Lodged somewhere between the free agent frenzy – yeah, we know it’s a stretch – and the dog days of summer, came the rather quiet and curious announcement by the Montreal Canadiens they are effectively getting rid of team president Pierre Boivin.
It appears as though Geoffrey Molson, the frontman for the CH Group, who has never run a big business in his life, thinks he can operate a multi-million dollar sports enterprise better than the guy who, in no particular order: played a key role in tripling the value of the franchise; established the Canadiens Children’s Foundation; ushered the franchise through its ambitious and hugely successful 100th anniversary celebrations; and made former owner George Gillett a ton of money in the nine years he owned the team.
The fact there was absolutely no outrage in either the French or English media in Montreal is curious.
It could be the average fan probably doesn’t care who sits in the cushiest chair at the Bell Centre as much as he/she does about whether or not the Canadiens will regret cutting loose Jaroslav Halak and handing the No. 1 job to Carey Price.
But here’s the thing: The average fan should care about those things, the same way he/she should care about who’s running things with the NHL Players’ Association. That’s because no matter what the organization is, the decisions made at the top trickle down to the ice eventually and if the wrong person is making those decisions, they’re going to have a negative effect.
Which is not to say that Molson is necessarily the wrong person. But we know this much: Boivin was the right person. When the Canadiens made the announcement in July, they said Boivin would stay on as team president for a year to help groom Molson and would step down in June, 2011 before joining the Canadiens board of directors. But at least one person who knows Boivin well thinks he won’t be on the job past Christmas. And those who know Boivin maintain this was not his idea and he’s not terribly thrilled with the decision. Of course, Molson is the general partner in the team and he has the right to make personnel decisions and put people in place he thinks can do the best job. But does he really think he – as a 40-year-old marketing whiz who has never run a major company before – can do a better job than Boivin? Look through the NHL and you’ll find that in very rare exceptions, the person who runs the team is different than the one who owns it. There’s a reason for that. What if Molson discovers in a year or so that he’s not doing such a bang-up job? Will he be willing to fire himself from the position for which he hired himself? Not likely, and the other 12 partners in the team are all limited ones, so it’s doubtful they’ll have the power to do it. So you’ve basically gone from a situation where you had a highly respected, wildly successful executive running the team to an unknown commodity who may or may not run it into the ground. Chances are, though, he won’t be able to take the Canadiens to new heights because from a business standpoint, they’re already maxed out. They cannot sell another ticket or rink board, their merchandise is off the charts and the entertainment company that handles Bell Centre events can’t cram any more days into the year. Perhaps that might be the reason Boivin is leaving; because he has become superfluous. But that ignores the fact he oversaw all that success in the first place. There is only one way revenues for the Canadiens can go these days. And while that probably doesn’t resonate with the guy who can only attend one game a year, fans of a team want their franchise to be stable and profitable because when those two huge factors are taken care of, just about everything else falls into place. Look for some very prominent executives who were loyal to Boivin to find their way out of the organization shortly after he leaves. Unless Molson can find people of equal capabilities to replace them, the organization is bound to suffer. The people who occupy those jobs often dictate who will take the GM and coaching jobs, which has a direct effect on who is on the ice. Molson has a $25-million stake in a team that sold for $575 million (closer to $640 million when all the adjustments are totaled) and that gives him the right to make decisions like the first major one he made this summer. From the Canadiens’ perspective, let’s hope he knows what he’s doing.The original version of this column appeared in the August 2010 edition of The Hockey News magazine.Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.