As people will soon start coming out of the woodwork to talk about Boivin's career as the business head of the most storied franchise in hockey, many will undoubtedly mention that his era also coincided with the darkest period in team history. Those people will find some way to blame Boivin for that, even though he really had very little to do with any of it.
In fact, it is that very same dark period that made what Boivin accomplished so extraordinary. Never before in Canadiens history has the team really had to worry about marketing. When you win Stanley Cups in every decade of your existence, it's not necessarily that tough to convince people to come watch your team play.
Boivin's arrival as team president almost perfectly matches up with my career covering the Canadiens. My first season, 2000-01, had players like Eric Landry, Christian Laflamme, Juha Lind, Patrick Poulin, Craig Darby, Patrick Traverse and other similarly forgettable players patrolling the ice at the Bell Centre. My seat in the press box, perched high above the visiting bench, often had wide expanses of empty seats behind it.
But who would want to watch that team, you may ask? Well I would counter, who would really want to watch many of the Canadiens teams since the lockout, which have mostly been middling teams that squeak into the playoffs? In a market that prided itself on expecting excellence, on poo-pooing first round playoff wins because it was beneath them, this was not an easy sell.
Boivin, to his credit, realized this and created a monster, one that has the Canadiens at the forefront of the city's thoughts nearly 12 months a year, one that has produced a sold out building every night since 2005. He has managed to convert the first generation of Canadiens fans in the team's long history never to have truly experienced a Stanley Cup victory, a generation the team just as easily could have lost to the ravages of mediocrity, but didn't at least in part due to Boivin's foresight and refusal to sit on the laurels of past success.
The team's head of marketing Ray Lalonde deserves a good deal of the credit (or is it blame?) for creating the frenzied fervor the city now has for what is really a middle of the pack team. But Lalonde got his mandate from Boivin, and it is that undying popularity that allowed George Gillett to more than double his investment in the team when it was sold to a group led by Geoff Molson.
So now, it will be Molson making all these business decisions, and that's his prerogative, even though it would be unreasonable to expect Boivin to do a much better job than he's already done from a business perspective.
Where I suppose he could be criticized is failing to hire the right people that would win the Canadiens a Stanley Cup. When Boivin was hired, Rejean Houle was still general manager of the team. He quickly replaced Houle with Andre Savard, who was replaced by Bob Gainey. I don't think anyone could fault either of those hires.
His latest decision to replace Gainey with Pierre Gauthier without so much as conducting a search for any other potential candidates merits some criticism, but Boivin did not make that call on his own. Molson was already in place at the time.
So how will things change under Molson's presidency, which doesn't officially start until June 30, 2011 but in reality must begin immediately? I'm not sure, but if I had to bet I would imagine that most fans won't see much of a change at all. If Molson is to be believed, he will not interfere with the hockey department, which was always Boivin's way as well.
But the one area of the hockey department that Boivin did interject from time to time was the importance of having francophones on the team. He spoke up just before and after the Habs made their unsuccessful run at Daniel Briere as a free agent, and also said that Vincent Lecavalier would be an obvious free agent target for the Canadiens, only to have him sign what amounts to a lifetime contract extension with the Lightning. And finally, when defending the decision not to open up a search to replace Gainey as GM, Boivin admitted that the two main requirements for the job were NHL experience and bilingualism. That whittled the list down to a very low number, and three members of that extremely short list had already been fired as Habs GM (one who wasn't, Dale Tallon, might have at least merited an interview).
Funnily, I feel like on this matter, Boivin didn't satisfy either of the two solitudes. Some anglos who would rather have a winning product than worry about the ancestry of the players felt Boivin was too preoccupied with this reality of running a professional hockey franchise in Quebec. Many francophones felt Boivin did not view the language issue as the reality that it so clearly is.
One of those francophones is Bertrand Raymond, who wrote on the RDS website that this was a foreseeable move. He wrote that Boivin was surely pushed out of a job he would have loved to keep for many more years, and that Molson surely had this move in mind when the purchase was completed but wanted to wait and let the dust settle before taking a more active role running the team.
But he also writes of Boivin's supposedly poor record for insisting that having francophone players be a priority for the organization. He cites the example of Francois Beauchemin being passed over as a free agent last summer in favour of Jaroslav Spacek for the same amount of money (Spacek actually makes a little over $33,000 more per season that Beauchemin), or Martin Biron being allowed to sign with the Rangers for less money than was given Alex Auld on July 1.
"Geoff Molson would never go so far as to establish the difference between a Biron or an Auld in hockey terms," Raymond concludes, "but when he seriously mentions during a board meeting that the Canadiens, who have never been this poor in this area, must have more Francophones in their ranks, people would be best served to listen to the remark.
"And maybe things will change for the better very soon."
That might be true, but I doubt it will come in the form Raymond refers to. I seriously doubt Molson will be sitting in Gauthier's office looking over trade proposals and insisting he choose the one that brings a francophone to the team, nor will he instruct Gauthier to base any personnel decisions on a players ability to do television interviews in french.
But one area he may have an influence is at the draft table, or at the very least having more of a team presence in the junior and even midget hockey rinks of the province. With Gauthier jettisoning half his scouting staff prior to the draft, there's only one, part-time scout working for the team in Quebec. For much of Boivin's time here, Quebec scouting was a clear weakness that - considering the public relations repercussions - he should have addressed. I don't think Molson would be stepping on the toes of either Gauthier or Trevor Timmins if he strongly suggested the team hire a team of, say, five scouts devoted solely to Quebec. Perhaps that would allow the team to avoid the public embarrassment of missing out on a David Perron or Claude Giroux on draft day.
But, almost more importantly when it comes to Molson's job as president, it would be the right message to send to the fans and media that the Montreal Canadiens will spare no expense in trying to unearth the next francophone hockey star, which appears to be a dying breed.
The failure to deliver that message to the population was probably Boivin's greatest failing. And perhaps even his only one.
But other than this one, largely cosmetic area of team management, I highly doubt we will see much of a change in organizational philosophy with Boivin gone and Molson taking over. Because ultimately, was Boivin not there to serve as the owner's eyes and ears, to carry out the mandate handed to him by his boss?
So all Molson is really doing here is cutting out the middleman.