Friday, 27 April 2012

The next Canadiens General Manager will be a leader

Lots of controversy over who the next Canadiens GM should be, and even on how the search is being conducted.  Some claim it's too secret, or that it's taking too long, or that the wrong candidates are being interviewed.

One lightning rod of criticism has been NBC analyst Pierre McGuire and his fitness to assume the role.  A lot of fans endorse his bona fides, many seemingly positively influenced by his work on TSN 990.  Those who don't listen to this station, obviously including a great majority of francophone fans, are puzzled by the enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Most of the debate revolves around his qualifications, with boosters touting his reputed encyclopedic knowledge of hockey, while detractors point out his lack of experience in management, his being passed over for similar positions for almost two decades now, as well as the poor impression he made when he filled the GM role in Hartford.

I think an important qualification required of a successful candidate is being overlooked, and that is leadership ability.  The next GM will be the man who will set the tone for the organization, and represent the team to the rest of the league as well as its fans.

Long gone are the days when the GM was almost a one-man band, à la Punch Imlach or Sam Pollock.  The league is too complex, there is too much data to process for any one man.  Our management can no longer be a wizard, it needs to be a strong team of capable men, led by an accomplished, confident person.  If anything, the previous régime, with Pierre Gauthier having centralized decision-making and keeping most of the team functions for himself, shows that this may be a recipe for disaster.  The new wave seems to be to have a GM lead a front office filled with bright people and to harness the cumulative brain power to make the best decisions possible, as emulated by Steve Yzerman's team in Tampa Bay, for example.

Another important component of the job the GM will fulfill is to represent the team to its players and prospects, as well as to the rest of the league.  Mr. Gauthier, it is now finally clear, failed miserably in this respect.  He was reportedly loathed in the locker room, and feared for his capriciousness more than respected for his personality and his accomplishments.  He lacked important qualities in a modern leader, such as warmth and empathy and generosity, as demonstrated by the Ottawa cookie incident and the way Mike Cammalleri was traded and how he was refused his request to keep his jersey as a souvenir.

Our next GM needs to have a forceful, imposing personality, one who commands attention and respect by his personal attributes and his accomplishments.  The Canadiens were a force in the league on the ice and in the boardrooms when Sam Pollock and Serge Savard were at the helm.  They were not when Irving Grundman and Réjean Houle were, two men with meek personalities who would not be a team captain as a player or even for a college term project.  We thought Bob Gainey would rectify this situation, and he may well have despite the Scott Gomez trade, but events in his personal life overtook him and his legacy has been tarnished, and not only by his successor.

In any case, the next incumbent needs to be able to affect league decisions the next time one of his players is the target of an assassination attempt, or be an agent for positive change when league rules are being discussed at a GM meeting, or negotiate from a position of strength when he negotiates with a free agent's representative or another GM for a trade.  He needs to have the bearing that a Serge Savard brought to the role, and a Réjean Houle did not.

So our criteria for selection must include these components of leadership.  The candidate must have shown that they can work in a management hierarchy, accept responsibility and deliver results, and show capacity to grow and develop.  They must be able to develop and nurture personal relationships and be a part of a productive, successful team.  They must command respect when they enter a room and when they speak.

The selection committee will determine who of the remaining candidates best embodies all these qualities, but again, when I think of Mr. McGuire, I don't see him possessing these.  He could very well function as a lieutenant, but he does not have the requirements to be at the wheel of the good ship Canadiens.

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