Managerial 'Fresh Start' for Canadiens
Jeff Gorton becomes Executive VP, Hockey Operations
Bergevin era ends in Montreal
What’s Happening: On Nov. 29, Owner, President, and CEO, Geoff Molsonn announced that Executive Vice President and General Manager, Marc Bergevin, Assistant General Manager, Trevor Timmins, and Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, Paul Wilson, were all relieved of their duties. This comes just after Assistant General Manager, Scott Mellanby, resigned from his role on Nov. 27.
Suffice it to say, and as stated by Molson, the organization is seeking a “fresh start” in order to improve the Canadiens’ hockey operations. More specifically, he expressed concern over “several consecutive mediocre seasons, nearly being eliminated in the opening round of the 2021 Playoffs by the Toronto Maple Leafs,” and an unacceptable 6-15-2 start to this season. Thus, he “had no other options but to move ahead with these changes to improve the structure of [their] hockey operations."
Molson has assigned former New York Rangers’ GM, Jeff Gorton, to be the Habs’ Executive Vice President, Hockey Operations, and the two will immediately begin their search for a new GM. Otherwise, “a medical performance team is also being established … that will provide resources for players and staff throughout the organization in all areas related to athlete wellness and mental health.” Moreover, Molson seeks to “establish new standards of excellence at the hockey operations level” in order to perform better at the draft and in player development.
Gorton is looking for a fresh start too: While Gorton will be the Executive VP of Hockey Operations and not the GM, his history as a GM should give Habs fans a general idea of what to expect. As such, let’s take a look at what he did as GM of the Rangers from July 1, 2015 to May 5, 2021.
On the Free Agent signing side of things, his history is sparse. For a franchise that many have loved playing for, and considering he’s moving to a similar one, this isn’t a good sign. In fact, in over five years as GM, the only notable Free Agent signings he had were Artemi Panarin in 2019 at a pricey $11,642,857/year for seven years and Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017 at $6,650,000/year for four years (which he bought out on Aug. 1, 2019). If you can’t bring in good players to New York, you’re doing something wrong.
How about trades? Well, his history is slightly better here, but only just. Really, he only has two clear trade wins:
1. Picking up Mika Zibanejad and a 2nd round pick for Derick Brassard and a 7th in 2016
2. Acquiring Adam Fox’s signing rights in 2019 for two 2nd round picks.
Besides those, little was done. In fact, in 2018, he traded Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hájek, a 1st (Nils Lundkvist), and a 2nd (Karl Henriksson), which is now a clear loss. Likewise, at this point, trading Neal Pionk and a 1st (Ville Heinola) for Jacob Trouba (who was subsequently signed for $8 Million/year) doesn’t look so good.
And finally, how about team performance? Since adopting the team, the Rangers lost in the First Round in 2016 and 2020, got to the Second Round in 2017, and missed the Playoffs in 2018, 2019, and 2021. This was after the team made it past the First Round in each of the four previous seasons and even made it to the Finals in 2014. While it’s true that a GM’s impact is somewhat delayed and the Rangers are currently in a Playoff spot, no one can say for certain that the Rangers’ trajectory is positive.
Final Thoughts: Considering the above, if you’re a Habs fan, it seems like the current and forthcoming changes might not result in improvements. While it’s beyond the scope of this article, when compared to Gorton’s history, the combination of Bergevin’s free agency recruitment, trades, and team performance isn’t all that bad. This isn’t to say that Molson was wrong to make a change, but if you’re going to make a change, it certainly should be an improvement.
With his first move to bring in Gorton, Molson might be making a status quo/”safe” choice rather than taking a chance to accomplish something big — Patrick Roy, maybe? But maybe — more like hopefully if you’re a Habs fan — Gorton was chosen as support and a sort of back-up plan if a bold GM choice doesn’t pan out. In fact, that’s actually a pretty good idea. However, since we don’t know Bergevin’s replacement yet, who knows what the plan actually is.
Long story short, we should all hold our judgment until the big decision — the decision on the new GM — comes out.