When I think of the last decade of Montreal Canadiens hockey, the years before the lockout-shortened 2013 season, it’s hard to think of good things. Aside from the fluke playoff run of 2010, the Canadiens were a rudderless organization led by people who seemed more interested in secrecy and mediocrity than winning games.
The mantra was “make the playoffs and anything can happen.”
We all know how the George Gillett/Bob Gainey/Pierre Gauthier era went: Some flashes of fun hockey, but more or less it was a period of disappointment and 60s-style secretive, uptight management. The Canadiens felt more like a multinational technology company or weapons manufacturer than a hockey club. Gillett did a great job of marketing the team and making the Bell Centre more inviting and Trevor Timmins was and continues to be a great head scout, but overall it was just a depressing time to be a Habs fan.
The essential problem was the team’s leadership. Enter Geoff Molson, Marc Bergevin and the new, improved Michel Therrien.
Suddenly the team is all about accountability, openness and – be still my aching heart – fun! and it all starts at the top.
Much like Montreal Alouettes’ owner Bob Wetenhall did with long-time GM Jim Popp, Molson has hired a high quality person as his top decision-maker in Bergevin. Much like Popp has done over and over since 1996, Bergevin found a high-quality, intelligent person to be his head coach. And just like Wetenhall & Popp, Molson & Bergevin have created an open, welcoming atmosphere for fans, friends of the team, and the media who cover it.
Long gone are the days of Gauthier’s frankly creepy and weird handling of Andrei Markov’s knee injuries (remember that bizarre presser in Anaheim?). Long gone are the days of Gauthier making decisions like trading Mike Cammalleri in the middle of a game! Long gone are strange decisions like trading Hal Gill to Nashville but refusing to tell him which team he was being traded to for a whole day.
Today’s Habs are a breath of fresh air, and last night’s playoff-clinching win over Buffalo was just the gift fans needed.
Are the Canadiens now a Stanley Cup contender? Well, they have one of the best goalies in the world and a strong core of players who seem to be gelling at the right time. Most importantly, instead of barely squeaking into the playoffs and trying to catch lightning in a bottle, this team will almost certainly have home-ice advantage and will head into the first round as a favourite against any team it plays.
With the on- and off-ice leadership the Canadiens now have in place, anything is possible.