BROSSARD, Que. — While it remains to be seen how the Montreal Canadiens' two-person approach to hockey operations will ultimately work, new executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton gave an idea of what the team is looking for in its next general manager.
“We want to look at all the candidates and pick the very best based on what they have,” Gorton said Friday in his first meeting with local reporters. “Maybe it’s a person that doesn’t have a ton of experience as a general manager but what else do they have that they could bring to the table?
"We’re going to look for somebody that’s maybe a little outside the box, that’s going to help us move forward and complement me."
The Canadiens brought Gorton on as VP of hockey operations after former general manager Marc Bergevin was fired on Sunday following Montreal's disastrous start to the season.
Gorton, who said Friday he agreed to a “multi-year deal,” said that the hunt for the Habs’ next general manager hasn’t started yet. He hopes to build the hiring process in the coming days but will not have an appointment ready before Christmas.
Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson said last week that the team was embracing a two-person job to lead the team’s hockey operations. Gorton said that next GM will have their say in the decision process and will be the one reaching out to other NHL GMs when they eventually take the hot seat.
"I think it was important when I met with Geoff Molson that the general manager has a direct line to Geoff Molson and can make decisions,” Gorton said. “My role is to use all my experience to help that person and to help make this team better again.”
"I wouldn’t want to be a general manager unless I had the power of a general manager."
Molson has said the Canadiens are looking for a bilingual candidate for GM, given Montreal's unique situation as the only NHL team in a largely francophone market.
Gorton, a Massachusetts native and childhood Boston Bruins fan, started his introductory press conference by reading a statement in French.
“I’m learning," he said afterward. "Be patient with me but I’m learning.”
Despite the Habs' struggles, Gorton said head coach Dominique Ducharme’s job is safe for the 2021-22 season.
Two areas Gorton already started working on are player development and analytics.
"I think we need to build (analytics) out better, to modernize it,” Gorton said. “I do believe in analytics and I think that’s the way the game has gone. I think it's a big piece of information that we need to have and so we'd like to build out a staff that way."
Gorton said he likes the player development staff already in place. However, he believes the Canadiens "need more" when it comes to keeping in contact with prospects and helping them bloom.
“It’s important to talk to them every day about their game, how they feel about it, nutrition, anything that we can offer them,” Gorton said. “The communication from the moment we draft them all the way to the NHL, I think we can do a better job.”
Gorton is the former GM of the New York Rangers and was an integral part of the team's recent rebuild. At the time, the Rangers publicly announced their rebuilding plans to their fans.
Should a rebuild happen in Montreal, Gorton would like to have similar transparency.
“That was the process. We met, we discussed it, we decided to do it and were pretty open and transparent with the fans,” said Gorton about his time in New York. “As far as bringing it here, if that's what we decide we'll be pretty transparent.”
Gorton, who was fired by the Rangers in May, watched the Laval Rocket, Montreal's American Hockey League affiliate, Wednesday and his first Canadiens game, a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. He witnessed the moment midway through the third where an angry fan threw his Habs jersey on the ice.
“My first concern and my first thought is to the players and to the people that are out there trying their hardest to and it’s a tough thing to see,” Gorton said. "Obviously, it’s been a difficult time. Everyone can see that, everybody in hockey can see that. It’s almost been a perfect storm against Montreal.
The new VP will head to Nashville with the team to continue watching from above when the Canadiens take on the Predators Saturday night.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press