Canadiens Will Benefit From Jeff Gorton’s Patient Approach

In what was possibly the most predictable staffing change this season, the Montréal Canadiens parted ways with the vast majority of the club’s hockey operations staff. After the most dismal start to a season in the franchise’s history, owner Geoff Molson’s personnel changes arrived swiftly. General manager (GM) Marc Bergevin, assistant GM Trevor Timmins, and senior Vice President of Public Affairs Paul Wilson were each handed their pink slips, and co-assistant GM Scott Mellanby handed in his resignation shortly before that.

Jeff Gorton
Canadiens’ new Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with the New York Rangers when he was their GM. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In the wake of the most serious organizational upheaval in more than a decade, Molson brought on former New York Rangers and Boston Bruins GM Jeff Gorton to serve as the Canadiens’ Vice President of Hockey Operations. Although a unilingual anglophone, Gorton takes a position with the Canadiens that had previously gone unfilled for quite some time. In his first press conference in his new role, Gorton preached his philosophy of careful analysis and patience as the keys to turning the team around. His indirect investment in the long-term future of the Canadiens will ultimately lead to further development and more consistent success.

Unheralded Rookies Will Receive Chances to Impress

Many in the Canadiens’ realm will have heard the name Ryan Poehling before. He’s the Canadiens rookie who potted a hat trick and the shootout winner in his first NHL game. Granted, it was the final game of the season, and the Canadiens were nowhere near a playoff position, but Poehling impressed with a dominant performance. Ever since, fans have clamoured for management to give him a regular shot with the big club. In three seasons, Poehling has only 43 games to his credit. In 15 games this season, Poehling has registered four goals and one assist.

Ryan Poehling Montreal Canadiens
Ryan Poehling, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Due to the vacancies in the Canadiens’ front office and the fact that it was the recently departed staff who did not give Poehling a chance, now would be a good time to keep him with Montréal and see what he can bring. After all, he has been improving his game since training camp. (From “Dan Robertson: A maturing Poehling is finding his game” Dan Robertson. CTV News. 30/11/2021.)

The same thought process can be applied to other rookies in the Canadiens’ system who haven’t received an honest opportunity in the NHL yet. In order to assess them, they must get service time. Prospects like Mattias Norlinder (six games played this season), Jesse Ylönen (two games played) need to be assessed by Gorton and other potential hockey ops staffers, and this season is the perfect simulation in which to do it.

Canadiens Can Take Time to Choose Their Next GM

Given Gorton’s previous experience as GM of both the Rangers and the Bruins, he knows what it takes to build a good team and the qualities that a candidate needs to succeed. His careful and constructed approach will give the Canadiens a great francophone candidate that will lead the team to the promised land. The Canadiens had already begun their search before Gorton arrived, having held meetings with former players and current/former NHL execs Patrick Roy and Mathieu Darche, both of whom have held hockey ops positions in the NHL. Darche currently serves as the President of Hockey Operations of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Roy became well-known as the coach/GM of the Colorado Avalanche from 2013 to 2016.

Joe Sakic Patrick Roy Colorado Avalanche
Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche pose with the Stanley Cup. Both have since become NHL executives. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even though the Canadiens have already begun their search, they don’t need to rush a candidate to the post. If need be, Gorton himself can step in and act as the GM until there’s a new hire. First as assistant GM and then GM of the Rangers, he was part of a front office that saw 10 playoff appearances, one Stanley Cup Final berth, and two Eastern Conference Final appearances in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Gorton is responsible for masterminding the deals that acquired some of the Rangers’ best talent, including star forwards Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, as well as reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox.

Related: Canadiens Early Frontrunners for GM Position

Gorton Can Reshape Management’s Relationship With Fans

It’s extremely safe to say that the Canadiens’ 2021-22 season is lost and that the team lacks a collective identity. Molson, Bergevin, and company seemingly refused to provide clear statements or engage with necessary parties in regard to the direction of the team and decisions of leadership. Gorton’s approach is the exact opposite, with former colleague John Davidson saying:

“He’s a thinker. He’s methodical, calculated. He’s honest, and patient. It got to the point in New York we had some really good teams. We made it to the finals, we went to some conference finals, but based on where we were at – and our team was good, but not great – we had internal meetings and decided that was the way to go, and that was right to the ownership level. We decided that it was the right thing to do to tell our fans exactly what we were going to do.”

Former New York Rangers’ President of Hockey Operations John Davidson on Jeff Gorton’s work ethos.

In fact, Gorton arrived in Montréal and got to work right away, holding his aforementioned introductory press conference in English and French (even though Gorton is not a French speaker). Attempting to connect with fans immediately, Gorton then identified his desire to find the best local players as part of the team’s rebuild. Connection successfully established.

Journal de Montréal reporter J-F Chaumont summarizes Gorton’s press conference, as the translation reads ” I understand that this [Montréal] is a unique market, and I’ll look for local players. I had the same philosophy in Boston and New York; we had boys from the area.”

Given the managerial turmoil that has engulfed the Canadiens over the past few weeks, the arrival of Gorton signals the arrival of stability in their front office. And Gorton’s careful, consistent, and patient approach will lead to future success and a winning team.

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