Habs GM Search: My Personal Shortlist

The firing of Pierre Gauthier and the end of the Gainey/Gauthier is something I have been anxiously awaiting since the Gomez trade, and since Gauthier was named as Gainey’s successor without so much as an interview, especially when names like Steve Yzerman were out there. When the Habs traded for Gomez I stated that the trade set the organization back five years. I stick to that, but luckily with new management the Gomez aspect of the trade – if not the (gulp) McDonagh aspect – can be rectified. In the interest of not repeating what every expert and fan has written, I will be giving my own pros and cons for each candidate, rather than simply regurgitating their resumes.

I will be rating these candidates based on the components that I feel would make a great general manager for this market. Those are: a) Scouting/Development, b) Pro-Talent Evaluation, c) Negotiating/Cap Management, d) Communications (this involves whether or not the candidate instills confidence in the fan base and whether he is a good communicator (with Brian Burke as a 9 and Pierre Gauthier as a 1). I will also be speculating as to where this candidate might lead the team if they got the job. Without further ado, here are my top 3 candidates for the Habs vacant General Manager position.

Pierre McGuire – Hockey Analyst and Commentator at NBC Sports

Pro: Thanks to being a part of the hockey world for most of his adult life – although not in a management role for the last fifteen years – Pierre has seen more hockey in his fifty years than most will see in a lifetime. I have listened to Pierre on TSN, NBC, and in particular on the Team (now TSN) 990 radio in Montreal. He has always impressed me with his knowledge of the game, and of every player. It’s easy to point to examples of when he has been wrong, but that’s simply because he has an opinion about everything and everybody, which is partially because he’s paid to, and partially because he’s just that passionate. He has countless connections within the game and is respected by/is friends with everybody, something that Gauthier never had/was.

Con: The biggest criticism of McGuire is that he’s been "out of the game for too long," but I don’t see it that way. For one, Pierre in his current job is in many ways more plugged in to the game than any General Manager in the league. It’s easy to get back into the management grind, but it’s not easy to teach or acquire player evaluation skills like Pierre has. My biggest con, however, regards McGuire’s personality and its fit in Montreal. As was shown in his previous stints (particularly as head coach of Hartford), McGuire can be stubborn, overly vocal, and can rub people the wrong way. I, for one, believe that fifteen years of maturity – Pierre was in his early thirties the last time he was in management – has taught the guy a lot. I think that Pierre would be able to put his ego aside for the sake of the organization, but it is a risk, a big risk. If I were interviewing McGuire, I would try to get an idea of exactly how risky a proposition hiring him would be, because obviously the upside is there. This guy has the potential to build a dynastic contender.

Ratings (/10):

Scouting/Development: 9/10

Pro-Talent Evaluation: 9/10

Negotiating/Cap Management: 6/10

Communication: 5/10

Projection: With McGuire as GM, I could see Marc Crawford (who I am not a fan of) coming on board as head coach. McGuire would rid the team of Gomez, Kaberle, and Bourque, and would proactively build this team through the draft and free agency. He would likely bring a guy like Blair Mackasey in as assistant GM, and would surround himself with smart hockey minds. I could see him letting go of Trevor Timmons and rebuilding the scouting department, which would be fine as long as he had a direction and was patient with the process. I could see McGuire making a pitch for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter if they don’t re-sign.

Final Word: I feel that McGuire’s player evaluation gives him the highest ceiling of any candidate, but his hit-or-miss personality and his previous failures also make him the highest risk. With the situation as fragile as it currently is in Montreal following years of mediocrity, I would definitely give Pierre a strong look. Without the ability to interview McGuire, it is tough to say whether I would hire him at this point.

Julien Brisebois – Ass. GM Tampa Bay Lightning/GM Norfolk Admirals

Pro: For me, the biggest appeal to Brisebois (or BriseBois) is the fact that he’s young and innovative. The guy never played hockey, and never coached hockey, and yet here he is with the potential to snag one of the biggest jobs in the hockey world. Brisebois is a quiet guy – few realized he existed while with the Habs as GM of the Hamilton Bulldogs, but unlike Gauthier I feel he would instill a sense of quiet confidence in his abilities and in the team. Brisebois is a capologist, which means that I would imagine he was a guy who was NOT in accordance with trading for Gomez, and likely mistakes like Gomez, Kaberle, and Bourque would not be made under his control. Steve Yzerman, his boss in Tampa, has recently plugged Brisebois as a great evaluator of talent. Brisebois also knows the Habs team and the organization, although hopefully he will have learned from Gainey and Gauthier’s mistakes so as not to repeat them. A final pro is that Brisebois would likely keep Trevor Timmons, who has done an underrated job at drafting quality talents, since he worked with him for years.

Con: The only real con for Brisebois is that he’s inexperienced and doesn’t have a background in hockey. One could argue that Claude Loiselle, who was ass. GM of Tampa Bay before Brisebois and is now ass. GM of the Leafs would be more deserving. Not in quite the same way as McGuire, Brisebois is a risky pick. I would rather have a guy who knows hockey than a guy who knows the salary cap, but if Yzerman is speaking the truth about his assistant’s ability to judge talent, then maybe Julien can bring the best of both worlds.

Ratings (/10):

Scouting/Development: 7/10

Pro-Talent Evaluation: 7/10

Negotiating/Cap Management: 10/10

Communication: 7/10

Projection: It’s harder to make a projection about somebody that even the media know fairly little about. From what I’ve heard about Brisebois, however, I would imagine that he would pick an up-and-comer like Pascal Vincent or even Patrick Roy as coach, presuming he couldn’t pry his friend Guy Boucher away from Tampa Bay (close to impossible). As a capologist, he would likely also rid the team of Gomez, etc. and would try to build a cap-effective team, capitalizing on entry-level contracts and undervalued players (like Erik Cole was this off-season).

Final Word: I think that what will ultimately determine whether Brisebois gets the job is whether Molson feels his experience with the Habs under Gainey is a positive or a negative. He has similar experience to many other candidates, so that is the one thing that sets him aside. He is also a character that both English and French media seem to feel would be a good fit. I would be cautiously optimistic with Brisebois as GM of the Habs. Even with much to learn, he would be an immediate upgrade on the past regime.

Marc Bergevin – Ass. GM Chicago Blackhawks

Pro: Bergevin has one thing going for him that the previous two candidates don’t: he played in the NHL. Beyond that, Bergevin has been a part of one of the most successful organizations in hockey the past 5 years. Bergevin has served as Director of Player Personnel, Assistant Coach, and finally Assistant GM to Stan Bowman. Scotty Bowman, an advisor to the team, has described Bergevin as being very well connected in the hockey world, and Bergevin has scouted enough in his years that he likely has an impressive knowledge of NHLers and great evaluation abilities. He seems well spoken and Scotty has also praised Marc’s willingness to embrace challenges and to learn the aspects of the game that he’s not as strong at.

Con: Bergevin is still relatively inexperienced, even when compared to guys like McGuire and Brisebois. Bergevin has only been an assistant GM for a year, which leads one to wonder if he’s ready for this large of a role. He has also admitted to not having a complete grasp of the salary cap, although as stated before he embraces every challenge openly. He may need more time to learn and mature before he is ready for a GM role, particularly one in a market this big.

Ratings (/10):

Scouting/Development: 8/10

Pro-Talent Evaluation: 9/10

Negotiating/Cap Management: 5/10

Communication: 6/10

Projection: With Bergevin in the GM role, he would have to be surrounded by more experienced hockey minds. I could see Larry Carriere remaining as assistant GM, with possibly even Serge Savard staying on as an advisor in a Bowman-like capacity. I don’t know much about his possible coaching candidates, so I won’t speculate, but as Chicago has done I could see him struggling a little bit with the cap, although I would hope even he would recognize the importance of ridding the team of Gomez.

Final Word: I would certainly interview Bergevin, as he seems like a great (bilingual) up-and-coming hockey mind. He probably doesn’t have enough experience to get the job though. He is probably better served remaining in his current capacity for another 2-3 years before accepting a GM job, one that will without a doubt be offered to him at that point.

In conclusion, I would be very happy with any one of these candidates. Considering that Bergevin might be a little too young, and McGuire might be a little too risky, I feel like Brisebois could be the ideal choice to lead the Canadiens into what is hopefully an age of renewed excellence. Hopefully, whoever the choice is, he will surround himself with smart experienced hockey minds, and will be given the ability to bury contracts in the minors and/or buy-out players in the interest of improving this team. Considering the failure of the final year of Gainey and the two years of Gauthier, there is nowhere to go but up.

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