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Monday, July 30, 2012

Remembering Past Glories: Bringing Back Sam Pollock

Before I lead you all in a short salutation on the highs, lows, and legends of General Managers past, and present, I wanted to thank Louis and Kamal on the opportunity to join a great team of Montréal Canadiens fans, and an even greater team of writers that hope to give you, the loyal fans of les glorieux, a voice on all things Habs.

With that said, despite my age — 22 — my passion for the Canadiens began with the cup win in 1993, and was cemented by former Habs Captain, and current Anaheim Duck, Saku Koivu. Despite the muddy atmosphere of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Saku’s dedication to the game, his battle with cancer and his return to the ice on April 9th, 2002, epitomizes the spirit and history of the Canadiens: winning, respect, determination and dedication. It is these four qualities that I hope to elaborate on, using the history of franchise to demonstrate a definitive winning culture in Montréal.

Considering the way Pierre Gauthier finished his tenure as the General Manager of the Montréal Canadiens, it seemed fairly easy for new hire Marc Bergevin to outshine his ill-equipped predecessor. It’s easy to retrospectively analyze Gauthier’s oft-criticized regime, yet when Habs fans were taken on a whirlwind tour of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bob Gainey and his then Assistant General Manager and Director of Professional Scouting were mildly heralded for bringing in a ‘wealth’ of undersized offensive talent in Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri.

These acquisitions, as well as the heroic netminding of Jaroslav Halak, enabled Gainey and Gauthier’s creation to exceed expectations and battle through the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in a David vs. Goliath fashion.

However, despite the magic of the 2010 playoff run, their lack of size and strength down the middle proved vital in their demise; the same, of course, could be said of their heartbreaking game seven loss to the Boston Bruins the following Spring. Nevertheless, both Gainey and Gauthier  only momentarily adjusted the fate of Québec’s storied institution.

Gauthier and Gainey were the masters of the quick-fix: ‘improvements’ that would allow their club to venture into the post-season and collect the extra revenue that forever accompanies playoff home games at the Bell Centre. And, though a fair share of their acquisitions allowed the Canadiens to temporarily avoid the basement of the Eastern Conference, the 2011-2012 season proved to finally reveal the deteriorating state of the Canadiens’ upper management team. In no particular order of ridiculousness, the Kaberle trade, the Cammalleri situation, the coaching firings and the ‘apology’ by Geoff Molson. Each separate event demonstrated how disorganized and out-of-sync the once perceived “classiest organization in the NHL” actually was.

On March 29, 2012, Molson made an announcement that shook Montréal.

Though Canadiens fans fathomed a release of Pierre Gauthier, when Molson officially announced the decision — pardon my eloquent wordiness — he sparked a cosmic and euphoric eruption in Montréal. The boo-birds were back in their nests, and hopeful sentiments began to resurface outside the Bell Centre. In the weeks following, rumours of the next Canadiens GM ran rampant: names like Patrick Roy, Jim Nill, Claude Loiselle, Pierre Mcguire, and even Scotty Bowman were making rounds. Yet, in the end, it was a former Chicago Blackhawk and Montréal native that outshined the other candidates, and on May 2, 2012, Bergevin was named General Manager and Executive Vice President of the Montréal Canadiens.

This decision alone began a new era of the Canadiens. Not only did Bergevin bring a certain aura of respectability and swagger to Montréal, but he also brought a breath of fresh air that settled the stench of Gauthier’s previous regime.

Communication. Communication. Communication.

That’s the main difference between Montréal’s former and current General Manager. It is this sense of communication with the media and fans that allowed the franchise’s loyal followers to sigh a sense of relief that the rebuilding management team would put enormous stock in player development and pro scouting.

And it’s at this time that my drawn out analysis of the Bergevin hire turns to a Canadiens legend, a regime that culminated in a dynastic and heroic representation of the NHL’s most storied franchise. Before the dark days of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and before rookie Patrick Roy took the Canadiens on his back for a momentous Stanley Cup Victory in 1986, Sam Pollock was appointed General Manager of the Montréal Canadiens, effortlessly succeeding the late and great, Frank J. Selke.

Before I get into the first of a three part series on Pollock, my interest in the Hall of Famer was sparked by reading D’arcy Jenish’s The Montréal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory. Ironically, though including an introduction by former Canadiens Captain and General Manager Bob Gainey, the book delves into a myriad of issues that have both plagued and glorified the franchise. In respect to Pollock, Jenish’s notes on the former GM paved way for a mildly seamless association with Bergevin.

Though it’s premature to anoint Bergevin as the saviour of Les Glorieux, it’s easy to estimate where he’ll excel with the Canadiens: communication and player development. The latter of which is only further solidified through head amateur scout Trevor Timmins, who, if you haven’t already realized, took the NHL by storm on June 23rd with his selections in the 2012 NHL Draft. Though the Bergevin and Timmins selections were great, for this first article I want to introduce the partial similarities that Bergevin and the late Sam Pollock share regarding communication and loyalty.

In Jenish’s book, Jacques Lapperiere describes the extent at which Pollock initiated a sense of team unity and full-disclosure: “[He] demanded of each of one us that we always give the best of ourselves. But he was at the same time a man who knew how to be understanding and fatherly. When it wasn’t going well, he would come and see us in our rooms or sit beside us on the bus or train and give us advice and encouragement” (180). It seems, then, that permeating from Pollock’s management techniques is an affable quality of communication; a sense of team unity that not only encompasses the players on the ice, but also reflects the way management interacts.

Sound familiar?

“It takes everything to make a winning team. It takes a team effort, a team identity, everyone has to contribute and put everything on the table. You have a lot of little pieces working together to make a winning team.”—Marc Bergevin (May 2, 2012)

It is that sense of unity and communication that allowed Pollock — as well as his monumental trading techniques — to reach such a high level of success in Montréal. For Pollock, he had only one objective: victory. For Bergevin, building a foundation of a winning culture starts at the top; it not only seeps into the mindset of the players and fans, but it also helps establish a certain swagger that’s been lacking since Pollock took charge in ’63.

“My vision is to put the right people in place. The goal is winning, we will do the best we can for the fans.”—Bergevin (May 2, 2012)

There will never be another Sam Pollock, but if Bergevin can resurrect parts of the Hall of Famer’s philosophy to reinstate a winning culture in Montréal, then his and Molson’s effort to restore the class and respectability of the Canadiens will be in full motion.

Next up: Player development and maintaining young assets


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Derek is a Queen’s University student, and contributing writer for OTwinner, and HabsAddict.com. His passion for the Canadiens was solidified on April 9, 2002, when Saku Koivu returned from Burkitt’s lymphoma and became an emblem of perseverance and strength.

Follow Derek on Twitter

Sources:

Jenish, D’Arcy. The Montréal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory. Canada: Anchor Canada, 2009. Print.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

5 comments:

Really good first piece Derek!

As for your passion being solidified by the whole Koivu ordeal, I can completely relate (perhaps because we are roughly in the same age bracket).

I'm sure you remember this goal as fondly as I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n66P3Z2AQAY

Great read Derek, and welcome aboard. I'm the other new guy!

@Louis

That goal was unreal. What a guy... But what was Chad Kilger doing on that line? Ha!

Thanks Amos and Louis.

When the Gainey regime let Koivu walk, I remember thinking to myself that at that time, it was the beginning of the decline of the Canadiens. Saku's worth ethic and determination is the driving force behind the history of the franchise.

I still get worked up thinking about it!

@Derek

Chad Kilger AND Donald Audette. If you thought Plekanec had it bad... and then people wonder why Koivu did not put up more points.

Sheesh.

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