Owner Geoff Molson believes that fixing the Montreal Canadiens is a two-person job.
The Canadiens have stumbled to a 6-15-2 start after making the Stanley Cup Final last season. Marc Bergevin was dismissed Sunday after having served as Montreal’s general manager since 2012.
It was a total house cleaning that saw assistant GMs Trevor Timmins and Scott Mellanby also leave the organization in the past few days.
Former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton was hired to a long-term contract as executive vice president of hockey operations. But Molson said “he’s one of the two people that are going to do the job” of getting the Canadiens on track.
Gorton is an English-speaking executive, hired by a franchise with a long-standing commitment to having bilingual coaches and general managers because “in our own market, we have to respect the language, but we also have [English-speaking] fans all over the world,” said Molson.
Hence, Gorton will hire a French-speaking general manager to work with him.
“The two of them will be working together to make good decisions for the good of the organization. When something has to happen that’s team-related, the general manager has to be the final responsible person in making that decision and be accountable for it,” Molson said.
While Molson said he’s yet to ask any other NHL teams for permission to speak with their executives, Tampa Bay Lightning director of hockey operations Mathieu Darche and ECHL Maine Mariners GM Daniel Briere — both former Canadiens players — are among the names already being connected to the opening. Briere’s team was a minor league affiliate of the Rangers when Gorton was in New York.
“I strongly believe this organization needs a fresh start,” Molson said. “Not at the team level, but at the management level.”
The fresh start begins with Gorton, who went from a successful stint as a player personnel executive with the Boston Bruins to the general manager’s chair with the Rangers from 2015 to 2021. Gorton was credited with helping to lead New York’s quick rebuild, albeit one aided by multiple draft lottery wins and players like Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox choosing to play in New York.
“Nobody’s perfect in the hockey world, but I look at [the Rangers] today and it seems to be performing pretty well, so he must have done something right,” Molson said.
The Canadiens owner that he spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for advice on hiring Gorton.
“Someone like Gary has a valued opinion,” he said.
Molson sees this new management regime as a chance to innovate within the organization. On Monday, he spoke about creating a medical team dedicated to the mental health of players — a decision that comes after star goalie Carey Price missed the entire season thus far after entering the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.
Molson also talked about a dedication to more diversity on the hockey operations side of the organization.
“We have a pretty diverse group of people and many diversity programs [on the business side]. But on the hockey side, there’s a big opportunity to introduce different perspectives into the organization. It’s not easy to do, but it is certainly is a priority,” he said.
Molson said he’ll value the opinions of his new two-headed executive branch, while staying out of the day-to-day hockey operations of the team. That goes for their decision on head coach Dominique Ducharme, who signed a three-year extension through 2024 before the season, as well as for the ultimate direction for the Canadiens.
Molson said the Canadiens don’t need a fresh start at the player level “at this stage.” But if Gorton and his general manager want to tear down what Bergevin built, Molson isn’t afraid of a rebuild.
“I’m not afraid of that word, and I think our fans wouldn’t be afraid of that word, either,” he said.