Hockey, Sports

Making sense of the Montreal Canadiens’ front office shakeup

On Nov. 29, the Montreal Canadiens announced that after nearly 10 years as general manager (GM), Marc Bergevin had been relieved of his duties.

Coming into the season off of a hot streak, such a drastic turn of events seemed unlikely. Last season, the Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, and rumours swirled that a three-year contract extension was in the works. The indefinite loss of Carey Price, Shea Weber, and Joel Edmundson seemed to hamper the team’s playoff chances before the season had even started.  

By November, the team was off to their worst start in decades, bringing down morale among their loyal fans. Mikaela Piccirelli, U3 Science and longtime Habs fan, told //The McGill Tribune// that she believes the issues with Bergevin’s tenure run deeper than this year’s rocky start.

“Apart from last year, […] the Habs were just going through waves of mediocrity and a new face was needed to turn it around,” Piccirelli said. “Especially after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, […] a new flame was ignited and the fanbase now wants and expects more.”

Changes to management did not stop with Bergevin: Paul Wilson, the vice-president (VP) of communications and public affairs, was let go, and assistant general managers Scott Mellanby and Trevor Timmins resigned and were fired, respectively. Finally, Geoff Molson, the president of the Canadiens, hired Jeff Gorton, the former GM of the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers, to serve as president of hockey operations.

In early January, Gorton and Molson then hired Chantal Machabée to replace Wilson. A Laval native, Machabée has gained notoriety during her 32 years with Réseau des sports (RDS). In an interview with the //Tribune//, Michel Lacroix, a former colleague of Machabée at RDS and the Canadiens’ in-game announcer, shared his thoughts on the hiring decision.

“I’ve known Chantal personally, she will indeed be a great VP,” Lacroix said. “She has the necessary knowledge and experience and she’ll bring some fresh air to the organization.”

According to Jared Brook, the deputy managing editor of Habs Eyes on the Prize, Machabée’s positive influence is already being felt within the organization.

“I think some of the major changes have already started to be seen in terms of how the team communicates health updates on players,” Brook said in an interview with the //Tribune//. “[Machabée] has the immense respect of everyone who covers the team. I don’t think she would take the job if the organization wasn’t willing to listen to her ideas or implement them.”

On Jan. 18, two weeks after Machabée’s hiring, the organization announced that Kent Hughes had signed a five-year contract as GM of the Habs. The Beaconsfield native had been a player agent for more than 30 years before assuming the position. Hughes is not the first agent to make the leap to GM; an agent’s skillset, which includes intimate knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement and an ability to understand player demands, means they have become increasingly coveted by hockey organizations. 

“I think as a former agent he might have a better idea of what appeals to players,” Brook noted. “Kent Hughes seems set on making the Canadiens into a more modern organization, and that is a very positive step.”

The next era of the Montreal Canadiens is just getting started and will be judged by the team’s on-ice success. The question remains whether management will take their time with a roster rebuild or feel pressured to try and speed up the process. Piccirelli is one fan who would not mind the former.

“If a full rebuild is the most logical way to get there consistently, then I wouldn’t be opposed,” Piccirelli said. “The hardest part would be seeing some players that we have come to love, leave. I don’t know how patient the Habs fan base would be with such a process, but […] I would be willing to deal with a couple more seasons like this one to get there.”

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