The Montreal Canadiens shocked the hockey world not when they finally decided to let go of Dominique Ducharme, but rather when they named his interim replacement. Martin St-Louis, whose only coaching experience is to have coached his kids in minor hockey, was the Canadiens’ choice. Few people, if any, saw that coming.
A few weeks ago, V-P of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton went slightly outside the box when he hired Kent Hughes, a players’ agent, as the team’s new General Manager. The commonality between the two hires is that neither have any experience at their position. Let’s call it what it is… For two men in key positions like that to start their career in a market like Montreal a few weeks apart is less than ideal. The last time the Canadiens’ organisation did that was back in 1995, when then President Ronald Corey fired GM Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers to replace them by Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay respectively.
Who could blame fans and media who remember vividly that dark times in the team’s rich history for being a little bit nervous today? It’s a natural reaction. However, let’s not jump to conclusions too soon. Houle and Tremblay didn’t have a Gorton above them to support them. Further, St-Louis was given the “interim” tag, which mean that they’re not tied with him if it doesn’t work out.
That being said, why would St-Louis sign as interim to finish the season without guarantees of something else after? That part would make little sense. Which makes me think that if it doesn’t pan out, he was promised another position within the organisation beyond this season. Scouting? Assistant-GM? Assistant-coach? Who knows? But there has to be something.
Further, Vincent Lecavalier has been rumoured to (finally) join the Canadiens in an administrative role. What they’re waiting for to make the announcement is rather puzzling but we are not privileged of key information.
Not even Renaud Lavoie who, back when he was at RDS, would always be so close to Lecavalier back in the days when, as a player, he was using the Canadiens to get a better contract in Tampa Bay, leaks any information about Lecavalier joining Kent Hughes’ management team.
Come to think of it, that’s perhaps what bugs me the most about all of this. They interviewed Daniel Brière for the GM position. He never wanted anything to do with Montreal until few other teams wanted him at the end of his career.
They hire St-Louis whom, again, never wanted to sign with the Canadiens as a player. Now Lecavalier is rumoured to come work for the Habs. Truthfully, for those old enough to remember those events and contract negotiations, it kind of sucks.
People were talking about Marc Bergevin and his boys’ club. Fans are starting to realize that the NHL is a boys’ club, and it has nothing to do with Bergevin. Gorton wanted his man, Hughes, as the GM. I’ve been supporting that choice even prior it was announced. But now, the boys’ club is growing with the addition of St-Louis and potentially Lecavalier. The difference is that Bergevin was surrounding himself with people with experience in hockey. It’s not the case today.
It is clear that fans too often look at a former player when he played and transpose that success on how he will impact the team in management. However, history has proven that the most successful coaches or GMs (as former players) weren’t necessarily the most talented ones back when they played.
I have my theory about that. Top-end players relied on skills to have their success. Grinders, or players with less talent, had to work even harder to make it to the NHL and keep up with the skilled players. They had to break down the game, become students of the game, strategies and all, to give themselves an advantage. Those are the ones who often make the best management and coaching candidates.
Just reading the recent Patrick Roy tweets and comments, fans believe that Roy’s feistiness is what the Canadiens needed either as a GM or at least, behind the bench. Yet, the best coaches like Barry Trotz and John Cooper aren’t like that. The best GMs certainly aren’t either, guys like Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic or Julien BriseBois.
Today, they might think that Martin St-Louis will be good because he was a great player. There is no guarantee of that, far from there. Particularly not based on the fact that he has zero coaching experience and he is making his debuts in the Montreal market, where every fan thinks he/she is a better coach than professionals hired to do the job.
Cutting some slack
I want to get back to my previous comment about the rookie GM and head coach comparison to 1995, if I may. In no way am I comparing the Houle/Tremblay duo to today’s Hughes/St-Louis. I’m simply brining it up because the last time the organisation went will no experience, it was disastrous. It could be different this time around. Time will tell.
Speaking of which, fans must now rally behind the Canadiens’ new management and coaching staff. It’s either that or we continue to moan and groan about everyone and everything. We didn’t make those choices, but they are there for a reason. If you are a fan of the team, you have to have a little bit of faith in what is coming. In spite of his faults, Bergevin and his management team did a lot of good since 2018, with many quality prospects in the pipeline. But think about this… if Cole Caufield is smart, he should benefit, as an undersized, talented winger, from St-Louis’ experience.
So give Gorton, Hughes and St-Louis some rope and see what they do with it. Try being a little more supportive and positive, at least until next season, to see what they’ll do with this team. With that rope, they could surprise us… or they’ll hang themselves with it. There’s no way to know. You can’t change the past. You can only control what you do or say from now on. Let’s be fans. Let’s sit in the roller-coaster, throw our arms up in the air and enjoy the ride. Who knows? It might be worth the price of admission.