Canadiens Take Calculated Risk Hiring Lecavalier, St. Louis

The local media finally got their man, with the Montreal Canadiens hiring Vincent Lecavalier as a special advisor to hockey operations. You just thought they’d be more stoked, at least seem more enthusiastic at the prospect of Lecavalier finally joining the Canadiens, albeit almost a decade later than initially hoped, at his introductory press conference.

Vincent Lecavalier Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier – (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Lecavalier famously got bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2013. No exaggeration, within hours of the news, Reseau des sports (RDS) was televising a Photoshopped image of Lecavalier in a Habs jersey.

Forget the fact Lecavalier was 33, hadn’t been a point-per-game player in literally a half-decade and was clearly in decline, he was obviously a perfect fit with the Canadiens at the time. Why wouldn’t he want to sign with them?

Lecavalier Makes Sense for Habs Now, Not Then

It should be pointed out the following season, the Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference Final without him. Lecavalier continued in his decline, scoring just 37 points (20 goals) in 69 games (15:11 per game in ice time, with 2:27 on the power play) with the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he eventually signed.

Related: The Myth of the Canadiens Hometown Discount

In Lecavalier’s three seasons with the Flyers, they missed the playoffs once and failed to get out of the first round the other two times. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick (with Luke Schenn going to the Kings too).

Now, eight-plus years after the Lightning bought him out, when it actually makes sense for Lecavalier to take on a role with the Canadiens, we finally discover the reason he went with the Flyers (at least his official answer, when asked at the press conference): He was just more impressed with Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.

In diplomatic fashion, Lecavalier made sure not to disparage then-Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien in his answer, saying that it was nothing against him. Clearly not his first rodeo. Of course, even if Lecavalier will stay based in the U.S. (traveling when needed), he should probably get used to similar lines of questioning from the Montreal media.

Canadiens a Country Club?

For another example, RDS’ Francois Gagnon, all due respect to him and his right to ask tough questions, inquired about Lecavalier’s hypothetical response to the notion some critics might have that a country club is forming in the Habs’ front office. The question was in reference to him being an ex-linemate of interim head coach Martin St. Louis and a former client of general manager Kent Hughes, when, as Gagnon suggested, there are former Canadiens players who can fill his new position instead.

Martin St. Louis 2018 Hockey Hall Of Fame
Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis – (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Lecavalier responded as well as he could, saying him being hired shows Hughes has confidence in him and that Hughes wants to hire people he believes will make the organization stronger. In fact, that was as good an answer as anyone could give under the same circumstances. Lecavalier killed two birds with one stone, not shying away from concerns, all the while theoretically making anyone with those same concerns appear foolish with his response, not that it was his intention by all appearances. Just an added benefit.

The fact is, yes, there are theoretically ex-Habs who could have filled the role. However, wouldn’t keeping the role in-house (i.e., within the franchise) also be maintaining the atmosphere of a country club, just of a different sort? Why wouldn’t anyone want the best person for the job? Being a member of the Canadiens however many years ago isn’t really a reliable qualification in the here and now. Being familiar with Hughes and having won a Stanley Cup this century are kinda are.

Sure, it’s been a while since Lecavalier was the dominant player over whom Habs fans (and the local French-speaking media) salivated. However, clearly as recently as 2013, that was still the case. Not all that much can have realistically changed since then from the perspective of Lecavalier being a great fit with the organization.

Hughes vs. Bergevin

Would it be sour grapes that he went to the Flyers back then to a certain extent? Or just the feeling that this is all too common of a phenomenon in the NHL, where an ex-player without any experience is effectively gifted a position on a silver platter. Kinda like ex-GM Marc Bergevin giving Sylvain Lefebvre the reins over the team’s farm club for six seasons despite him having zero head-coaching experience. That didn’t work out so hot, with a single playoff (game) victory to show for it.

However, this is a different situation in that:

  1. Lecavalier’s role as advisor will have significantly less impact on the organization,
  2. While there is undeniably a degree of nepotism at work here, the Canadiens don’t necessarily need a special advisor; Lecavalier is being made one specifically because of his relationship with Hughes,
  3. You’d want someone you trust and already have a working relationship in the role after all
  4. And, while Lefebvre did play in the NHL for 14 seasons (admittedly winning a Stanley Cup), Lecavalier was more of a high-profile impact player.

Maybe the last point shouldn’t necessarily make a difference, but Lecavalier’s playing style does tend to mesh with Hughes’ vision for the team, for it to be an offensive-minded hockey club. True, Lefebvre seemed to attend Bergevin’s school of hard knocks for defensive defensemen and for that reason Bergevin hiring him was kind of justified. However, the team’s defense-first approach has arguably hindered it over the last half-decade (along with the stunted development of its prospects).

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Ultimately, Lecavalier is in a position to do more good (and less harm) in his limited role. And, small sample size or not, St. Louis has worked out as interim head coach, leading the team to two straight wins for the first time all season. It’s a low bar, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Ditto for Lecavalier.

This role may simply be him being handed an opportunity. Like it or not, that’s how the world works. It’s not necessarily what you know, but who you know. However, in this instance, it’s both. It just so happens both qualities are assets for the position in question. It’s really no wonder the position is now Lecavalier’s. It should be no concern either.