I confess, when I heard from a colleague that Pierre Gauthier had been fired, I wasn't surprised. I smiled really hard for the next hour or so, and there might have been dancing. Then I thought, I have to be fair. Gauthier wasn't all bad.
Sure, he was silent to the point of disdain. He made trades, in the cases of Jaro Halak and Michael Cammalleri, in which he appeared to deal only with one team when others might have made better offers. He was involved as pro scout in the trade that brought Scott Gomez to Montreal and threw away a great prospect in the process. He gave Josh Gorges only a one-year deal, then ended up signing him long term for more than he would have if he'd just done that in the first place. At the same time, he bet on Andrei Markov's knee and lost. He made several ill-timed firings and trades, largely out of panic this season. And still...and still...he signed Erik Cole. He was the guy who finally signed Alexei Emelin. He got a solid return for Hal Gill. He was working on a long-term deal with Carey Price.
Admittedly, on the scale of good versus poor decisions, the poor weigh in like the fat kid on the see-saw. On these occasions, however, you try to think of something nice about the dearly departed. In the end, you say thanks for Cole and good luck in future endeavors, as long as they're far away from the Canadiens. Then you look to the future.
The future. It's an interesting place with a whole lot of unknowns. Chief among them is who will be the person who will shape the team into a competitor and draw it out of the hole into which it's sunk? Today, team owner Geoff Molson gave us some hint of what values that person will have. Molson said he doesn't want one-and-done playoff teams anymore. He wants winners, and he's prepared to do whatever he has to do to get them. He even went as far as to say that the sacrosanct "must speak French" rule for the Habs' G.M. is negotiable, as long as the team ends up with the best possible candidate for the job. At the same time, he announced he's going to consult with ex-Habs G.M. and Hall-of-Fame defenceman, Serge Savard, in the all-important decision about who'll be the Canadiens' new hockey boss.
That's an interesting choice. Savard has an undeniably stellar record as a player, including a stint as Habs captain. As a G.M., he's got two Stanley Cups. He's also responsible for some very questionable trades, including the infamous Chris Chelios for an aging Denis Savard deal. And he drafted some of the biggest first-round busts in Habs history, including Brent Bilodeau, David Wilkie, Brad Brown, Lindsay Vallis, Turner Stevenson, Eric Charron, Mark Pederson and Jose Charbonneau. That's a lot of first-round busts.
Recently, Jason Farris, who's director of business operations and development for the Dallas Stars, published the book, "Behind the Moves." It's an in-depth look at what it takes to be a winning NHL general manager. In his research, Farris talked at length with several men who've built winning teams, including Serge Savard. Savard's comments are revealing, giving some indication of the way he believes a team should be run and what qualities he'll presumably be looking for in his hunt for a new G.M.
"As a manager," he told Farris, "My best friend was being a player. Whatever I lived as a player, I brought it as a manager. I think I was very respected from the players. I had always been a team player, and I changed the whole bonus structure to be based on the team. So after a year or two, nobody had personal bonuses, not even the highest-scoring player."
From that, we can presume Savard will be looking for someone who's actually played NHL hockey, rather than one of the new breed of intellectual students of the game. It can also be deduced that it won't be just any former player, but rather a player who was a respected leader in his on-ice career.
Savard also told Farris, "I had a plan when I first became a G.M. After a couple of weeks, I said, 'I want this team to be built like the teams I played on. I want to build from the base, right from the draft. I want to be a family again, and I want half the team to be local.' So I had my plan, and that's the way I drafted, and it paid off."
Okay. Obviously, Savard is dedicated to returning the local, French-Canadian flavour to the team on the ice. One can draw from that, that he'll be looking for someone with the same sensibility. Having told reporters today that the new G.M. will speak French, a Quebec-born man could very well be the preferred candidate. His desire to build a team from the draft up could indicate a leaning toward someone who's got a solid background in player development. And the "family" comment could mean he'd like the new guy to have some connection to the team and its history.
There are a lot of good candidates out there, and the decision, obviously, will rest with Molson. However, if Savard is going to have heavy input into that decision, we begin to get a picture of the kind of person for whom he's looking. The question is, if a highly-desirable candidate like Detroit's Jim Nill becomes available, would he really be considered without the ability to speak French? Molson says he would, Savard says he wouldn't.
Either way, it's good to look to the future with the hope that Molson will take his time with this decision and choose properly, rather than quietly slip an in-house candidate into the job as the team did with Gauthier. The new guy will have a lot to do to return the Canadiens to respectability. Gauthier might be gone, but he's left a Sherman-like trail of scorched earth behind him. That's enough to sober even today's most giddy celebration.