New Canadiens management team welcomes back CH legends

“I have a pretty good understanding what kind of players they were, how big of an impact they had,” head coach Martin St. Louis says.

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There was a special event at the Bell Centre Wednesday night with the Canadiens’ new management team inviting members of the team’s alumni to a meet-and-greet dinner.

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For some reason, former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin decided to shun the old Canadiens players and that’s something the new management group wants to change.

Jeff Gorton, the executive vice-president of hockey operations, general manager Kent Hughes, head coach Martin St. Louis and team owner/president Geoff Molson were there Wednesday night to greet the former players, including Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer, Réjean Houle, Guy Lapointe, Yvon Lambert, Vincent Damphousse, Chris Nilan, Sergio Momesso, Patrice Brisebois, Gilbert Delorme and Jocelyn Thibault.

France Margaret Bélanger, the president of sports and entertainment for Groupe CH, was also there, along with Geneviève Paquette, the vice-president of community engagement and GM of the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation

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“Actually, it’s funny because I saw Yvan Cournoyer last night, but I saw him the night before, too, at the game,” St. Louis said Thursday morning about Cournoyer being honoured at the Bell Centre Tuesday with a Bobblehead Night when the Canadiens played the Minnesota Wild. “Two times, back-to-back days, that I get to shake his hand.

“The alumni dinner, I think it’s a great thing,” St. Louis added. “For me, growing up a Habs fan and watching some of these guys. The older guys I didn’t see play live, but I’ve seen a lot of video of them and my dad has told me numerous stories about his favourite players growing up and who played like what and did what. So I have a pretty good understanding what kind of players they were, how big of an impact they had.

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“For me last night to be around those guys … I’m not shy to talk a lot in any kind of gathering. But last night, I was all ears listening to those stories and there’s nothing better than hockey stories and guys that have done it before you. It’s pretty special to be around those guys and have that opportunity to hear what it was like for them, their experience. So I’m looking forward for the next one.”

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In an interview with the Montreal Gazette’s Brendan Kelly in 2020, Hall of Fame defenceman and former Canadiens GM Serge Savard spoke about the team not wanting the old players near the locker room at the Bell Centre.

“A few years back, they didn’t want anyone close to the dressing room,” said Savard, who won seven Stanley Cups as a player and was GM the last two times the Canadiens won the Cup in 1986 and 1993. “We had to go through the press room to get to the old-timers room. They didn’t want us in the hall. They certainly forgot their past.”

When Molson was looking to hire a new GM in 2012, he brought in Savard to help with the search. In Phillip Cantin’s book, Serge Savard: Forever Canadien, he writes about Savard and Molson meeting with Bergevin in a New York hotel and being impressed with his confidence and charisma, adding him to the list of serious candidates to become GM.

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That night the three had dinner in Manhattan and Savard says in the book that Molson wanted to also hire him in what would probably be some kind of advisory role and that it would be announced at the same time the new GM was named.

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Over the next few days, Molson and Savard met with other candidates, including Dale Tallon, who was then GM of the Florida Panthers.

“When the Panthers found out, they promised him a contract extension, which he signed not long afterwards,” Savard says in the book. “To tease him, I told him he should thank me!”

After evaluating several candidates, Savard says in the book both he and Molson decided Bergevin would be the next GM and two days after that decision Molson wrote him a note, thanking him for his help.

“Together, we found the ideal candidate, and I couldn’t have done it nearly as well without you,” Savard says Molson wrote.

Savard adds that was the last contact he had with Molson about the new GM and he was never offered a position with the team. Savard says Bergevin, who had no experience as a GM, would not have gotten the job without his approval and he told him to call any time he needed help, noting: “After all, the new GM had a lot to learn.”

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“Our conversations afterwards were few and far between,” Savard says in the book. “I remember one phone call where Marc talked to me mostly about his dissatisfaction with P.K. Subban. Managing a team is first and foremost about managing individuals. You have to deal with different personalities, talk to the players, but also listen to them.”

After being named GM, Bergevin hired Michel Therrien as head coach and chose longtime friend J.J. Daigneault as an assistant coach to work with the defence over former Canadiens Hall of Famer Larry Robinson.

Savard was disappointed to almost never hear from Bergevin after recommending him for the GM job, but adds in the book that, for the current breed of GMs, maintaining ties with the team’s alumni is not as important as it was when he held the position from 1983 to 1995.

“For (former team president Ronald Corey), it was a top priority,” Savard says in the book. “He was always committed to making the alumni feel at home in the Canadiens’ arena. That’s no longer the case.”

That’s changing under the new management team.

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