Canadiens Management, Geoff Molson, Saku Koivu, Serge Savard

Montreal Canadiens: Who Should Replace Geoff Molson as President?

There have been on-again, off-again calls to replace Geoff Molson as team president of the Montreal Canadiens. Many of the voices making this demand are there to find a way to get another person to oversee the work of current general manager Marc Bergevin, and possibly to have him replaced. 

Geoff Molson
Geoff Molson (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Molson also holds the position of CEO and co-owner. Holding this position is not unheard of for owners, as teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres all have hands-on owners at the helm.

Emulate a Winner?

There were six franchises that won a Stanley Cup in the last decade – the Chicago Blackhawks won three times, the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins won twice, and Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins all won once.

A quick look at who has been at the helm of Stanley Cup champions over the last decade provides quite a diverse approach. One approach is to use proven business executives who can guide companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars in all aspects, public relations, venues and many other areas that aren’t necessarily on-ice.

St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko Stanley Cup
St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko hoists the Stanley Cup during the championship parade. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Four franchises went with managerial experience. Chicago has had John MacDonagh at the helm for two of the team’s three Cup wins this decade. Hockey fans may not recognize his name, but baseball fans may as he was the president of the Chicago Cubs for 24 years. Pittsburgh hired former political advisor David Moorehouse as team President in 2007 and have won three Cups in his tenure.  

Washington has had Dick Patrick at the helm since 1982. While Dick Patrick never played in the NHL, he did play NCAA for Dartmouth College, and he is also the grandson of the legendary Lester Patrick. His main focus, however, has been as an executive. Finally, St. Louis has their GM, Doug Armstrong at the helm as president. 

Two other franchises approached the job by having a Hall of Fame player groomed to be at the helm.  The thinking here is more hockey based as they want someone with the hockey pedigree to give direction to the Hockey Operations of the franchise.

The Kings won twice under Luc Robitaille and Boston won once in 2011 one year after Cam Neely was hired as president. 

What Direction is Needed in Montreal? 

The current direction is that of having management experience alone with Molson at the helm.  The business side of the Canadiens has been consistently positive as the franchise’s net worth has risen from the purchase price of approximately $500 million to a valuation of $1.3 billion by Forbes.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

In his tenure, the Canadiens have had some success with two Eastern Conference Final appearances, however, the more recent finishes have been less than ideal as the team is on its way to missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. In his defence, he has recognized a need for on-ice changes when he declared,

“After going through a season like last season, everyone on the team, including the ones that left, wanted to start this season on a better foot. But at the same time, we wanted to make adjustments to be younger, faster and have more energy. Those are the decisions we make.”

from ‘Geoff Molson says time had come to change the Canadiens’ philosophy,’ Montreal Gazette, October 10, 2018

A case can be made for a new head of hockey operations to allow Molson to focus on the business side of the franchise. But who has the hockey pedigree to help guide a once-proud franchise back to consistent Stanley Cup Contention?

A Popular Candidate

On social media and on message boards, one name has been bandied about to take the helm – Saku Koivu. Koivu needs no introduction to Canadiens fans. As one of the longest-tenured captains in Canadiens’ history, he holds a special place in Canadiens lore. While he was never able to win the ever-elusive Stanley Cup, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. 

Every Canadiens fan alive during Koivu’s time in Montreal can remember the emotional return from cancer on April 9, 2002, and his courageous play in the first round of the playoffs versus Boston where he led the underdog Habs to a gutsy six-game series victory.

Koivu has no executive or coaching experience in the NHL. That being said, he was always known as a cerebral player and used his intelligence to help him on the ice, which was helpful, as at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he was an undersized player in an era in the NHL dominated by larger players. His arrival as President would provide great public relations, however, there is no NHL track record to show of that can give fans or ownership confidence that he could improve the current on-ice product.

The Senator

The most obvious choice to replace Molson as President, if he were to relinquish the role, would be Serge “The Senator” Savard. Savard holds the hockey pedigree as he was one of the famed “big three” of the Canadiens blueline during the 1970s when the franchise won six Stanley Cups, including four straight from 1976 to 1979. He was rewarded with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.

The Big Three, L to R – Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson (THW Archives)

After his playing days were complete, he took on the role as Canadiens’ GM in 1985 until he was let go in 1995. During his tenure, the Canadiens never missed the playoffs and also won their last two Cup titles in 1986 and 1993.

Savard was also the man Molson asked to assist in the search for a GM in 2012 when Pierre Gauthier was fired, ultimately choosing Bergevin for the job. So there shouldn’t be the issue of a president wanting to bring in someone he hired as Savard did hire Bergevin. This also shows Savard has the trust of the owner as well. 

Savard provides fans that touchstone to the Canadiens heyday. He also has a skill that no other NHL market has to deal with, the necessity to have management speak French to the millions of unilingual francophone Quebecois. A necessity for marketing in the affluent Quebec market.

If Savard were ever to choose to come out of retirement, he would provide the Canadiens GM the perfect sounding board for hockey decisions. His history as a local french speaking Montrealer that has excelled and won as a player and as a GM in Montreal gives him a unique resume that would be a great benefit for a franchise in transition  

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