On the day the federal budget came down, Montreal Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson came down hard and fired his general manager Pierre Gauthier. Special advisor Bob Gainey agreed to follow Gauthier out the door and 66-year-old Serge Savard has been brought back to help find Gauthier's replacement.
What took Molson so long was the thought on the tip of the tongues of the Habs' faithful on Thursday morning. This has been one sorry season for the NHL's most storied franchise.
Whether Molson's search pinpoints somebody like Pierre McGuire, Julien Brisebois, Claude Loiselle, Marc Bergevin, Vincent Damphousse or even to keep Savard in some capacity, Molson can't make a mistake. After all, in a strong performance from Molson during his press conference, he promised to restore the Canadiens into a consistent, winning and stable franchise.
Molson needs to bring in a hockey savvy person who can communicate not only with the Canadiens fickle followers and the toughest media market in the league, but also one who has or can set up relationships with the other 29 NHL GMs.
In Gauthier's 25 1/2 months at the helm in Montreal, he failed miserably in all three areas. After Bob Gainey resigned on Feb. 8, 2010 and named Gauthier as his successor, the Canadiens made an unexpected run to the East final mainly because of the play of goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Halak trade shocked hockey world
Less than a month later, Gauthier dealt Halak, an impending restricted free agent, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. The latter, a 22-year-old right wing, has yet to play in the NHL and has just nine goals in 98 AHL games. The trade shocked the hockey world. Many GMs wanted the chance to acquire Halak, but Gauthier talked to only the Blues and in hindsight didn't get enough return.
That trade didn't seem to matter much because of how well Carey Price played last year. Instead the focus became the trade Gainey made on June 30, 2009, when Scott Gomez landed in Montreal in a multi-player trade with the New York Rangers that sent an outstanding young defenceman Ryan McDonagh the other way.
Then there was the soap opera-like 2011-12 season. Gauthier miscalculated the return of defenceman Andrei Markov from his knee problems. He fired assistant coach Perry Pearn 90 minutes before a game. He also sacked head coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with English-speaking assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth, which caused a firestorm in Quebec. He then traded veteran Michael Cammalleri in the middle of the game.
Molson made his decision to fire Gauthier earlier this week, but this was not unexpected. It was evident earlier this month at the NHL GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. that Gauthier knew the end was near. He uncharacteristically smiled, joked with reporters and held a long session with members of the media to discuss the matters of the day.
Molson fired Gauthier after the Habs were mathematically eliminated from the playoff race. He didn't want to wait until the end of the season. He wanted a 10-day head start.
Molson was asked whether the new GM has to speak French. This has been a delicate issue in Quebec and we saw how controversial the matter became with the hire of Cunneyworth.
Molson said he wants the best candidate, although speaking French is important. Savard promised the new GM will speak French. Anybody who believes that language should not be a factor in this hiring doesn't live in Quebec. In fact, even French-speaking people with English surnames will not be longshots.
That's why we've seen names immediately pop up like former Canadiens forward Vincent Damphousse, Marc Bergevin, Julien Brisebois and Claude Loiselle. Bergevin, a colourful former NHL defenceman, is a rookie assistant GM with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brisebois holds the same position with the Tampa Bay Lightning and used to work for the Canadiens. Loiselle works under Brian Burke in the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization and had spent time in the league office.
Why not Larry Carriere?
One guy who wasn't mentioned is right under Molson's nose, 60-year-old Montreal native Larry Carriere. He began the season as the Canadiens' assistant GM, then moved behind the bench to help out Cunneyworth and now has been installed for the interim to run the management office.
Carriere is respected in the hockey community and is admired in Montreal's business community. A former NHL defenceman who played most of his career with the Buffalo Sabres, he made a seamless transition into scouting and then into the Sabres' front office. He also worked for the Washington Capitals as a pro scout before leaving for his hometown to work for the Canadiens.
Next season marks the 20th anniversary of the 24th and last Stanley Cup won by the Canadiens. Carriere would be a good hire to start building towards a 25th.
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