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New Year, New Game Plan: Habs Organization Must Evolve

New Year's Day is the most optimistic time of the year. We wake up with new ideas and goals all in the name of self-betterment. Some of us are going to lose weight, drink less, and eat better. Others are going to focus on being a better employee, parent, child, in-law, or spouse. Within the next week, most of us will fail. Why?

We fail to realize that we have to shed a lot of our old self in order to become the quality human we are intended to be.

Want to lose weight? You need to radically re-create a new exercise and diet plan. If you don’t, you will eventually fall into the same trappings of your old, chubby self. Want to fix your personal relationships? You need to radically change how you interact with those you care about even if it means losing friends who wear you down.

Want to create an NHL team based on sustained success? You had better radically change how you do business, even if it means infuriating a loud, yet small minority of your fan base in the short term, or you will continue to operate in a quagmire of embarrassing mediocrity.

This season is clearly lost, but the optimist in me sees this as a perfect opportunity to rebrand the Montreal Canadiens. I like the fact that Jeff Gorton is American-born for the simple fact that he isn’t biased with the lore of the Montreal Canadiens from years past. He has the unique ability to look at the team as a hockey-product first and as a cultural identity second.

Montreal Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton

Even the most ardent Quebecer has to admit that the Habs have not been relevant for a generation. This June will be the 29th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup win which means any fan under the age of 35 has zero recollection of the Habs being a winner. To add further insult to injury, no Habs fan under the age of 45 has any recollection of watching a legendary Hab player (save for Patrick Roy) in their prime. Last time I checked, 45 years is 2 generations.

Ask the CFL how hanging onto tradition is going? Scoring is down and their main demographic is the 55+ group (just like my blog readership!). The CFL commissioner is toying with radical rule changes including changing from 3-Downs to 4-Downs. Speaking of tradition, I cannot tell you how many times my father and father-in-law tell me how much they prefer the CFL to the NFL. No matter how many times I point out the fact the NFL has better athletes, more offense, better branding, and billions of dollars in revenue, they hold onto the tradition of “our game”. The problem is that my generation is the one that pays for tickets and brings their kids to games, thereby creating a new generation of fans. The overwhelming number of people my age (42) prefer the NFL over the CFL and if the CFL relies on tradition to pack the stadiums, they will die.

Not to harp too much on the CFL, but is it not a strength to admit when someone else has a better product? What if the CFL changed to American rules? Would more of the top recruits from major U.S. colleges not want to come up here and play? What if the NFL then saw you as a legitimate partner and used the CFL as a farm system? Would that not create more fans and more viewers and more sponsorship deals? Yes the traditionalists might not watch anymore, but they are not the demographic you need to cater to.

This brings us to the Habs and the demographic Jeff Gorton needs to cater to - those of us who are tired of losing. If you cater to the French media or Premier François Legault, you end-up alienating the vast majority of your fan base who know that a winning tradition has no language preference. The NHL is a league of many nations and no other team makes decisions based on birthplace or language.

Tradition-based math is not on the side of the Montreal Canadiens. They won 14 of their 24 cups (58%) when there were only 6 teams in the league. Eight more of their cups (33%) came during the NHL expansion years and the tumultuous 1970s when the WHL was stealing players and the Flyers turned the league into a rodeo.

COVID has forced us to re-create many traditions. Remember when it was your birthday and you blew out the candles on your cake and we would all eat your saliva-cake? That seems like an absurd tradition now; and so does dwelling on Cups of the past.

The Habs record of 7-22-4 is a catastrophe, but it doesn’t have to sink the ship. There is a tradition in politics that implores leaders to never let a catastrophic event go to waste. (Ask George W Bush and Dick Cheney about the Patriot Act.)

Maybe Gorton can shed the dead weight of years past and start Habs fans on a new traditional diet: merit-based winning.

Happy New Year.


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