Once again, Paul Branchaud has lent his voice to this blog, and presents a nicely written defense of hockey analyst Pierre McGuire’s candidacy as Habs GM. Paul’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily endorsed by cowhideandrubber writers, but either way you are encouraged to leave a comment below with your thoughts, or to contact Paul personally via twitter with thoughts.
After suffering through the most dismal season in the 40 years I’ve been following the team, the announcement yesterday that Pierre Gauthier had been relieved of his duties as the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens came as a great relief to fans of the team everywhere. The indictments against Gauthier are plentiful, so I won’t perform an autopsy on Gauthier’s tenure as GM (or Gainey’s role as special advisor) and the way the team was run.
As the clock runs out on the 2011-12 season, I’m left with a feeling that, despite the basement-dwelling record, this isn’t the worst team I’ve rooted for. What truly made this season unbearable, without a doubt, was Gauthier. For a guy who did his level best to be invisible, running the team with secrecy and impunity, he managed to be front and center for most fans’ anger, frustration, and vitriol. If, on a scale of 1 to 10 of camerawhoredom, Brian Burke is a 10, Pierre Gauthier was a minus 15. I can’t think of any other team where the General Manager has worked so hard to remove himself from public view while also being the lightning rod for what ails the team.
The desire to be rid of Gauthier was so strong that lists of possible replacements (and the requirements the candidate should meet) have been discussed for months. Now that the Canadiens are in the “post-ghost” era, speculation on who will be the next GM will run more rampant than a 6-year old fueled by Red Bull and Timbits.
One of the frequently mentioned names is Pierre McGuire, and, of all the potential Habs’ GM candidates, his candidacy seems to be the most polarizing. People either feel that he should be given a chance or kept as far away from the Bell Center as possible.
In the interests of disclosure, I am part of the former group; I feel that McGuire can bring a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the position and, if Geoff Molson is to be believed that the “organizational culture is to support and adopt this passion for victory” and that “nothing else matters”, he can set the course for a ship that has been rudderless for too long. That said, I don’t think that McGuire is the ONLY choice, or even the BEST choice (my preferred candidate is Jim Nill). Short of Patrick Roy (who I feel is too tightly wound and emotional), I will defer to the Canadiens’ selection team and accept their decision, trusting that they are serious about restoring the team to a winning path.
Rather than discuss McGuire’s qualifications, though, I want to examine some of the most commonly used reasons people don’t want McGuire as GM. As I stated above, McGuire elicits strong opinions, and the mere mention of his name often brings out the haters. I’ve always found it interesting that listeners to TSN Radio 990 have, in general, been McGuire proponents, whereas people on Twitter and hockey message boards tend to pan McGuire. The six arguments I’ve heard most often against McGuire’s candidacy are:
- He’s been out of hockey for too long
- He has no front office experience/hasn’t paid his dues
- His public criticisms of teams/players affect his credibility
- He changes his opinion too often
- He’s regularly undervalued Canadiens’ talent
- If he’s so qualified, why hasn’t he landed a job before?
They are all valid points and I would fully expect the Canadiens to grill McGuire on these and many more points if he is indeed granted an interview.
He’s been out of hockey for too long
I don’t get this argument at all. I can’t think of anyone who has been more omnipresent at as many different levels of hockey as McGuire has been over the last 18 years. Since he was fired from the Hartford Whalers, he had a few jobs as a scout and coach for various pro and minor-pro teams before finding a niche as a color analyst.
I believe his advancement in television is due to his ability to recognize talent and identify what differentiates one player from another—in other words, his ability to scout players. His network of contacts in hockey and knowledge of players can’t be denied, and I doubt that anyone who’s supposedly been “out of hockey” as long as McGuire has would have quite the same Blackberry address book.
He has no front office experience/hasn’t paid his dues
A fair argument and one that Habs fans like to equate with the regrettable Réjean Houle reign of error. But for every Reggie Houle and Mel Bridgeman, there are successful counterpoints: Steve Yzerman has done a great job in Tampa and, despite a record that is barely better than the Canadiens, Garth Snow has been slowly improving the New York Islanders after taking over from the wasteland that Mike Milbury had left behind.
Previous front-office experience, especially in a winning organization, is important and can’t be discounted, but neither should an inexperienced candidate be denied the chance to show that his plan can bear fruit. Variants on the lack of experience argument include McGuire hasn’t “paid his dues” or that he feels he is “entitled to the job”. If everyone had to “pay their dues”, the road to an NHL GM’s post would be long and would probably feature more recycling than is already happening. The entitlement comment speaks to what goes on inside Pierre McGuire’s head and I’m not paying Miss Cleo to tell me that. Who hasn’t applied for a job that they lacked experience for, but still felt that they could do? If you’re not dreaming big, you’re wasting your potential.
His public criticisms of teams/players affect his credibility
I might buy this argument if McGuire’s criticisms were in any way personal. For the most part, I find his criticisms are not malicious; he calls things as he sees them. People may not agree with his opinion, and that’s their right. But I don’t believe that McGuire has ever set out to humiliate or demean with his comments. He is an observer of the game he loves, and puts good hockey ahead of rooting interest for any specific team.
People also need to keep in mind that, as a hockey analyst on TV and radio, he has to voice his opinions—good and bad—about what is happening on the ice and within the league. The role of broadcaster is vastly different from that of hockey executive even if they use many of the same basic evaluation skills. At the moment, McGuire (the analyst) is paid first to entertain, second to educate, so the comments and opinions need to follow his job description. To question McGuire’s credibility based on the comments he makes as a media personality, and to use it as an argument against his ability to be a GM, is comparing apples to chopped liver.
He changes his opinion too often
Herein lays the beauty and curse of our current media age. Everything is recorded and saved. No doubt that McGuire has stated one opinion only to change it a few weeks, months, or years later. We all change our views and opinions; this is not a failing unique to McGuire or to any other candidate for the Canadiens GM post. Let he who hath never changed their mind cast the first puck.
I do see where this argument comes into play, though. Because he changes his opinion, it means he misjudged the first time and, therefore, he was wrong or made a mistake. Context is important, though: did he change his opinion quickly? Did he change his opinion as a result of a player’s injury? Did he change his opinion based on an unexpected change in a player’s performance? Hindsight is 20/20, and the comments anyone makes today are subject to change at a later date based on additional information.
McGuire changing his opinion is no more of a concern than any other NHL executive’s. I can’t recall an instance where McGuire, upon changing his opinion, refused to acknowledge his previous statement, or otherwise denied having made a contrary opinion. I may be wrong, but if I am, I’d like some evidence of such a denial before I believe it would affect his ability to make decisions for a hockey team.
Final point about McGuire’s changing opinions: he’s making his statements as a media analyst, without the benefit of a team of scouts, and he has a limited amount of time to cover specific topics in his radio hits and television spots. I’d like to see any long-tenured NHL GM work under the same pressure and not make the occasional mistake.
He’s regularly undervalued Canadiens’ talent
I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, as I’ve previously stated, McGuire is a fan of hockey first, so the perceived undervaluing or criticizing of any Canadiens’ players is tough love. On the other hand, it’s never easy to hear someone make less than favorable comments on your favorite team or players, but if that offends, then you need thicker skin. People often hear what they want to hear, so anything that doesn’t validate a decision made by the team can be perceived as being negative.
A favorite example of changed opinion/undervalued talent is the 2005 draft of Carey Price. McGuire’s puzzlement at the draft choice was based more on what the team needed more at that time: a big centerman. At the time of the draft, the Canadiens were fairly stable in goal (the book on Cristobal Huet had yet to be published), but small and weak down the middle. Almost 7 years later and the Habs still need a big body at center. He never said it was a bad pick, just not what the team needed at the time.
I also believe that McGuire, as a Montrealer, has a soft spot for the Canadiens. His employers, TSN (Toronto) and NBC (New York), could care less about any deep-down love or allegiance he may have for the Habs, so it’s possible that he overcompensates to remove possible accusations of homerism. (After yesterday’s federal budget, that may be my last chance to throw in my two cents’ worth.)
If he’s so qualified, why hasn’t he landed a job before?
On my drive into work this morning, TSN690′s Price and Starr took calls on potential GM candidates and when McGuire was mentioned, this very point was brought up. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall for those final meetings with the shortlisted candidates, but sadly everything is speculative and, very likely, subject to non-disclosure agreements.
Of all the arguments against McGuire’s candidacy, this is the hardest one to counter because it requires the least amount of effort to use and cannot be deconstructed due to a lack of any public information. I can only guess, but possible reasons McGuire not selected could include:
- He had set out a plan that ownership felt would take too long to bear fruit
- His view of hockey operations was too far afield from the owner’s
- He wanted an organizational restructuring that was not well received
- His salary demands were outside of the team’s set budget
- He had a different view of the hockey market and how to draw/increase/maintain fan support
McGuire has made it fairly clear that if he were to return to an NHL team, the fit had to be right. He has a good career in broadcasting; one that affords him summers off and probably a salary that he’d be hard-pressed to match in the NHL. I understand that he would only jump if the conditions were perfect—and who knows if that opportunity will ever come?
So What Now?
I would bear no ill will towards Pierre McGuire, and would totally understand if the Canadiens came calling and he turned them down. This Montreal hockey market is nothing but self-chumming, shark-infested waters and it would seem that only a masochist would take on such a thankless job. That said, I think that McGuire might make an excellent GM because he is a solid communicator, his hockey knowledge is sound, and I’m pretty sure he’d surround himself with talented people to ensure not only a return to, but the long-term, continued success of the most storied professional hockey team.