I have criticized Pierre McGuire in the past for several reasons, but now with his friend and TSN990 radio host Mitch Melnick writing this piece in a campaign to get him hired as GM, the usual McGuire for GM meme for when the Habs are struggling is gaining momentum. Add to that many believe it is a foregone conclusion that Pierre Gauthier will be relieved of his duties in the offseason and the speculation goes into overdrive.
I will say from the beginning that I am not in favour of Pierre McGuire becoming the next General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, but I don't think it's fair to just pile on and cherry pick in order to do so. McGuire is not a fool, he is not Mike Milbury, and there are many positives to him. It is only fair to look at both sides of the issue before coming to a conclusion. We will start by looking at McGuire's positives, then weigh them against the negatives.
Melnick details McGuire's hockey career thoroughly so I do not think we need to go through that again here. What I do want to talk about is McGuire's colour commentary. While he is prone to hyperbole, McGuire is the only commentator in hockey who consistently gives insight into coaching strategy. He often mentions what lines are matched against whom, and recognizes coaching adjustments quickly and explains how they can impact the game being played in front of them. If more colour guys were like McGuire in this respect, watching hockey would be better. Sure his enthusiasm can ruin great moments, but he's by and large the best colour guy out there, and frankly makes his competition look very bad. And even though McGuire did put a bit of a damper on that moment, it is important to remember that what he was trying to do was give fans knowledge in how the play developed, he was just too excited to wait. He can't be blamed.
As Melnick says, McGuire is a hard worker. You don't get to where he is without hard work. He is the elite of his field and paid accordingly. He also doesn't forget where he came from and continues to communicate with anyone who wants to talk to him. Basically he's a nice guy.
McGuire has great hockey connections. He probably overstates his connections a little bit with the constant name dropping he does, but he has connections to many brilliant hockey minds. The nature of his work demands it and he has done a great job in building them. Along with these connections he's built a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of players and people in the game of hockey.
He's bilingual. Personally this is irrelevant to me as the general manager rarely speaks anyway, but for many fans this is a positive so I'll list it.
McGuire has a habit of coming down on both sides of every issue. People remember when you're right, but not when you're wrong, so which part gets quoted? The part that comes true of course. Melnick quoted McGuire on Cristobal Huet:
I remain highly skeptical. He's never been this good at any level. I don't think he can sustain this high level of play.
McGuire also said about Huet's trade to the Washington Capitals:
I'm not surprised at all. This is Carey Price's team going forward. Internally (the Habs) knew they were not going to win with Cristobal Huet
Yet he ranted and raved after the Canadiens were eliminated in 2008 about how they should have kept Huet as insurance because Price wasn't ready to carry the team. He also said drafting Price in the first place was a mistake in part due to the depth Huet provided with Jose Theodore and the perennial All Star (AHL anyway) Yann Danis.
Some of the other quotes Melnick uses are curious as they don't exactly paint him as being right. For example his view of Sheldon Souray:
One trick pony. There isn't much interest around the league. I don't know who's going to sign him. Don't know how effective he can be in post lockout era.
Melnick doesn't give context for this quote, but it seems likely that it was after his fall out with the Edmonton Oilers. Well Souray is on pace for a 30 point season, is +8 and putting up nearly 3 shots per game. He's by no means a top end defenseman, but he's filling his role well.
On Guillaume Latendresse:
Big mistake if he starts in the NHL as an 18 year old. He needs to develop properly. Don't rush him.
You could stretch this super thin and say Latendresse making the NHL so early lead to his sense of entitlement and early exit from the Canadiens, but the facts are he was earning his keep as an NHL scorer, boasting some of the highest even strength goals per 60 minutes played of any player on the Habs. He clearly wasn't ruined based on his limited action in Minnesota. Usually the sentiment behind McGuire's thoughts here are sound, but listing it as foresight when it wasn't is odd.
On Roman Hamrlik:
A good player but I don't know about that 4th year. He'll help but the term is one year too long.
In Hamrlik's last year with the Canadiens he posted his best statistical season since he was signed, in spite of Andrei Markov being out nearly the entire year, forcing Hamrlik to once again play above his weight.
On Mike Cammalleri:
I don't know how many other teams would have given him a 6th year.
He was signed to a five year contract. Maybe this is a typo? Either way, Cammalleri will be just turning 32 by the end of his deal, hardly an age where most GMs would exercise caution as the end age of a deal.
On Jaroslav Spacek:
Good player but not much left in the tank. Was a healthy scratch for Buffalo last year. I'd rather have Francois Beauchemin.
Spacek's tenure ended on a sour note, and he never provided the offense that fans expected for the money he was getting paid, but he put up two extremely solid years of shutdown defense for the Canadiens. More than Beachemin -21 rating shows over the same period. I think even Pierre McGuire would admit he was wrong about this one after he raved about Spacek's presence in the 2010 playoffs.
On Dominic Moore:
Why did they give up a second round pick when they could have had this player as a free agent?
Because cap implications are different during the middle of the season than the beginning. Because being a GM isn't as simple as going out and signing whoever you want, whenever you want. Why did the Buffalo Sabres trade a second round pick for Moore in 2009 when they could have claimed him off waivers in 2008? Things aren't always so simple.
McGuire also criticized the Canadiens for not taking Angelo Esposito in 2007, whom they passed over for Ryan McDonagh. Last year he said he didn't believe Lars Eller would even be a top 9 forward, then he said he would top out as a 3rd line center.
Now it is not my intention to pick on Pierre McGuire. He's allowed to be wrong. Everyone is wrong once in awhile. But the point is that he's not the beacon of brilliance that Melnick is making him out to be, he's just the loudest candidate for the job. Anyone who will be seriously considered for a GM position has the same connections that McGuire has. It is easy to second guess moves from the outside. I'm doing it to Pierre right now and I'm not in any way qualified to do his job or be an NHL general manager. It's very simple to sit on the sidelines for 10+ years and second guess every move with the advantage of hindsight, especially when you're not in print so quotes are hard to come by and you don't mind making several contradictory statements to ensure you'll be remembered as being right.
The biggest problem in McGuire's analysis when it comes to Montreal is one simple thing: He's a fan. From his clear grudge against Gauthier, to his knee jerk reactions, to his undervaluing of every asset the Canadiens currently own, it seems clear that McGuire can not separate his emotions from his analysis. That's a huge problem as an executive. Perhaps he could be successful in another market, but he loves the Habs too much to be successful here. As fans, we all want to be armchair GMs, but none of us should be in charge. A dispassionate, patient professional is what's needed when one move can mess up a team for a decade.
If against all odds Pierre gets the job, of course we should give him a chance to show his mettle, but the question is whether he's the best candidate available, and I don't believe that's the case.