BROSSARD, Que.— It was a logical first step for the new executive vice president of hockey operations of the Montreal Canadiens.
Jeff Gorton asked for patience during his first press briefing, and it must be granted. He was placed in this position just five days ago, he only arrived in Montreal on Tuesday, only began meeting people in the organization Wednesday, and has seen both the Canadiens and their minor league affiliate in Laval play only a game apiece, and that’s not an adequate amount of time to deliver a fully baked plan on how to turn things around from where they stand now.
But it was fitting that one of words Gorton used emphatically during his 30 minutes in front of reporters Friday was “patience.” The job he’s taken will require an enormous amount of patience and, assuming Canadiens owner Geoff Molson spoke to the same people I did in vetting him for this position – New York Rangers senior advisor Glen Sather and former president of hockey operations John Davidson – they’d have stressed that patience is one of Gorton’s fortes.
“He’s a thinker,” said Davidson, who now runs the Columbus Blue Jackets. “He’s methodical, calculated. He’s honest, and patient.”
That’s good because Gorton is under contract for five years, and it might take him that long to get the Canadiens back to where both he and Molson said they want to take them.
That didn’t seem to faze Gorton as GM of the Rangers. In February 2018, he and Sather penned an open letter to fans saying it was time to rebuild. And considering how Gorton described that process on Friday, it’s not a stretch to believe he might eventually come to the same conclusion about the Canadiens.
“It got to the point in New York we had some really good teams,” he said. “We made it to the finals, we went to some conference finals, but based on where we were at – and our team was good, but not great – we had internal meetings and decided that was the way to go, and that was right to the ownership level. We decided that it was the right thing to do to tell our fans exactly what we were going to do.
“Basically, we wrote the letter, and the rest is a little bit of history. We traded a lot of players, a lot of good players away and here it is, I guess, three or four years since the letter. So, the rest, I guess, you could probably figure out, but that was the process. We met, we discussed it, we decided to do it and we were pretty open and transparent with the fans.”
Gorton said he’ll be transparent with Canadiens fans if it comes to that.
He knows how challenging it can be to go down that road, he acknowledged he’s well aware of where they stand in relation to the salary cap – including Shea Weber, the Canadiens have 10 players signed through the 2024-25 season and five beyond then – but he’s got much deliberating to do before deciding exactly how to proceed.
When he was asked for his top-five priorities, Gorton said, “Five would be a lot right now.”
“I think I really want to concentrate on being close to the team and really understanding the players and the coaching staff and also the support staff,” he continued. “Scouting – I need to spend some time with the scouts. I need to do that.
“So, there’s a lot of things that go into it and, as we move forward, we’re going to have to select, as a group, a general manager. So that’s there, too.”
According to Gorton, that person should have a different perspective. “Maybe it could be an agent, it could be somebody who was just a player,” he said.
“I wasn’t a player, I wasn’t an agent, it could be just a different background,” Gorton added. “So, we’re going to look at those things. I’ve read some of the names, I’ve heard some of the names, I’ve had some calls. But we want to reserve judgment on that until we have a little more time to figure out who might be out there, and then we will find the best person.”
Whether it’s a former player such as Patrick Roy, Daniel Briere or Mathieu Darche, or it’s an agent such as Émilie Castonguay, he said the most important thing is hiring someone who helps the Canadiens win and complements his skills.
Gorton added he’s committing to full cooperation with whomever it is, which jives with what Davidson said.
“He’s not an I-me guy, by any means,” he said. “He’s an us-we guy, and he’ll work with anybody and has good relationships with the people he works with for sure.”
But be patient.
Gorton said he doesn’t anticipate hiring a GM before Christmas, and he wouldn’t comment on how long it might take to find someone to run amateur scouting and replace recently fired assistant general manager Trevor Timmins.
It’ll probably take a while, as will executing his plan to bolster the development staff and build an analytics department.
Fans should hope the longest process the 53-year-old native of Melrose, Mass., embarks on is learning French. He’s pledging to give it his best effort and he’s already enrolled in online lessons to get a head start.
But Gorton asked for patience with that, too, and warned he may never be able to speak it fluently.
“Thirty years ago,” Gorton said, “I wanted to be great at golf and I still stink.”
It was a touch of humour, and it’s good to know he has that side to him.
Humour will serve Gorton well in this role, especially with the 6-17-2 Canadiens entrenched in one of the most laughable seasons in their 111-year history.
Gorton doesn’t find it funny, though. And he wasn’t amused by the latest act of impatience at the Bell Centre, when a fan threw a Canadiens jersey and hat on the ice before the third period wrapped on Colorado’s 4-1 over the home team on Thursday.
“You never want to see that happen,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to see. So, if I would say anything, that is not going to help the situation.”
In Gorton’s view, expanding the front office will.
“Starting with analytics,” he said. “I think we need to build that better, to modernize it. I do believe in analytics, and the way the game has gone I think it’s a big piece of information that you need to have. So, I would like to build out a staff that way.
“Player development – they have a couple of gentlemen in place that are doing a good job, (but) I think that we need more. The way the game has gone, the way these kids are, they need help in a lot of ways as soon as we draft them or sign them. I’d like to build that out a little better, too.”
The process is underway, but it will take time.
Meanwhile, Gorton said he’ll be patient with Dominique Ducharme.
He said the head coach will remain in place through the remainder of the season, and we’ll assume that same courtesy extends to assistant coaches Alex Burrows, Trevor Letowski and Luke Richardson, and goaltending coach Eric Raymond.
We’ll have to wait for the rest of his plan.
“There’s a lot of different things I’d like to do,” Gorton said. “It’s my second, third day here, so I’d ask you to give me a little time on that (and) how it plays out. But I think over time you’ll see my philosophy.”