Briere ranks high on list of candidates to fill Canadiens’ GM vacancy

Former Montreal Canadiens forward Daniel Briere, left, chats with goaltender Carey Price during a practice session in Brossard, Que., Friday, April 25, 2014. The Canadiens will face either the Boston Bruins or the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

“It’s important for the GM to have final say on the decisions, for sure. But to have two people to talk, debate and offer different perspectives to make the decisions makes us much better able to make the right decisions.” — Geoff Molson.

Good concept outlined above, but allow us to present how we actually see the power dynamic playing out between new executive VP of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and whomever the owner of the Montreal Canadiens and Gorton decide will be the next general manager.

Surely Gorton didn’t leave the money still owed to him on his terminated contract with the New York Rangers to take a job with this title only to then relinquish control of the hockey decisions to the person he’s helping to hire. With nearly 30 years of front-office experience in various capacities in the NHL, and with other looming opportunities to head up operations for other teams likely available to him, he didn’t choose to come to Montreal only to give way to a first-time general manager.

This structure was obviously put in place because Molson is staying true to his commitment to appoint a GM who can communicate to the people of Quebec — and to Canadiens fans around the world — in both English and French, and Gorton only speaks English.

That leaves the man calling the shots in the shadows, which was probably as attractive as any other reason Gorton might have considered before accepting the role. The GM will alleviate him from having to be the team’s spokesperson, help with the operations, forge new relationships and then likely take on more and more responsibility as time goes on, while Gorton uses his own experience to do the heavy lifting of building out the staff and the plan.

“It’s important to find someone who complements the skillset that Jeff’s bringing us,” said Molson. “Someone who maybe has a bit of a different vision, someone who has an expertise that’s different, someone who learned from another organization and in a different way.”

We think that person should be someone who’s malleable. An upstart-type who’s willing to enter into this power structure and grow within it. Someone who’s well-respected throughout the hockey world, and someone who can help fill another important quotient former GM Marc Bergevin did throughout his near 10-year-long reign in Montreal.

“Berge played 1,000 games in the league and he knows the day-to-day grind of the season,” explained Canadiens defenceman Ben Chairot on Tuesday. “He knows exactly what we’re feeling and what we’re going through. That’s kind of what made him special and unique as a GM is he’s right in there with us and knows what we’re feeling after we come in after a loss or we come in after long road trip, and he was essentially a part of the team and another one of the guys. I think that’s why he had so much respect from the guys in the room.”

We can’t think of a candidate more suited to fill that mandate — and every other requirement — than Daniel Briere. And from what we’ve been told, the former Canadien is high up on the list of candidates being considered.

We’ll dig into the rest of them below, but Briere, who played close to 1,000 games in the NHL and produced at a near-point-per-game pace in 124 playoff games over an illustrious career, has been preparing for a job like this since he hung up his skates six years ago.

The 44-year-old went straight from the ice to the front office when he was brought on by the Philadelphia Flyers in October 2015. He started off in the organization he played for by shadowing team president and former GM Paul Holmgren, he later took on a role in player development that he’s still in to this day, and in 2017 he assumed vice-president and general manager duties of the team’s ECHL affiliate in Maine.

The Mariners were in their infancy and Briere was charged with building their team from the ground up. He was involved in everything from recruitment to logo design, according to this expansive piece from Radio Canada’s Martin Leclerc.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

In 2018, Briere also began pursuing a degree in business administration at the most prestigious financial school in the United States, Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. He did it because, even if he had already proven himself as a leader as a former captain of the Buffalo Sabres, he wanted to round out his profile.

It was during that year that the Mariners became the affiliate of the New York Rangers. While Briere did have some contact with Gorton, who was GM of the NHL club, most of his dealings were with former Sabres teammate Chris Drury, who was working underneath Gorton before succeeding him.

Still, Gorton would’ve been exposed to Briere’s kind manner, and have gotten a glimpse of what many around the hockey world have observed.

“He’s a great guy,” said a source we touched base with who’s close with Briere. “Molson said they want to hire a GM soon, and he’d be ready to go right away.

“And he wants this, there’s no question.”

The Gatineau, Que., native isn’t alone on that front.

Here are some other top candidates.

Patrick Roy

The Hall-of-Fame goaltender, who helped the Canadiens win their last two Stanley Cups before an ugly divorce from the team, spoke on Tuesday and made it abundantly clear he wants the job.

“Of course I’m saying to myself, ‘What do they have to lose giving me a try,’” Roy said when speaking to Le Journal De Quebec. “The club has been turning in circles since 1993, so what do they have to lose by seeing what I can do with it?

“At the same time, I understand the situation. The club belongs to Geoff Molson and it’s him who pulls the strings. It’s his team and maybe I’m not the guy for him, and I can accept that.”

Still, Molson and Gorton should give Roy a call.

We’re talking about a pure winner who recently had major influence on building what most consider to be the most talented team in the NHL over in Colorado.

However, if it’s generally perceived the current GM and coach of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts wouldn’t be willing to be a partner, let alone subservient to the new exec VP of hockey ops, it would have to do with his resignation as head coach of the Avalanche in 2016, when he felt his voice wasn’t being considered enough in personnel decisions GM Joe Sakic was making.

Roy sought to undo some of that perception on Tuesday, saying, “I’ve always been a guy who likes working as a team and I’m ready to learn, to listen and to develop on any team process. I’ve been working for 14 years with (Remparts owner) Jacques Tanguay and we’ve never had a problem.”

That said, we don’t think he should apologize for being who he is — a passionate, strong-minded person who will fight for what he thinks is right.

Nonetheless, while Roy’s strong personality lends well to the conviction you need to operate with as GM, he’ll have to convince Molson and Gorton it won’t get in the way of the dynamic they’re looking to establish.

Meanwhile, the marketing appeal of a big reunion with the Canadiens — mending a massive wound and, in some fans’ eyes, reversing a curse the team has been under since he was traded in 1995 — should, at the very least, be compelling.

Mathieu Darche

Darche is a viable candidate for many of the same reasons Briere is. He’s a former player, he’s well-educated and he picked up valuable experience as a former VP of sales and marketing with Montreal cargo management company Delmar International before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as director of hockey operations in 2019.

Now that he’s got two Stanley Cup rings, his profile has certainly risen. Riding shotgun with Julien BriseBois probably hasn’t hurt it.

But whether or not that profile is high enough for Molson and Gorton to offer him the job is debatable.

Martin Madden Jr.

The assistant general manager of the Anaheim Ducks is known as arguably the best evaluator of amateur talent in the NHL.

Close to two dozen prospects chosen under his watch since 2009 have played over 100 games in the world’s best league — no other team in the NHL has done as well in this department — and many fans are clamouring for him to bring those skills to a Canadiens team that will likely be drafting very high this summer and could be on the precipice of a rebuild.

While we see Madden Jr. as the optimal replacement for Trevor Timmins, who was in charge of Montreal’s last 17 drafts before he was fired on Sunday, we’re not sure he’d leave Anaheim for a sideways move. The Seattle Kraken tried to pry him away in 2021, but he opted to stay in Anaheim under executive VP of hockey ops and GM Bob Murray.

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What’s interesting is that when Murray resigned and enrolled in an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program following an investigation into his “improper professional conduct,” it wasn’t Madden Jr. who replaced him.

“That’s probably because he’s spent almost all of his hockey career touring junior rinks and plucking out talent and never really entering rooms and dealing with pro hockey players,” a source said to us. “He’s a very nice man, but he’s more of an introverted man and I’m not sure how that plays with being GM in Montreal and in the role it appears they’re looking to fill.

“His track record is definitely impeccable, but he also hasn’t been too involved, if he ever has, in negotiating and signing contracts for players and dealing with rival GMs and so on.”

Still, Gorton has.

And even if there’s been some overlap between both men’s skillsets, Madden Jr. has to be considered a candidate.

Whether or not he can fulfil other business duties of the role and sufficiently relate to the public — and to his players — is in question.

Roberto Luongo

One of the game’s most popular personalities has been honing his experience as an executive with the Florida Panthers since 2019.

There’s no question Luongo, who could headline the 2022 Hall of Fame class after an illustrious and decorated playing career, fits much of the criteria outlined for the role in Montreal.

Whether or not the gold medal-winning goaltender would be compelled to leave the life he’s established in Florida to do the job with his hometown team is the big question.

If the answer is yes, an executive we touched based with sees him as an excellent fit.

“The people I talk to in Florida love working with him and consider him a really sharp hockey mind,” he said. “There’s a reason he’s an assistant GM for Canada’s Olympic team.”

Molson promised an exhaustive search, so there are sure to be some candidates overlooked in this space.

But here are some other names that might be considered:

Jocelyn Thibault

The former Canadiens goaltender, who was part of the Roy trade in 1995, is the GM of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix and was just named executive director of Hockey Quebec.

We asked him if he’d be interested in the job.

“I just arrived with Hockey Quebec, and I have a big mandate in front of me,” he said. “But if the Canadiens came calling, of course I would take the call.”

Stephane Quintal

After years of working for the NHL, sources have indicated the former Canadiens defenceman would have been more interested in a job as team president.

Vincent Damphousse

The former Canadiens captain, who works for RDS, said on that station on Monday that he’s not interested in the position.

Scott White

The Ormstown, Que., native has had plenty of success running the AHL’s Texas Stars since 2009 and was promoted to director of hockey ops with Dallas in 2013.

The former player for the Lac-Saint-Louis Lions moved up to assistant GM with the Stars in 2016 and, according to our sources, has major ambitions to one day become a GM.

John Sedgwick

The current director of legal affairs and VP of hockey ops for the Canadiens has done a masterful job managing the cap since joining the organization in 2013. Hailing from Toronto, his French is still sufficient enough for the position and he’s under contract for two more seasons after this one.

Martin Lapointe

Lapointe was originally brought on as director of player development in 2012. He was named director of amateur scouting and given a new three-year contract last January.

As for his candidacy for the GM job, it would be surprising to see him named considering how scouting and development have been major weaknesses for the Canadiens in the Bergevin era.

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