Tasked with charting the Montreal Canadiens' path back to contention, Jeff Gorton's first decisions in his new role as executive vice president of hockey operations will have an undeniable impact on how long the road back to the Cup Final is -- starting with choosing the franchise's next general manager.
The search itself began days after Montreal parted ways with Marc Bergevin, who'd served as general manager of the club for nine-and-a-half years, and it didn't take long for high-profile names to start emerging as candidates. Among that list, the person with the most profound and polarizing ties to the organization was Patrick Roy, who mused about the possibility of a reunion following Bergevin's departure:
"Since 1993, the team has been running in circles," Roy said on Tuesday when speaking to Le Journal de Québec. "What do they have to lose by giving me the chance to see what I can do with this club? At the same time, I understand the situation. The club is owned by Geoff Molson and he's the one pulling the strings. It's his team and at the end of the day I might not be the guy for him. I accept that."
Though Gorton is not interested in rushing the hiring process, saying that a new general manager likely wouldn't be named until after Christmas, he indicated when asked about Roy that his declaration of interest didn't go unnoticed.
"I'm just getting here, and just getting a feel for the organization and as we move forward," Gorton said on Friday in his first-ever public comments with the Canadiens. "Figuring out how we're gonna go about picking the general manager, we're gonna look at everybody that we think could be a fit. So, I'm not gonna rule anybody out, I'm not gonna say yes or no to anybody, but certainly Patrick Roy, I heard that he made that statement, I know he's a passionate guy, I know a lot of people that know him well, and I have obviously a lot of respect for somebody like that."
Asked to clarify whether he will talk to Roy, Gorton said he does not yet have a group of people he and the organization has chosen to speak with.
"[Canadiens owner] Geoff Molson and I will talk more as we go along about that, about the group, and then we'll go from there. But I don't want to commit to anybody, I don't want to say no to anybody," he said, adding, "So, people can keep calling me, if they like."
Roy's tenure with Montreal included two Stanley Cups, cementing his place as one of the greatest goalies to ever play for the team, but his breakup with the organization is as much a part of their storied lore as any champagne-soaked celebration.
Back in 1995, playing for the 22nd time in 24 games, Roy was in net for the worst home game in franchise history, an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. He allowed nine goals on 26 shots -- and wasn't pulled until the middle of the second period, at which point fans had already begun mockingly applauding whenever he made a save.
In those days, the Canadiens owners sat immediately behind the team's bench. On that historically bad night against Detroit, as an enraged Roy headed off the ice, he told then-Canadiens president Ronald Corey it would be his last game in Montreal. Roy was suspended the next day and never played for the team again.
Gorton: I think I can really help this team move forward
During Friday's introductory press conference, Gorton also touched on a number of other topics, including his own decision to join the Canadiens.
"First of all, it's the Montreal Canadiens, No. 1. It's Original Six, it's the city of Montreal, it's the history here of this franchise. It excites me, with my background, it seems to be a path I've found myself on with the Original Six."
Gorton has a history of working with Original Six franchises. Prior to joining Montreal, Gorton served as general manager of the New York Rangers for six years, replacing Glen Sather after eight seasons as a pro scout within the organization. Before that, he spent 14 years in the Boston Bruins' front office, including seven as the Bruins' assistant general manager and a four-month stint as interim GM that had a lasting impact on the organization -- he was at the helm of the draft that oversaw the selection of Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, and was the one behind the trade that sent Tuukka Rask from Toronto to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft.
Gorton was fired by the Rangers in May.
"Once I spoke to Goeff Molson, talked about what his thoughts were about where the organization needed to go, what they were looking for, it just felt like the right fit for me. And so here I am today."
Less than a week into his new job, he recognized there's a growing list of decisions to make -- beginning with how to approach the club's current losing skid.
"The team's obviously had a tough start to the season. I recognize that. And Geoff and I, in our conversation, we went through that," Gorton said. "I think it will evolve over time -- there's obviously things that have to happen here. I would say that, if you look at some of the teams I've been around and been part of, we would want to be fast and skilled. We need, probably, to work on our player development here. I'd like to add to analytics. There's a lot of different things I'd like to do.
"It's my second, third day here so I'd ask you to give me a little time on that and how that plays out, but I think over time you'll see my philosophy play out."
Gorton said the organization wants to be "as transparent as possible" when it comes to the team's direction, and that started with a request for a little patience as he gets up to speed with all things bleu, blanc, et rouge.
Thursday's 4-1 loss at home to the Colorado Avalanche was his first live viewing of the club as a leader of the franchise, and he'll travel to Nashville later Friday for Saturday's matching against the Predators.
"I'd like to see the team a little bit more before we make those kind of decisions. But I look forward to spending more time with the players and coaches and see where we're at. And then we'll go from there," he said.
On his role, and that of the incoming GM, Gorton had this to say:
"I've been a general manager, and for me, I think it was important when I met with Geoff Molson that the general manager has a direct line to Geoff Molson, that can make decisions. My role is to use all my experience to help that person and to help make this team better again and start winning. And that's how I look at it. Anybody who knows me, I don't have a huge ego, I'm not worried about titles -- I've never been worried about that. I just wanna help, I wanna be a hockey-decision guy and I think I can really help this team move forward."