The Montreal Canadiens are a storied franchise that has fallen on hard times. Very hard times.
Holders of by far the most Stanley Cup championships in NHL history, owners of the most recognizable colors in hockey, boasters of a proud history that evokes nostalgia in two languages, it's been a while since they've created the kind of memories to which their fans were once accustomed.
Since the Canadiens last won the Cup, which was once considered their birthright:
- Four of the five other Original Six franchises have won the Cup.
- Their legendary former coach Scotty Bowman won three Cups behind the bench of one of those Original Six teams, and another behind the bench of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- Their former bitter provincial rivals won the Cup twice after relocating to Denver ... with the Habs' former franchise goaltender.
- Their former star center and coach Jacques Lemaire turned a previous league doormat into a Cup winner using a system similar to the one that won the Canadiens Cups in the '70s.
- The expansion Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning, just getting started during the Habs' last win in 1993, have each etched their name on the Cup.
- 19 other franchises have made it to the Stanley Cup finals, including every franchise that shared the Adams Division with them back in 1993.
It is into this setting that they must identify and install the man to succeed Pierre Gauthier, arguably their worst general manager in franchise history.
Naturally, there is pressure in Quebec for the Canadiens to hire a French-speaking GM, although even their ownership and special adviser Serge Savard (a former Hab player and GM himself) are sending conflicting messages on that front: Savard says French is necessary, while owner Geoff Molson says it's not more important than, say, winning.
What candidates might they find to fill the role? Here are a few possibilities:
Pros: Knows a lot about every player and every level of hockey. If you don't think so, just ask him.
Cons: Taking the job would rob North American viewers of his television commentary and analysis, deprive coaches and players of uncomfortably close in-game interviews.
Tea Leaves: Has as many insider advocates as he does fan detractors -- though you can't help wondering if those advocates just want him off the air, too. When asked about McGuire as a candidate, Savard said, "He's a nice person. I've been to his golf tournament." So there's that.
Pros: Has an unbelievably French name. Is well regarded in hockey circles. Promising AHL experience. Already worked with the Canadiens for nine years before they let him leave for the Tampa Bay Lightning because the Habs management staff was all set, thanks.
Cons: Is very young -- still in his mid-30s -- and never played for the Canadiens (nor any NHL hockey team), a combination that would make him unlike any recent Habs GM.
Tea Leaves: His lack of baggage, his passing of the French litmus test, and his legal and administrative skills make him a hot candidate for the salary cap world.
Pros: French-speaking? Check. Former Canadien star? Check. Opinionated and revered enough to distract fans even in bad times? Check.
Cons: Experienced? No. Level-headed? Not exactly. Liable to draft his son? You know, he just might.
Tea Leaves: Murmurs periodically surface about Roy, who owns a profitable QMJHL team, joining the front office of one of his two former NHL teams, be it the Canadiens or the Colorado Avalanche, one of those teams that has won multiple Cups since the Habs last made the finals. You know he's a candidate. It's just a question of whether team and star want to take this leap together.
Pros: Is also very French! Some experience as an NHL GM.
Cons: His tenure as Avalanche GM was the darkest period of their time in Denver thus far.
Tea Leaves: He'll have to interview well to explain that track record. But at least he can interview in French.
Pros: A former Habs player! And lots of experience as an NHL GM.
Cons: As a new GM, he was admittedly fleeced in one of the most infamous (and largest) trades in NHL history. His track record with the Minnesota Wild is uninspiring, and may have very well relied on Lemaire's coaching voodoo.
Tea Leaves: Media are mentioning him, but don't bet on it.
Pros: He speaks French, too. Remembered more as a prankster during his NHL playing career as a depth defenseman, he's actually been accumulating experience as assistant GM for the Chicago Blackhawks. His personality would no doubt play well with fans and media.
Cons: Like everyone who's never been an NHL GM before, no one knows if he'll be any good. Also: Never played for the Habs.
Tea Leaves: Not happening.
Dave Nonis et al
Pros: Was an NHL general manager before.
Cons: Is employed by the rival Toronto Maple Leafs as one of Brian Burke's approximately 13 assistant GMs. So the Habs might be better served just leaving him be.
Tea Leaves: Just put Nonis into the big, broad "Oh, he was a GM before too" pile which also includes but is hardly limited to Craig Patrick, Dough MacLean, Mike Keenan (right), Brian Lawton (heh), Brett Hull (hoohoo really now), and Jacques Martin, who Gauthier inexplicably fired as Canadiens coach earlier this year.
Agent Allan Walsh
Pros: Like most player agents, he is very opinionated and isn't afraid to make decisions that cost other GMs their jobs. Agents always think they can be GMs, but some of them -- most recently Mike Gillis in Vancouver -- have done pretty well.
Cons: Known for pumping his clients on Twitter even at the expense of their teammates -- like, say, Client Jaroslav Halak at the expense of current Canadien Carey Price -- can you imagine him taking to Twitter after games to praise, or dis, Employee Scott Gomez?
Tea Leaves: This would be awesome.
Pros: Fears neither long-term commitment nor patient rebuilds of once-dynastic franchises.
Cons: Lacks experience. Current contract would require a major financial incentive to coax him into this new role.
Tea Leaves: Long shot you say? Sure, but it's not like a New York Islanders goalie on the back nine of his career hasn't stepped straight into the GM chair before.