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Six years ago, I wrote an article titled, A Tale of Two Cities in which I speculated about the path that both the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers were heading towards.

Both franchises had fallen over the cliff points-wise. One team under the leadership of Jeff Gorton said, “Uncle” and committed itself to a proper rebuild, while the other did a “retool.”

Six years later, one is now at the top of the Eastern Conference’s standings while the other is at a distance playing catch up.

Let me say right off the bat that I made a number of errors in my column piece. My biggest mistake was not discussing the importance of high athletic IQ in building a great NHL roster. Over the last six years, this has become a major component of success in hockey and sports in general.

What can I say, I can’t predict the future. I can, however, review the past and see what lessons one can learn and then speculate about what the managerial tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes has and should continue to do in both the present and immediate future. There are many, but here are what I consider to be the three most important ones.

First, you can’t build a strong contending NHL franchise through quick fixes – not one that hopes to contend for decades. You need to endure some pain for long-term gain. Hughes and Gorton fully understand this.

The second lesson to be learned in a rebuild is that around year three, a franchise may enter choppy waters where both fans and team ownership may panic. The New York Rangers have become a very good team but imagine what things would be like if Jeff Gorton had the opportunity to finish the course he had set sail towards.

The third major lesson to be learned over the last six years is that infrastructure matters. Finishing low and drafting high is essential but so too is player development, along with having state of the art analytics, and advanced medical and psychological resources. These things in tandem make a huge difference to a team’s success.

On this third lesson, I can only imagine if we had lived in an alternative universe, what the destiny of Jesperi Kotkqniemi and Max Domi would have been had these two players had access to the resources that Montreal now provides. One withered off the vine while the other lost motivation.

Thankfully, the days of having a “sink or swim” mentality in Montreal are now over.

I realize that the previous managerial team of Marc Bergevin did a lot of good things. The Habs made improvements in their drafting during the last few years of his tenure.

Bergevin also added a number of great free agent pickups and trades by taking advantage of the depressed wages in the NHL due to the profit losses stemming from the COVID lockdowns.

These add-ons pivoted Montreal to its Cinderella Stanley Cup run in 2021.

Further, when Bergevin was not in a panic situation, (ahem Kotkaniemi) boy oh boy did he make some great trades!

No one can say that Bergevin and company left the cupboards bare. The previous administration has greatly assisted Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes in building the current foundation.

To help speed things up, Gorton and Hughes were also given some trade capital that allowed them the opportunity to acquire bright young prospects such as Kirby Dach.

So, the Montreal Canadiens are in some ways, perhaps roughly three years behind the New York Rangers in their rebuild.

This summer, Gorton and Hughes will likely set course toward their last major foundational moves in terms of building a winner. They basically have two jobs: draft well and trade well. And they have an abundance of draft picks and excess prospect depth to make this happen.

In the meantime, Montreal’s promising current young core will continue to grow.

If all goes well, the Canadiens, by next season, will no longer lose more games by a goal and instead start winning by the same margin.

They instead should begin to edge themselves towards respectability and again, IF all goes right, they may contend for a playoff spot.

Of course, all the Habs’ ducks will have to line up.

Setbacks can and often do happen – especially to the ridiculously injury-prone Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs currently lack ready-to-go high-end offensive depth talent. They will, especially if this franchise fails to land another Kirby Dach or Alex Newhook this summer, continue to be two key injuries away from once again drafting in the bottom 10. In such a scenario, a calm, patient Geoff Molson must not emulate Rangers’ owner James Dolan’s rash response.

The good news for Habs fans is that Molson is more even-keeled. I’m sure that VP Jeff Gorton, who lived through a painful rebuild, is managing Geoff Molson’s expectations. And Gorton himself, given his humble nature, is the type of person to not let his ego get in the way and will borrow what additional savvy steps the New York Rangers have done since he was let go.

The Montreal Canadiens are very fortunate to have the tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes righting its ship.

If setbacks happen, Habs fans must remain patient, which is easier said than done. They, as management is most certainly adhering to, must keep their eyes on the prize and realize that the lesson in this tale of two cities is that quick fixes don’t work.

Well, this is what I think in 2024. It will be interesting to see what plot twists I’ve missed out on. Lord willing, if I’m around six years from now, I’ll either eat some more humble pie or say, “I told you so.”