HabsWorld.net -- 

While Jeff Gorton will clearly be an influential part of Montreal’s front office, they still want to hire a new general manager.  Our writers discuss many possible options for the position.

Terry Costaris: By hiring Gorton, the Montreal Canadiens likely have a competent Vice President who can step in and perform the duties of a General Manager. As I said recently, Gorton may be a bit long in the tooth. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that he still has his mojo. If so, there is no rush to find a GM. Gorton needs to get things right and he should take his sweet time doing so.

Whether one agrees with the Canadiens’ policy of hiring a bilingual person to the position or not, the reality is that the next GM will speak fluent French. It is what it is. So get over it. Now, the two best, A-list candidates for this job are Pierre Dorion in Ottawa and Julien BriseBois in Tampa. Neither one is going anywhere soon though. So, this leaves us with speculating on the B-list of candidates of Martin Brodeur, Martin Madden Jr and Matthieu Darche. Both Madden and Darche seem like the best fits.

Brodeur has said that he is not interested in becoming a GM for any team because of all the pressures associated with this job. Even if Molson and Gorton were to entice him with all kinds of money, the already wealthy and comfortable Brodeur would be crazy to jump from his very fulfilling post-hockey playing life for arguably the most pressure-filled jobs in all of sports. Working as a GM for the Montreal Canadiens is not for the faint of heart. It’s more like multiple tours of military duty where your every move and word is parsed by a crazy and brutal fan and media base. Every five-game losing streak is a referendum on your competence.

Every great former athlete has a bit of an ego or swagger about them but taking on this particular GM job would be, for Brodeur anyways, an unnecessary vanity project. If the ex-superstar goalie wanted to be a GM, he would have been one by now. He clearly does not want the headache but welcomes the challenges of the behind-the-scenes fun of being on a management team.

It’s never a good idea to hire someone whose heart is not 150% into such a pressure-cooker job. Look no further than former Habs coach Guy Carbonneau, who did not immediately take over the reins of the Canadiens and instead had then-GM Bob Gainey run the ship as he was eased into the job. It did not end well for either him or this club. So, never, ever, ever hire someone who can’t think about anything else than doing this oftentimes thankless line of work – especially in hockey-mad Montreal.

Then there’s either the very green Darche in Tampa or the more ready, Madden Jr in Anaheim. Both may be smart but both are also still green. Madden has more experience but depending on Gorton’s ability to see potential, Darche with his business degree may have a better upside. I’ve never met either of the two and who knows, maybe they are not interested in becoming the GM of the Canadiens, but if it comes down to either one, it has to be based on their upside as perceived by Jeff Gorton and his management team.

Think of hiring either of these two along the following lines:

Imagine plucking out two newly admitted students from med school and then asking them to be heart surgeons without completing their training. Would you want either of them operating on you?

Cardiologists spend around another five years of specialized training after med school before they enter their profession and then get better at their job as time goes by. Darche and Madden may be smart enough for “hockey med school” but they are not yet ready. If they were, other teams would have snatched them up already.

So, for at least the next three to four years, all key decisions will have to be made by Jeff Gorton if either Brodeur, Madden, or Darche are hired.

Of course, three years from now either Dorion or BriseBois may come available and one of these B-listers could end up being “Scott Melambied.” (I can’t believe that I just referred to this rightly jilted former Assistant GM as a verb.)

Then there’s Pierre McGuire. He’s on my C-list. McGuire had his chance to learn this complicated craft 10 years ago but he went the broadcast TV route. Yes, he’s telegenic and knowledgeable but his window of learning this highly complex craft has come and gone. He would be like a 25-year-old AHL forward being asked to play on the first line.

As for Patrick Roy. I pray that this never happens.

We all like a bit of drama. But his hire would be a guaranteed train wreck. This Hall of Famer is far too emotional for this high-stress job. Hiring him would be bad both for the Habs and himself. He’s in the right level of pressure in the Q. For both his and Montreal’s sake, he should stay where he is.

Then the shallow pool of potential GM candidates dwindles down to highly inexperienced QMJHL executives. These are like bright “high school” students who may one day make it to “med school.” However, it is never advisable to have such people doing heart surgery from the get-go. Any such potential francophone Sam Pollock or Serge Savard will need a minimum of five years of on-the-job training. So, the junior route is highly unlikely. Mind you, Toronto did this with Kyle Dubas – though my gut tells me that Brendan Shanahan is really running the show in this particular market.

If lessons can be learned here, Gorton should be the one making the toughest, most painful decisions over these next few years so that whoever becomes his assistant/apprentice can retain as much political capital as possible. Way too many fans could never forgive Marc Bergevin for his first five years of work while he learned this incredibly complex job.

If Montreal’s PR staff can sell the idea of the Canadiens using an apprenticeship/scaffolding/successor model with an eventual heir being groomed for the position, perhaps this will give their likely green candidates a chance to blossom outside the intense glare of the Twittersphere and media spotlight. If, however, the day-to-day running of this franchise becomes “the Jeff Gorton show,” Montreal’s Quebec fan and media base will revolt.

This same PR team needs to properly manage expectations and provide achievable and identifiable benchmarks. Both fans and the media need to see a plan and monitor its execution. They need hope and this will only come by seeing incremental improvements over time. If Gorton gives them hope and delivers on his objectives, then the drama that has been the Montreal Canadiens will finally be over with.

I personally would welcome two more years of the Canadiens bottoming out in order to land as many draft picks as possible. This club’s model of trying to turn things around by half measures simply does not work.

Thanks to Trevor Timmins, Montreal has a decent cupboard of prospects two to four years away from maturation. The more draft picks that the Habs acquire these next two years, the greater the odds of them landing two to four more players that could become difference makers over the next decade.

Jeff Gorton has at least two years of political capital to hold onto his job, do the right things and train his successor.

Let’s hope that he does not blow this tremendous opportunity to put the Montreal Canadiens on a successful decade long run like he did with Boston and most likely, the up-and-coming New York Rangers, by doing growth stifling, quick-fix solutions. This is what Bergevin did and look at where this got him.

The Habs need two years of tanking to put themselves on a promising long-term trajectory. Hopefully, Montreal’s impatient fan base can tolerate a few years pain for a decade of gain.

Allan Katz: The potential GM lists being offered by any assortment of fans and sportswriters is filled with intriguing names across the spectrum. Some have heavy name recognition, some have worked with winning teams and some are… well … French, with little else to offer. The eventually named soul is supposed to have the ultimate say in making decisions, so choosing light weights or bombastic types (Geeze, who could that be, Patrick?) is not the way to go. In reviewing the candidates, it is easy to have favourites, but all the info is through the eyes of the writers writing about them and rarely objective.

It would be awesome to have a reality show where ten candidates compete for the post. So, allow me the freedom to name ten candidates, feature evident strengths and weaknesses, and rank them according to whatever subjective rhetoric I choose in the moment. I’d try a more scientific take, but I live in the United States and science is illegal here. Let’s start with the only candidate that can be called – The Bottom of the Barrel.

  • Patrick Roy: Positives: Passionate, Hall of Famer, been around the block. Downside: Volatile, partook in a horrendous episode with the Habs that will always be a dark day in team history. Potentially trouble with a capital T.
  • Martin Brodeur: Positives: Lots of exec experience. A Hockey Icon. Seen it all. A winner. Downside: Does he even want the job and does he want to be subservient to Gorton? Certainly has the gravitas, but does he have the will?
  • Allan Katz: Positives: Stunningly good looking, debonair, charming, was a wizard in both Stratomatic Baseball and professional Table Hockey ($15 lifetime earnings, also made $10 playing chess) Downside: Just about everything else. I’m told he’s good in bed, but I don’t see why that’s relevant.
  • Daniel Briere: Positive: P.R. wise he seems like a fit with a fair amount of executive experience so as to be ready for the next step. Downside: The next step might be the AHL since he’s been cutting his exec teeth in the ECHL. Bonus: PRIMETIME ASSISTANT GM MATERIAL.
  • Sam Pollock: Positives: A winner, despite being deceased would still be a better GM than a number of Montreal predecessors. Downside: Approach might be dated, but this is a nod to those who hate the language requirement that would have the team refuse the best GM talent available because they don’t speak French. Having said that I think the argument for a French GM holds up despite some solid arguments against the idea.
  • Mathieu Darche: Positives: Director of Hockey Operations for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Had a full career including a lot of minor league time with some NHL experience. He knows what it feels like to pay dues and thrive. Downside: He better interview well since he seems more a witness than a participant in the Tampa success story.
  • Danielle Goyette: Positives: The director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, winner in every element of hockey she has ever tried including coaching. One of the greatest Female Hockey players out of Quebec. Downside: Poaching from the Maple Leafs feels wrong and I suspect she’s too green for the role.
  • Roberto Luongo: Positives: Legit prospect for the job. Assistant to the GM in Florida where a tsunami of a resurrection is taking place. Was a talent with a good reputation. Downside: Might need a few more years to develop the gravitas needed to not seem a puppet to Jeff Gorton.
  • Martin Madden Jr.: Positives: I love that he has a Masters’ degree in finance; it shows an organized, intelligent mind. He has a lot of NHL exec experience with positive results. Leading candidate. Downside: Anaheim passed on him to replace their GM. I truly wonder why since they would know him very well. Gorton might fill in wherever the issues were that stopped Madden from getting the job, but there’s not enough info to be sure.
  • Luc Robitaille: Positives: Has lived and participated with a few rebuilds and a few Stanley Cups with the Kings. Seems like a potential fit. Downside: Not a lot of talk about him and he might like living in L.A. too much. Hope Molson can interview him with Gorton.

So my top three picks are 3. Luongo, 2. Madden Jr., 1. Robitaille. Darche is a dark horse candidate (or a Darche Horse … never mind.) Goyette would be a fascinating pick, but half the people who would say it would take courage to give her a shot, really mean insanity. Hope she at least interviews for possibilities down the road.

Brian La Rose: I’m going to pick some names that aren’t in here from other writers.  Kent Hughes is the one that’s currently garnering some attention as a player agent and there’s a connection to Gorton who wanted to hire him when he was with the Rangers.  I’m not sure he’s willing to give up a pretty strong client and contract list for the job, however.  As for another agent, Emilie Castonguay comes to mind as someone that’s up and coming in the business.

In his introductory press conference, Gorton referenced the GM having some autonomy and being a complementary fit.  For me, that makes Scott White a desirable candidate as well.  The Ormstown, QC native has been with Dallas in some capacity since 2005, working his way up the ladder to assistant GM and GM of their farm team.  Gorton, being a GM previously, was primarily focused on the NHL side of things.  Having someone more familiar with the AHL side of things is the complementary element he wants.  He’d have plenty to contribute from a scouting perspective since so many current players have come up through the minors.  If Gorton is worried about the bigger picture elements of the operation, then White should be granted the autonomy to make some roster decisions for Laval and Trois-Rivieres and even some of the depth/role players with the Canadiens.  That’s enough for Gorton to be in charge while still having a GM with an important voice in the room.

Whether it’s White or someone else, that’s the type of breakdown I’d like to see, especially one that would help establish more of a winning environment in the lower levels which is a big part of successful player development.  Gorton being a de facto senior advisor that yields all final decisions to a rookie GM isn’t exactly desirable.  This way would be the best of both worlds.

Kevin Leveille: Gorton will reportedly be interviewing up to six candidates when he gets to Montreal. Let’s cross a few names off the list immediately as people who I believe will be entirely unwilling to play second fiddle to Gorton. Roy will not be the next candidate without having complete control. Pat Brisson won’t be leaving his role as a player agent to be a figurehead GM. Stephane Quintal wanted Gorton’s position, so I don’t think he’ll be interested.

Vincent Damphousse, McGuire, and Brodeur might be candidates, but I don’t see them getting far into the interview process. The old-school approach didn’t appear to be Gorton style in New York, and those guys are definitely part of that old guard.

A few out of the box names I’ve heard are Daniel Briere and Daniele Sauvageau. Briere is an interesting name, but he might be willing to come over as an AGM and he might be better suited for that role anyways. Sauvageau might be the best candidate no one is talking about. She has the right acumen serving in a management position with Team Canada for the last few years, and she’d go a long way in repairing a team image that was seriously damaged with the Logan Mailloux pick. I’m not saying she’ll be it, but if Gorton is as qualified as he is currently perceived to be, I’d say she at least gets an interview.

This leaves the often-mentioned Darche, Madden Jr, and Luongo as interesting and possible candidates. I’m not a huge fan of Darche for a few reasons. He’s not really a part of the Steve Yzerman team that built the Lightning, I don’t like what the Lightning have done in the last few seasons (since Yzerman left), and I didn’t like his vision when he was commenting on TV prior to his hire by the Lightning. Having said all of that, he’s a smart guy who’s now gained experience within a winning team, so I’d certainly be willing to keep an open mind if he was the guy. Luongo seems like a wild card to me, and I wonder how well he’d handle the media, but it would be a very different approach, so it’s interesting. My top choice is that of Madden Jr. I’m absolutely interested in the hire of Madden for much the same reasons I like the Gorton hire. An up-and-comer who is mostly known for work drafting and developing. It’s the way to go for this market, and the most important departure from the last regime, so it’s where I’d like to see this go.

Ken MacLeod: I have no particular candidate in mind to replace Bergevin as the Montreal Canadiens new general manager, though with the ability to speak French as a requirement for the job, that would probably put people like Roy and Darche high on any shortlist.

I’ve always liked Darche from his days as a stand-up guy in the Habs dressing room, but I have no idea how being director of hockey operations in Tampa Bay might have prepared him for the GM’s hot seat in Montreal.

Roy, on the other hand, didn’t show a great deal of front office potential with the QMJHL team he owned, so he wouldn’t be my choice for an even bigger job.

My interest is more in what type of general manager the club would like to hire. It does appear as if the Canadiens’ newly hired executive vice-president of hockey operations, Gorton, would be involved in at least some of the decisions that would normally be the sole responsibility of an NHL general manager, so chances are good that the new general manager would be a malleable, first-time GM who would be expected work as part of a close-knit team of decision-makers. That would probably discourage the old-school types looking for work these days, but there aren’t many of them fitting the description who also speak French anyway.

But there’ll be no shortage of candidates for one of the most prestigious jobs in the hockey world. The Flyers even put two candidates on the market the other day — coaches Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien — but neither has any managerial experience.

And they don’t really fit the description of the modern, forward-looking and analytics-friendly GM Gorton is looking for anyway.

Paul MacLeod: As many fans are, I am impressed with Geoff Molson’s solution to the lack of experienced French-speaking candidates for the GM position. Ideally, this set-up will result in a built-in succession process where the new GM eventually takes over for Gorton and hires a new, young(ish) and promising GM and so on. In the present, Gorton’s experience should allow the new GM to grow into the role without franchise-altering errors. As a result, I am hoping that the Canadiens do take an innovative and out-of-the-box approach to the new GM selection. There are three types of candidates from my perspective: ones that would thrill me, ones that I would be happy with and ones that would make me shake my head in disbelief.

Candidates I would be thrilled with

Danielle Goyette — the current head of Player Development with the Toronto Maple Leafs, spent years as the Head Coach at the University of Calgary, was an Olympic champion for Canada and is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  She would be an excellent hockey choice, disrupt Toronto, and demonstrate that the Canadiens have truly embraced new approaches.

Patrick Lengwiler — has been with EV Zug since 2004. He has made the team into a dominant force in the Swiss league, with three trips to the finals and one championship in the past five years and is currently in first place. Lengwiler has emphasized improved athletic performance and led Zug’s development in an innovative high-performance training centre.

Candidates I would be happy with (and who are more likely to be chosen for the job)

Martin Madden Jr. — a lot has been written about his qualifications so I won’t go into great detail here, but he is widely regarded as one of the premier judges of amateur and young talent in the NHL so he has a skill set that the Canadiens desperately need. If he doesn’t become the GM, is there any way the Canadiens could lure him north to replace Trevor Timmins?

Roberto Luongo — has had successful stints with Team Canada and is currently contributing to the success of a Florida Panthers team on the rise.

Matthew Darche — Currently the AGM with Tampa Bay, Darche has business experience, is MBA-trained and has learned from the one of the best in Julien BriseBois.

Daniel Briere — Currently, in charge of the Flyers farm team has an MBA from Wharton and has been honing his skills in management since he retired as a player.

Candidates that would make me shake my head in disbelief if they were chosen:

Patrick Roy — ‘ Nuff said.

Norm Szcyrek: If Geoff Molson wants to follow a similar pattern to his last hire, then candidates currently working for other NHL teams as assistant GMs like Darche and Madden Jr. would be strong candidates.  If he wants to make a big PR move, then hiring Roy will be the way to go, since the media in Quebec will create a huge buzz over that. It’s difficult to say how long Roy will last in such a high-pressure job, considering he quit the Habs in December 1995, and quit his coaching position with Colorado after he didn’t get his way about personnel decisions.

Briere, another former Hab, has experience in the front office of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners in various roles since 2017, Pierre McGuire, the runner up candidate when Bergevin was hired, also has some front office experience along with ample hockey operations positions. However, being the assistant GM for the Hartford Whalers in 1993 for a brief term likely did not give him ample working experience. Pierre does talk a good game and has a lot of connections around the NHL with other hockey operations staff.

Another GM candidate with experience is Dale Tallon, and he has had success building NHL teams in Chicago and Florida. There were allegations of racist comments while he was GM in Florida that may or may not be the reason for his dismissal. Although he was investigated by the NHL over that issue and it was dismissed, Montreal may not be keen on hiring him given the last PR storm the owner had to endure with Bergevin drafting Mailloux.

One term that stood out during last Monday’s press conference was “diversity” and how it would be a priority.  If that is the case, then a strong candidate would be Goyette. She had an excellent resume with Hockey Canada for many years, is a Hockey Hall of Fame member, and is currently the Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Dave Woodward: On balance, when one reviews the needs of the organization and the strengths that Gorton brings to the table, my choice would be Madden.

In my view, important qualifications for the new General Manager will be:

  1. The ability and willingness to work cooperatively with and learn from Gorton.
  2. The ability to be the face of the franchise and effectively communicate with Canadiens’ fans, including but not limited to speaking French and English to the Canadiens’ fan base across North America.
  3. The new GM should be an up-and-coming intelligent executive who can exploit Gorton’s connections and experience.
  4. The new GM must be a candidate who will not be perceived as Gorton’s puppet (this would not be acceptable in Quebec).
  5. The Achilles heel of Bergevin was his failure to draft and develop players. Prospect development must be the number one priority for this hire.  Gorton has those skills but additional expertise in this area is needed.  There is much work to be done.

Of course, with the hiring of Gorton, there are some skills that will not be required such as:

  1. Previous experience as a GM.
  2. Established connections throughout the league and the hockey community.
  3. The ability to negotiate player contracts and deal with other NHL General Managers.
  4. Previous experience on the business responsibilities of an NHL GM.

In other words, the new GM’s skills must complement Gorton’s skills.  Given the above, Briere, Madden or Darche would all be reasonably good hires for the Canadiens as their new GM.

Briere has spent the last six years following his retirement from the NHL as an executive in Philadelphia and as a GM for Philadelphia’s ECHL affiliate, the Maine Mariners.  He also went to business school at Wharton after his NHL career and was the QMJHL’s scholastic player of the year in junior.

Darche is also a bright, up and coming NHL executive and, since 2019, has worked as Director of Player Personnel with BriseBois in Tampa Bay.  Like Briere, Darche is a former Hab and played for the McGill Redmen during his years at McGill.  Prior to working for the Lightning, Darche was the VP of Sales and Marketing at Delmar International, a cargo company in Montreal.

However, subject to the evaluation of his communication and business skills (see below), Madden would be this pundit’s choice.  Madden currently is the assistant GM in Anaheim.  Madden has an unparalleled track record of drafting and developing prospects.  Gorton’s track record is acceptable in this area but Madden is considered one of the best talent evaluators in hockey, with Anaheim having drafted and developed more established NHL players since 2009 than any other NHL team.  Madden has also been an NHL executive since 2009 whereas Darche and Briere are comparatively new to the hockey management business.  Those talent evaluation and development skills and his experience as an NHL executive establishes Madden as the leading candidate in my view.

It is interesting that Madden was not appointed Anaheim’s acting GM when Bob Murray recently resigned due to professional misconduct allegations.  Some people have questioned whether Madden’s skill set is sufficient for a GM position as he has not been involved in the business side of that franchise nor has he been the voice of any franchise.  This skills gap will have to be evaluated in the interview process to ascertain whether the bilingual Madden has all necessary communication skills for the job (Gorton has the required business skills).  Nonetheless, the other candidates also do not have this type of communications experience and, as Bergevin and other past Canadiens’ GMs know, almost nothing can prepare you for the public scrutiny that the GM of the Canadiens will endure.