There were two noteworthy events arising from Saturday night’s Canadiens/Flyers game in Philadelphia. With their 4-1 win, the Flyers clinched a playoff berth for 16th time in the last 17 seasons. At the same time the Canadiens were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the seventh time in those same seventeen years.
A close examination of the path these two franchises have taken leads to one startling conclusion. While the administration of the Flyers has been a monument to stability the Canadiens have been nothing short of a chaotic mess.
Over the last seventeen years the Flyers have had two general managers, Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren. The Canadiens have had five; Serge Savard, Rejean Houle, Andre Savard, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier. And, if the carnivorous and often vindictive Montreal media has it’s way, there’s a sixth on the way.
While the Flyers have had stable management, the Canadiens have changed leadership every three and a half years or so. And with each change comes a new philosophy and another one of those five year rebuilding programmes.
The last time the Canadiens were consistently successful was the Serge Savard regime from 1983 to 1995. During those twelve years the Canadiens were in the Stanley Cup final three times and won it twice. In the seventeen years since Savard was replaced the best the team can brag of was one trip to the conference final two years ago. Each GM has felt the need to take the team in a different direction from his predecessor; in effect one rebuilding programme after the other.
Which brings us to Pierre Gauthier. Not since Al McNeil in 1971 has a member of the Canadiens come under the unrelenting media assault that Gauthier has in the last four months. The last time we saw anything resembling this attack was 1971 when the local press went after coach Al McNeil during a successful Stanley Cup run.
The main complaints are the injury induced moves Gauthier was forced to make, none of which ultimately improved the franchise, plus his penchant for keeping his own counsel when it comes to the inner workings of the team. What local reporters would prefer is a Brian Burke who, at the drop of a microphone, will mouth off on every issue from the state of his team’s goaltending to potholes on the Gardiner Expressway.
I must admit, as part of the media group, I kind of like the Burke approach, but I don’t know what it accomplishes when it comes to running an NHL hockey club. But I also operated in the Sam Pollock era, and he was never a fount of information either. His penchant for producing Stanley Cup winneers made same media bulletproof.
Gauthier may have had a bad year, but he’s the same guy who traded for James Wisniewski a year ago when the Canadiens defence was in desperate shape. He did get Josh Gorges under long term contract. He battled to get free agent Erik Cole signed to a long term contract and, in moving Cammalleri and Kostitsyn he has managed to clear enough cap space to ensure that Subban, Price and perhaps Pacioretty and Eller are part of the long term future of the team. Not to be forgotten as well is the fact that his team made the Stanley Cup semi-final two years ago and pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Bruins to overtime in the seventh game last year.
The final decision on Gauthier’s future will be made by Canadiens president Geoff Molson. One can only hope he shows more wisdom than Ron Corey who, in 1995 replaced Serge Savard with the horribly inept Rejean Houle and started the cycle of mediocrity we’ve seen since.
His won’t be an easy decision. Molson can opt for the status quo and stability or make a change and doom the team to extended mediocrity. Molson may have reasons other than the obvious for not retaining Gauthier but should he elect to keep him, he’ll be operating in the face of a Montreal media horde that thinks itself a dictatorship when it comes to the Canadiens. .
Now let’s consider the alternatives. Can anyone be serious about Patrick Roy’s candidacy? It’s one thing to run the richest team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, it’s another to jump directly into the NHL with no professional experience either in the GM or coaching ranks. The risk is another earn-while-you-learn regime like that of Rejean Houle. There are others out there. Claude Loiselle in Toronto comes to mind. I always like what Andre Savard did in the brief time he ran the Canadiens before Gainey took over.