Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sorry boss

You've got to hand it to them, your Montreal Canadiens have an impeccable sense of timing.

Three days before the team's big blowout 100th birthday party, on the very day that ownership changed hands, with not one but two champions in the house, and finally while the facing the hated Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs went out and embarrassed themselves Tuesday night in a listless 3-0 loss.

Seeing the Montreal Alouettes receive a rousing standing ovation prior to the game when they came out on the ice with the Grey Cup in tow, perhaps some of the Habs felt the people had already gotten their money's worth for the evening and decided not to show up. Give the Leafs some credit here, as they took it to a team that was sitting at home waiting for them after they played the night before, and this despite losing their starting goalie after one period.

But mostly, the Habs were really horrendous on this night, a game that was their worst on home ice this season, something head coach Jacques Martin had no trouble agreeing with.

To me, the juxtaposition of the Canadiens performance against a bitter rival that is below them in the standings versus what new owner Geoff Molson was saying just a couple of hours before the game was too rich to ignore.

Molson and his partnership group received approval from the NHL board of governors on Tuesday, and in addressing the media he expressed no concern whatsoever about the direction the team was going. Bob Gainey and Pierre Boivin received the traditional vote of confidence, and everything looked fine and dandy in Molson's eyes.

“I think Bob Gainey has done an excellent job re-building this team,” he said. “The team has an enormous amount of depth. There have been injuries and people have come up, and done their job, and done it well. There are many new players, there’s a new coach, there’s a new owner. And I feel we are in the process of building a great organization.”

One poor game doesn't necessarily make what he said any less true, but it certainly doesn't help the optics of the situation.

Frankly, after spending over half a billion dollars of various people's money acquiring the team, Molson wasn't going to come out and say the team needs to be blown up and everyone's fired. But the fact is, the organization is in a tough spot and likely won't contend for a Cup any time soon. No, the team is not horrible, it might even be good. But it's not a contender.

“The profitability of the team we bought depends on its success as well, and we will do everything we can to try and win with this team,” Molson said. “We feel we have the right people in the right places to win.”

That, of course, is up for debate, but what I was most interested in trying to find out was how this multi-tentacled ownership group was going to function. The fact Geoff Molson was there alone today spoke volumes.

“The general partner of this partnership is me, and I will be the chairman of the board and the CEO of the partnership,” Molson said. “I’m also going to be the governor representing the team with the NHL and quite involved on a daily basis as the lead general partner of the partnership group.”

Molson said there is some sort of agreement in place with the partners as to how much say they will have on major decisions like taking on a big contract or trading a popular player, but he wouldn't say what that agreement consists of. So, if you happen to be worried that, for instance, one of the partners might insist on making outlandish trade and contract offers in an effort to acquire every Quebec-born player in the league, there's no way of knowing how much pull he will have in making that happen.

However, Molson strongly suggested that it will be the hockey operations department who will be making the hockey decisions, which means the chance of having a whole gaggle of meddling owners is pretty minimal. For now.


pfhabs said...

-good morning Geoff Molson ! notwithstanding all the positive words all expected you to say to a national audience the reality now belongs to you and your partners.

-that reality is having a feverish fan base that at times goes to delusion but the team is at best average and got out worked and their lunch handed to them by a worse team using their 3rd string goalie

-yes Geoff we all agree Bob has rebuilt the farm team from the Houle-Corey days and yes Bob through Trevor Timmins has stockpiled some interesting prospects but one assume the objective is winning a Cup in the near future

-the fact that you made no mention of where the team was in terms of winning that Cup means to me you understand the reality of your team, your management and how they figure in your objective

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V said...

Arpon... What impact do you think the new ownership will have that will differentiate them from previous owners?

Based on their history, one would expect them to be more focused on winning a cup than other ownership groups where focus may be diluted by issues related to surviving (a number of Southern franchises) or ROI (Toronto).

That history also hints at more knowledge of the game. A better sense for what it takes and how difficult it is, particularly in the new hockey world to win a Cup.

Put those two things together (among many other things) and it feels like we should expect balance and a steady hand.

Mr. Molson's comments ring true to me. There is acknowledgement of good work, a sense things are on the right track and recognition that the newness of the situation will require patience. No knee-jerk reactions but an expectation for incremental progress... Lats and (more recently) Chipchura are two more examples of that.

I would be surprised if there are any significant senior management changes coming in the short term (this year) as long as the plan shows progress. And I suspect the soft measures... shift in team character and attitude, style of play, etc. will be as important as hard measures like wins, play-offs, etc.

I would also expect them to start addressing fan expectations. In Montreal, the expecations of many fans are out of touch with reality. I have been a fan since the early sixties and I get how great the team was for about 30 years of my life and I also get those days are long gone. Winning the Cup is not the goal... it's the vision. The goal is putting yourself in a position to compete regularly for the Cup. And in Montreal, like everywhere else except perhaps Pittsburg, San Jose and Chicago, for the next couple of years that's the new reality.

I don't think the last 5 years matter in the eyes of the new owners and people who keep dredging up the last 5 years are wasting their time - those are sunk costs. BG will be evaluated on what he does going forward as he should be and will be measured against the new goals in consideration of the new realities. Success will be positioning the team appropriately.

Just my thoughts...

V said...

Apologies for the two posts in a row, but I am sitting in the Paris airport and reading/posting about the Habs to avoid working.

I just read TJ's excellent article with Steve Shutt about the Roy trade. In it, he talks about how the trade may have been the best thing for Roy given the pressure of playing in Montreal. This gets back to my point about addressing fan expectations here. Many think that the only way to get better performance out of the team is to pile on the pressure - you can see it in some of the posters on this site. They claim the team stinks, management stinks and everyone is is too accepting of mediocrity.

I don't see it that way. I beleive that desire is still there in management and being rebuilt in the team. But desire has to be tempered by reality or the pressure of unreasonable expectations cripples rather than supports. Fans who are overly critical have to ask simple questions, 'are your tactics working? Does your dumping on the team actually make them better?'

Today, I find that the negative treatment works about as successfully in hockey as it does in business... hardly ever. This isn't the old days when management had iron-fisted control. In today's world, talent is mobile. If you create an untenable situation for talent, it finds a way to move. Teams still need structure and discipline, but if the whip is the only way to provide them, it isn't going to work.

Which leads me to one last point. I get the strong desire for people to comment on the cap situation... Gomez, Plekanac, etc. ad nasueum and to speculate on what should be done. It's idle fun. But can we dispel one myth... the one that claims management does not have a good handle on their cap situation. The hockey business is a talent management business. Pure and simple. And professional sports teams have ready access to the latest in talent management and development tools... they know the assets they have and what they are planning to do with them (with multiple scenarios to adjust for new circumstances). Does it mean it always works out... no, because the only guarentees are the first 1-4 players in the draft.

So do I know what Gainey should do to manage the cap situation? Absolutely not. Am I confident he has a variety of plans to deal with it. Absolutely.

And with this new ownership, I am also confident if it does not work out, changes for the better will be made in an orderly fashion wherever they are required in the organization.

john deere said...

I think if Montreal wants to gut their team they should be taking action (dumping players) by Xmas to increase their odds of getting a top 2 draft pick.

Not that I think they should or will but dithering for another year or two will make for a dreadful team for 5 to 7 years at least.

pfhabs said...

-a little story for CH nation and it flows as juxtaposition to some of the thoughts provided above

-reported yesterday on 990:

Canadiens have a deal on the table for Jay Leach, specifics coming back not known but for that type of player one would assume its a later draft choice. well the Canadiens under the brilliant stewardship of Gainey & Gauthier have the deal in place but forget or didn't know that Mr Leach and his salary/years in the league combination require him to clear waivers. Jay goes on waivers and is quickly claimed by San Jose bye-bye deal on the table...perfect example of asset mis-management

-G&G have neither the acumen nor the surgical precision to deal w the elite in this league. just another in a long list of blunders

-don't want to learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. excellence is required both in the NHL and in business not aaah shucks best attempts.

john deere said...

If they had to put him on waivers before they traded Leach it must of occurred to Gainey that somebody could pick him and that they made a decision that was a risk worth taking. I'm not that knowledgeable on these things but how would the sharp pencils have circumvented the waiver rules?

V said...

I don't know what happened with Leach, but working on a deal with the hope that you might slip him through waivers is perfectly legitimate. They gave it a shot and he got claimed.

The idea that this is somehow evidence of bad management is completely hypothetical and just being used to reinforce a bias.

Anonymous said...

'Excellence is required both in the NHL and in business...'

So is a balanced perspective.

pfhabs said...


-I wish I could be more positive but their performance, as measured in results, is significantly out weighed by mistakes

-but I'll let you tell me what I'm missing from this list of what I see of good performance measures in the last 7 years

1. rebuilt AHL team including excellent coaches

2. 3rd best crop of prospects as judged by Hockey News via survey of rest of NHL scouting departments

3. Kovalev for Balej

4. Gorges & Pacioretty for Rivest

5. dumping of Theodore contract although originally signed him to it

6. acqusition of Cammelleri, Moen & Gionta (although a crazy big contract amount)

-that's the best I see. may have forgetten some but await to be told what they might be

-will not go thru the indicators of poor performance as most know what they are. for me they are measured in bad trades, questionable acquisitions, not moving declining players and lost assets for no compensation. however, the most significant indicator being playoff apperances and length of stay.

-I will say that they, not counting this season which is iffy at best, missed the playoffs once out of 5 years and their record in the other 4 years is 11-22 having won 2, 1st round series and lost 2

-to me that is not a measure of excellence. it is average/mediocre at best and after 6+ years, including the current in which I see them missing the playoffs or first round exit, I want a change of GM.

-for me as much as I admired Bob the player/captain and thought he was the saviour hired in June 2003 it hasn't worked out. pointe finale it's time to move forward with another regime

-V is currently satisfied as are others, I am not... I saw the last Cup in 93 and have been alive for 17 before that. I agree w V that the success of days gone by seems unattainable but a routine placement as a bubble team is simply unacceptable to me. if others want to accept that as a measure of success that is their opinion and their right but to me it's failure as an ongoing result

-in my opinion Bob has been given sufficient time and resources and has proved wanting. without dissecting every last detail his results are average/mediocre at best and time to move on

-Sliver 24 said it best as he, nor I, see any relief from that routine of bubble existence under the current regime

-seems to be a balanced position on my part, others think I'm too harsh tending to negative. let me tell you this team is my passion and I hate what I see and wish it was much much better. I've seen a lot of hockey and have had the pleasure of meeting a number of people in the industry including the previous owners all of which doesn't make me any more intelligent than anyone it just gives me a different point of departure and perspective.

-dans mon humble avis/in my humble opinion mediocrity has become manna for the masses. it's just not good enough for me and given the great tradition of the CH it shouldn't be for the new owner.

-enjoy tonight's show it will be an indication of what I miss and perhaps what you've never experienced.

-for me it time to move forward into the next 100 years w a new management team. no apologies on my part if that disturbs you, V or anyone else because I seek excellence or at least the attempt of obtaining excellence. what we have now fars woefully short

Arpon Basu said...

On the Leach trade, I heard what was reported on the Team 990 and I heard a pretty different version at the game on Tuesday. The way I understand it is that in order to trade a player you have claimed on waivers, you must first offer that player to the other teams who originally placed a waiver claim on him, and only those teams. It appears the Sharks had placed a claim on Leach when the Habs claimed him, so that's why they were given first dibs on him. The Canadiens were just trying to grab an asset for him rather than simply lose him, and you can't blame them for trying that. It's exactly what they did with Chipchura, grabbing a fourth-rounder instead of losing him on waivers on his way to Hamilton. So it was less of an oversight than an administrative obligation.

V said...

Good post PF. Will respond with more later in some other of Arpon's articles, but a sound basis for a reasoned discussion.