“I’m not scared of anything,” said Jeff Gorton, the new executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Montreal Canadiens.
Granted, his answer was in response to a question about whether he’d be willing to give the always vocal Patrick Roy an interview for the vacant general manager job with the Habs.
But you really got the sense that he isn’t scared of the size of the mammoth task ahead of him.
Gorton said all the right things at his introductory press conference in Brossard this morning.
The man from Massachusetts is taking the reins of the team that left him repeatedly upset as a kid.
“Being from Boston of course the Canadiens broke my heart a lot of times,” admitted the childhood Bruins fan to reporters this morning. “…1979 that probably sticks out as the first one where things were thrown in my house. You know, with the too many men on the ice.”
Well let’s just agree to disagree on that one.
Other than that, it was hard to have any complaints about what Gorton was able to disclose as his vision for the Montreal Canadiens. As he repeated several times today, it’s only his second day around the group. So details of his plan to reshape the Habs were unlikely to be readily available.
But Gorton was brought in for a reason. He clearly sold a plan to owner Geoff Molson that excited and impressed the grand pooba of the Canadiens. He’s in the evaluation stage right now. But he made his vision for the organization pretty clear if you read between the lines.
Gorton put his cards on the table right off the bat. The former Rangers general manager said that he wants a team that is fast and skilled with an emphasis on improving the team’s development and analytics departments.
His answer on his decision to rebuild in New York was also telling when it comes to the short and long-term future of his new club.
“It got to the point in New York where we had some really good teams,” said Gorton. “We made it to the (Stanley Cup) Finals, we made it to some conference finals. But based on where we were at, our team was good but not great. We had internal meetings and decided that was the way to go.”
With a letter to the fans, the rest was history in the Big Apple. The Rangers sold off quality veterans for draft picks and prospects shortly thereafter. Three years later and with a couple of key veteran additions, the Blueshirts are the youngest team in the league and are in third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Canadiens at this moment in time could only hope to be good but not great. They’re a dumpster fire but the sum of their parts should not have them languishing in 29th spot in the league’s standings. They made it to the Cup Finals last year. There are players on their roster that other teams will covet come playoff time. Gorton was never going to say the word rebuild his first week on the job with the Montreal Canadiens. But let’s say a reconstruction is certain to happen between now and the draft in Montreal in July.
With that renovation will come more young players to go along with the 45 draft picks the club has already made the last three years. Molson spoke about the need to properly develop prospects when he met the media on Monday. It’s something that Gorton knows will be crucial to his project succeeding in Montreal.
“(To) help them through,” said Gorton bluntly about what he wants to provide to the future members of the Montreal Canadiens. “I think once we take them it’s important to be in contact with them. It’s important to talk to them every day about their game and how they can get better…Anything we can offer them. Communication, really from the moment we draft them until they reach the NHL…It’s really just the day-to-day contact and (maintaining) those relationships. Listen, it’s a high pressure game. There’s a lot that goes into this with these players. We want to help them as much as we can get there as soon as they can. I think that we can do a better job of supporting them, adding to them and having the right people in place for that.”
En Francais aussi SVP
Gorton also touched on his need to have some support. Specifically in the role of a bilingual general manager that he clarified repeatedly will work in tandem with him.
He made it abundantly clear the team will cast a large net in their search for their new GM over the coming months. Someone who doesn’t necessarily have the same viewpoints as Gorton but will complement his skill set for talent evaluation well.
As the first unilingual anglophone to hold a prominent role with the team since owner George Gillett sold the club in 2009, there were several questions asked by the French media surrounding the issue of language. Gorton spoke first in a prepared statement in French, knowing the importance of simply trying to communicate to Quebecers in their native tongue.
Gorton continued to appear unflappable yet respectful of the unique cultural role the Montreal Canadiens hold in Quebec. But levity is always the best way to handle a topic that can make most uncomfortable at the best of times. He had the room howling with his gem.
“I would like to be as good as I can,” said Gorton sheepishly on learning to speak French. “My wife has bought me some lessons online that I’m starting. So I will do the best I can, that would be my pledge to you. I can’t say that I will speak the language fluent(ly). 30 years ago I wanted to be great at golf and I still stink. So I will do my best.”
Let’s hope Gorton has a little bit more success building the Montreal Canadiens than he has had with his golf game and French lessons.
Here’s betting he will.