Ah yes, my pleasant thoughts on Mr. Gauthier. Hmmm this is going to be maybe my shortest blog ever.
But seriously, I’m not ready to wade into the debate about who’s the best man for the Habs GM job – all I’ll say for now is ‘stop this Patrick Roy nonsense, right now’. We’ll have plenty of time for that GM chatter in the coming weeks.
No this morning I want to cast a look back at the most enigmatic of Canadiens’ general managers, Pierre ‘Major Major’ Gauthier. Humour me. I’ve spent most of the past year penning a mono-thematic blog that can be summed up in one phrase – ‘Fire the Ghost now!’ So I can’t let him leave town and slink back to his meat-free/journalist-free manor in Burlington without a few parting thoughts.
I learn from the Ottawa Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan column this morning that Gauthier picked-up the ‘Ghost’ monicker from his days at the Ottawa Senators GM, where he had a pretty successful run from 1995 to 1998. That success leads Scanlan to conclude that Gauthier is “a decent hockey man, regardless of the mess he just left.”
I’m not well-placed to weigh in on whether or not he was a decent hockey man when he was running the Sens but he was not a decent hockey man here in Montreal. In fact, ‘decent’ isn’t the first word that springs to mind when looking back at Gauthier’s tenure ici.
What the F happened this year in Montreal? In some ways, the team’s collapse was mysterious. They were able to compete last year. So why were they so broken this season? The answer starts, as it always does, at the top. The players didn’t believe in Gauthier. The media didn’t believe in Gauthier. The fans didn’t believe in Gauthier. This is not good.
Even if he had made one great deal after another – which he didn’t – the Ghost wouldn’t have been much liked. There wasn’t much to like there. Ask anyone who works in the executive suites of the Bell Centre if he ever deigned to say ‘bonjour’. No he didn’t.
He treated the media like crap. He always reminded me of an old-school Quebec priest. ‘I have all the answers. You don’t. So listen up my friends.’ And he is one of those guys who’ll say anything to get out of a room. Media hack: ‘Why’d you pick up underachiever Rene ‘Complete Bust’ Bourque?’ Ghost: ‘Cos we need size upfront’. Not said is that Gauthier and his pal Bob “Elvis Has Finally Left the Building’ Gainey had spent the past few years making the case that size didn’t matter.
So his (lack of) personality didn’t help. But it was his actions that really drove the Habs into the ground this year. Two in particular. The first was signing Andrei ‘Question Mark’ Markov to a three-year deal last summer. The Habs have spent the past two seasons trying – unsuccessfully – to deal with Markov’s absence and that’s been a huge reason for the team’s woes.
Gauthier had the chance to cut Markov free and take that dough and go get an A-list D-man. But he didn’t. Then he spent the whole season telling us how Markov was on his way back…..sooon…..any day now. The tragi-comic soap opera reached its nadir that time in Los Angeles when no one – the Ghost, the coach – seemed to know where Markov was that day.
The other was the way he fired Jacques ‘Mr. Personality’ Martin. As Francois Gagnon points out in his column Saturday, the Canadiens were still fighting for a playoff spot when Gauthier chopped Martin on Dec. 17, with a 13-12-7 record.
Now I was a huge critic of Martin’s. I’m not going to start pretending this morning that Marcel Marceau was my idea of a great coach. Playing a trap-like system with a small fast-skating team is just goofy. But what a way to make him walk the plank. The morning of a game. (Well this of course is the same GM who traded Michael Cammalleri between the second and third periods of a game in Boston, telling the seasoned player to go back to his hotel – which the team had already checked out of – and wait for his call to tell him where he was going. You don’t treat the scummiest player in the league like that, never mind a guy who bled bleu-blanc-et-rouge during that miraculous 2010 playoff run! But I digress.)
Then you replace Martin with Randy ‘Parlez-Vous’ Cunneyworth, a unilingual anglophone with no NHL head-coaching experience. Oh yeah and you also announce that he is “interim” head coach. In other words, he’s gonna be toast come the end of the season. And then you’re surprised when the players refuse to take the guy seriously. Why would they?
And you don’t for a second think that his lack of French is going to create an apocalyptic controversy. Of course you don’t Pierre, ’cause you live in Vermont and have absolutely no idea what’s going on inside Quebecers’ heads. What you did that day was treat all of us with contempt. (Though to be fair, let’s admit that Geoff Molson should’ve stopped that madness before it happened.)
But also what’s up with this “interim” thing. That trashed the season right then and there. So why’d Gauthier do that? There is no logical explanation. Actually there is one and it’s real nasty. That he wanted someone behind the bench that he could control. I want to believe that’s not true ’cause it makes me sick to think of it. But you give me a better explanation. It was Dec. 17 for heaven’s sake. The season was imminently save-able. So why he’d have the team commit hari-kari.
I could mention giving away Halak, bringing in pricey disasters Kaberle and Bourque, giving up AK46 for next to nothing…..but I won’t.
No I’m done with my trip down memory lane.
Now that’s off my chest, I’m ready to move on. You too?