendship get in the way of business decisions. However, I do believe that he is a first-rate evaluator of talent. This is his core strength and the main reason why he was hired by his former club, the Chicago Blackhawks. So there is definitely something there to work with.

Molson Needs To Create A Temporary Board Of Advisors

Right now, Molson seems to be fully relying on the current group running the Canadiens’ organization. Having some outsiders give their ideas might open his eyes a bit and hopefully help him hire the right president. They could also help him devise ways of training promising bilingual coaches and managers from Quebec to eventually get hired by this organization.

A board of advisors would do all the heavy lifting during the first few months as they impartially review the Habs’ organization from top to bottom. They would re-assign failing employees under contract to positions where they are likely to succeed and advise who to hire in areas of acute deficiency.

Now if people such as Bergevin and his loyal friends on staff refuse to accept help, well then Geoff Molson needs to act like a president and suspend such individuals for insubordination. I doubt though that this would happen. It would be the end of their careers in this league.

When a body of experts with no agendas are all giving Bergevin the same advice and he refuses to listen, then who would want to hire him going forward? It is in his best interests to take in the advice of the board and work with the better tools that he has been given. He had his six years of totally running the operation and failed. He needs to go back to school and raise his grades.

While this may be a bit of a blow on his ego, a more equipped and thus more successful Marc Bergevin means a more hirable Marc Bergevin when his general managing days with the Habs run out.

Let Them Point Out The Obvious

If I, a mere Hab fan, was one of Molson’s board of advisors, I would immediately point out the obvious changes that need to be made: Specifically, both pro scouting and player development require massive upgrades. This is obvious. Likewise, Julien needs better assistants. Here now are how these upgrades need to be implemented. Let’s first start with coaching.

Julien Needs To Pull A Belichick

Coach Julien needs the same kind of staff as the NFL’s Bill Belichick has in New England. No coach in today’s NHL can perform to his highest abilities without amazing assistants. Toronto’s Mike Babcock, for example, hockey’s gold standard, surrounds himself with future NHL coaches. He is not afraid to lose his job from one of them. He knows that the smarter they look, the smarter he looks. Babcock even has Jacques Lemaire (one of Montreal’s very own!) as a consultant. Who is Julien’s consigliere?

All of the support that Babcock gets gives him an edge over most other NHL coaches. This is what winning organizations do. They find edges and are always one tiny step ahead of their competition. These tiny steps separate greatness from mediocrity.

Having this type of infrastructure then, overrides any weakness the current coach may have.

No More BFFs

Bergevin comes from a great organization in Chicago. For some reason, he has entirely forgotten one of the key aspects to his former team’s success: The Hawks run their franchise as if it is a business and not a “ma and pa” BFFs operation. The personnel consists of colleagues – not long time friends. Every person on staff has his performance measured. If he does not meet the high standards expected of him, he is let go. It’s never personal. It’s just plain business.

Here’s the problem though: Bergevin just can’t fire his friends. He’d rather lose his job than do so. You have to admire his foxhole loyalty. Wouldn’t you want to be his friend? 

Now if he can’t fire his friends or demote them then what’s the solution? Have the board of directors do these dirty deeds.

Problem solved. 

Have Replacements Ready And Able To Do The Job Well

Great organizations hire people who are so good at what they do, others badly want to them on their payroll as well. The Habs had one of the best pro scouts in Vaughn Karpan. Unfortunately, his replacement, Eric Crawford is simply not in the same league. An advisory board would tell Molson this truth. There should have been a Vaughn Karpan waiting in the wings – not a fired replacement from a then underperforming organization in Vancouver.

All For The Amazing Price of An Ales Hemsky

How much would this “out of the box idea” cost? Let’s just say Geoff Molson hires 10 advisors (I’m just throwing out a number here- it could be more, it could be less) for this task at $100,000 each. That would be $1 million – basically, for the cost of Ales Hemsky. Surely, this would yield a greater return on his dollar? There is no risk in doing this then. In fact, it would be insurance. A board of advisors would help him get the right people in place who would preserve and boost the value of his $1 billion enterprise. It would also give the team president a veritable MBA in hockey. In other words, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by listening to their advice.

Last time around, it appears that that only person to advise Molson was Serge Savard – the best GM this organization has had post Sam Pollock. That was good but it was not enough. Molson needs to expand his inner circle. He should make this incredibly important decision with a brain trust of current experts behind him. Whoever he chooses will impact the Habs for at least a decade.

When The Job’s Done, They’re Gone

The board of advisors need to be around not only to help Molson hire the right president but also advise this person at the early stages on what he should do. They would help set in motion the infrastructure needed to build a winning organization. Once this has been done, the board would then be dissolved. From this point onwards, the President would monitor what is happening on the ship’s course.

Problems Solved

A board of advisors would point out the obvious, low hanging fruit, solutions that I mentioned earlier and so much more. Once new personnel has been added and unproductive staff members are either reassigned or let go, new life will be injected into the Canadiens. Marc Bergevin, will suddenly look like a sharp GM again. Claude Julien will become a more successful coach. And Geoff Molson will look like a smart and decisive leader. Most importantly, Hab fans will finally have real hope – all for the ridiculously low price of an Ales Hemsky!