For as long as Marc Bergevin sat twisting in the wind waiting for this to happen, the big changes in the Montreal Canadiens front office arrived fast.
Jeff Gorton, now the executive vice-president of hockey operations in Montreal, was recruited and hired “very quickly” over the weekend, according to a source.
He’s been entrusted to head up the day-to-day operation while a search is conducted for Bergevin’s successor in the general manager role. That individual will be fluent in both French and English, thereby narrowing the pool of potential candidates and making an in-season hiring possible.
The team will be recruiting someone not currently in a GM role with another organization, since Julien BriseBois is the league’s only French-speaker in that seat and recently signed an extension in Tampa. The Canadiens should therefore have no trouble getting permission to interview candidates who would be getting a promotion — with BriseBois’ current director of hockey operations, Mathieu Darche, viewed as the top contender.
Other possibilities being connected to the opening include Danny Brière, Roberto Luongo, Patrick Roy and Martin Madden Jr., the Anaheim Ducks assistant GM.
Gorton will be at the top of the food chain on hockey decisions.
He spent six seasons as New York Rangers GM before being wiped out as part of that organization’s extensive housecleaning in May. Of utmost importance for him in Montreal will be reshaping the Canadiens draft and developing operation with Trevor Timmins, an assistant GM who oversaw amateur scouting, fired along with Bergevin on Sunday night.
The shakeup had seemed more a question of “when” than “if” in recent weeks.
Montreal has won just six of its 23 games this season.
Bergevin was also in a lame-duck position after a final attempt to sign a contract extension with owner Geoff Molson fell short in the fall. There were complicating factors in those negotiations — the Canadiens are one of only two NHL teams to pay executives in Canadian dollars, for example — but he is believed to have declined a significant offer from the organization he helped guide to the Stanley Cup final last season.
After nearly 10 years on the job, he seemed to be looking for a new challenge. And in the final days with his hometown team he was merely waiting for the axe to officially fall.
Bergevin sounded like a man at peace in the thank-you letter that was released after his firing on Sunday, saying he’d be cheering for the Habs to win a 25th Stanley Cup “sooner than later.”
Of his tenure, which also included a trip to the 2014 Eastern Conference final, he wrote: “You won’t be surprised to hear me say it has not been a long, quiet river, and at times it felt like we were living in a TV show. Despite the challenges, the organization I led with passion always fought back.”
It was a tumultuous weekend for the Habs after assistant GM Scott Mellanby resigned on Saturday. Like Bergevin, Mellanby was in the final year of his existing contract and had been hoping for a promotion before being informed late last week that it wasn’t coming.
Instead, Molson will look in a new direction after seeing his team veer wildly off-course.
There may not be a quick fix, but he couldn’t just sit there and hope the problems would correct themselves.
Leafs dress code
The winning only started when the ties went back on.
The Maple Leafs’ flirtation with a business casual dress code didn’t survive the first month of the season, abolished in the middle of a road trip following a 2-4-1 start. The decision to allow players a little more freedom in what they wear to the arena on game nights seemed to be popular inside the dressing room early in the year, but it’s impossible to argue with the results since the team reversed course and restored the mandatory suit-and-tie policy that’s in effect for basically the entire NHL.
Toronto was 13-2-0 entering Sunday’s game at Anaheim under the more formal dress code.
We’ll assume there’s some coincidence involved in the timing of the turnaround and return to ties, something Auston Matthews had fun with during a recent Sportsnet sit-down interview where he said: “Well, we lost four games in a row and we went back to full suit and tie, so that’s why we’ve been winning.”
Good luck getting a more official explanation than that for why things changed. It’s not even clear if the players, coaches or management initiated it.
The dress code remains a sensitive topic around the organization for one reason or another. However, given the superstitious nature of sports and the long history of hockey players wearing ties to the arena, it’s hard to imagine the Leafs going back to business casual any time soon.
They’re not only dressed for success, but they’re having it too.
Hey C.J. could you see Ovi being the league MVP at the end of the year? — @bigdaddybustard
I wouldn’t bet my house on it happening, but I can’t rule it out either. There is a lot of respect for Alex Ovechkin in this corner and he’s obviously had an insanely productive start to the season. Even if he doesn’t end up winning the Hart, he’s very much in the mix for his 10th (!) Rocket Richard Trophy.
If the Sharks trade Hertl at the deadline, what kind of return would you expect? — @sjsharks_93
Each trade market is unique — and this year cap space is almost certainly going to limit action — but if Nick Foligno and Kyle Palmieri netted first-round picks as rentals at last year’s deadline, it’s hard to imagine Tomas Hertl going for anything less than that prior to March 21.
Why didn’t the NHL continue to use the MLB style schedule like last season? If I’m playing two road games against Dallas (for example) this season, why do I have to make 2 trips there? Players liked it, fans liked it, less travel. And … — @JayChoffs
There seems to be some thought fans wouldn’t like it over a full season with full buildings. As in: Would you purchase tickets to a Tuesday game and Thursday game to watch the same opponent play your team consecutively? Also, what happens if you’re that fan in Dallas and Edmonton plays both of its road games in your building the week Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl is out injured? You’ve missed your shot at watching them live for the whole year. Finally, with the NHL reverting to a schedule matrix where every team visits every arena, the logistics of an MLB-style schedule don’t really fit.
If the NHL pulls out of the Olympics due to rescheduling of games, what happens to the teams who didn’t have games rescheduled? — @JLaszlo
The current break in the NHL schedule runs from Feb. 3 through Feb. 22 and includes all-star weekend in Las Vegas. My understanding is the league would still look to give everyone about 10 days off, then use the remaining time to shift some games up into the February window to ease the load on the back half of the schedule. Of course, that scenario would be a logistical quagmire, especially since the Olympic opt-out decision could be made as late as Jan. 10. The preference is to honour the commitment made to allow NHLers to participate in the Beijing Olympics.
What is your favourite city to visit? — @trappedindrive
As a former frequent flier who has been largely grounded during the pandemic, I miss basically every stop on the circuit. I’d love a trip to New York or Chicago or Vegas or Tampa or Nashville or Montreal right now. Haha. Seattle would be cool, too, since it’s the only place I haven’t seen an NHL game. As for non-NHL cities, I’ve been thinking about Helsinki a lot lately. I’m hoping to get back to Finland for a personal trip this summer if the travel conditions allow for it.
Christmas etiquette! How early is too early to put up your lights? How late is too late to take your lights down? — @foxesdps
Confession: I’m a Christmas nut. It’s by far my favourite holiday. So I’ve got no problem with you putting up lights or decorations as soon as the calendar flips to November. There’s also nothing wrong with leaving them up beyond the day itself, although you’ll probably want to get everything back in storage by early January.
Best Christmas present ever from a colleague? — @garylawless
The first year I worked at “Hockey Night in Canada” with Brian Burke he discreetly had Christmas cards circulated to all of his colleagues. Inside was a gift certificate to Bern’s Steak House, in a generous amount, and I was completely blown away by the gesture. Burkie did the same thing the following year as well.
Are the Leafs a juggernaut? — @trustinmario
No comment. Not going down that road again!
The NHL’s department of player safety has no choice but to throw the book at Brendan Lemieux after he bit Brady Tkachuk over the weekend … Lemieux will forfeit $7,750 (U.S.) for each game he’s suspended, and the ban could easily hit double digits in total games … It’s no surprise Matt Murray passed through waivers unclaimed on Sunday. Consider these stats: He’s got a .896 save percentage across his last 71 NHL appearances and $15 million owed on his contract over the next two seasons … The Ottawa Senators had games postponed once they reached 10 players in COVID-19 protocol earlier this month, while the New York Islanders hit the threshold after getting to eight over the weekend … San Jose played multiple games with seven players out because of COVID earlier this season … Team Canada is starting to internally cut down its list of potential players for the Beijing Olympics and will really start honing in on the tough decisions in December … He may not end up landing a job with the Canadiens, but there are a lot of people singing the praises of Anaheim Ducks assistant GM Martin Madden Jr. — a French speaker — around the hockey industry these days … While it’s fairly quiet on the NHL transaction front, things should heat up slightly before the holiday roster freeze kicks in at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 19 … Don’t look now, but Nazem Kadri is fourth in NHL scoring … The former Maple Leafs centre is in a contract year and promises to be among the more prominent options available in a UFA class that includes Evgeni Malkin, Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl, Ondrej Palat, John Klingberg, Hampus Lindholm and Mark Giordano next summer.
Props for TNT
There seems to be an ever-present need for more personality in this sport, which is why TNT’s early forays into NHL broadcasts have been so refreshing. One of the league’s two new U.S. national rights holders, along with ESPN, the Atlanta-based network does a great job of not taking itself too seriously.
The Leafs-Kings broadcast on Nov. 24 was a standout. It featured a mic’d-up Auston Matthews listing off his three favourite restaurants in Scottsdale while skating around the ice for warm-ups, and saw studio analyst Henrik Lundqvist show off one more talent during a promo where he played Metallica on the guitar.
Really, it just did a great job of making the game look fun. It wasn’t too forced or gimmicky, either. And fans saw another side of Matthews throughout the night, which can only be viewed as positive for a league that’s generally had a tough time marketing its top players as well as rival sports leagues do.
C.J.’s Top Five
Inspired by how entertaining it was to hear Matthews mic’d up, telling John Tavares “I love you Johnny” after scoring and then greeting a Jason Spezza goal by saying “Oh my God that was so nasty,” here are the top five NHLers we’d love to see given similar treatment by TNT:
1. Brady Tkachuk
A fun-loving quote machine. He called Brendan Lemieux a “brick head” to reporters after Saturday’s biting incident and I’m betting he’s even more colourful than that on the ice.
2. Matthew Tkachuk
There’s no way he’d allow himself to be outdone by his little brother.
3. Drew Doughty
A first ballot Hall of Famer when it comes to chirping.
4. Brad Marchand
This is a no-brainer, although it may require liberal use of the beep button.
5. Patrik Laine
At first brush it might seem like a random pick, but Laine has a tremendously dry sense of humour and doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks of him.
Taking the NHL all-star weekend to Las Vegas in February is going to be great for league sponsors, fans, players and media. Taking a bunch of Olympians there immediately before they charter to Beijing, however, is already a source of concern for the NHL and NHLPA because the last thing they want to do is fly someone with COVID into China.
This promises to be a more buttoned-down all-star event than usual as a result.
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