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Week 8 in One Word: Look


/lo͝ok/ direct one’s gaze toward someone or something or in a specified direction. Similar: watch, fix one’s gaze, stare, examine, study, consider, observe, pay attention to the appearance of someone or something, especially as expressing a particular quality.

Week 8 for the Montreal Canadiens featured three games. On Monday they lost 2-1 to Vancouver in the Battle of Dysfunction Junction. On Thursday the Colorado Avalanche were in town, and the Habs were outmatched in a 4-1 loss. On Saturday the Habs were in Nashville to face the Predators and while there were some signs of life, they were lucky to make it to overtime for the loser point in a 4-3 loss.

Here is how I saw things shake down.

After being named Vice President of Hockey Operations on Sunday, this was a week of watching for Jeff Gorton.

In his first look at the Habs as Veep, Gorton saw them lose to another team in a very similar predicament. Against the Canucks, with an awareness that their season was lost, and big changes were set in motion, the Habs looked listless and defeated.

Gorton got a look at the Laval Rocket on his first day physically with the team. Then he got a look at the Habs when the Avalanche were visiting, and another look on the road in Nashville. I imagine his eyes were bleeding.

The current look of this team is one of disorganization, frustration at times, indifference at times, and all-around lost bearings. The current feeling around the Habs is not positive and, with changes coming, a major challenge of the new leadership will be to create some positive energy around this team. No small feat when your play on the ice is sucking like a hoover.

Mathieu Perreault returned from an eye injury on Thursday night, but it was the coach whose vision was off.

Great to see Perreault return this week from a significant eye injury. I feared it might be a career-ender for him based on the stage of his career, so it’s good to see him well. It was not a moment too soon with Gallagher and Niku being placed on the COVID-19 list. Perreault looked solid in his return.

Then, we all watched Ducharme throw him out there on the power play in his first game back, a look that resonated like a cat doing a backstroke. I can imagine Gorton wondered whose retina it was that had been detached.

On Friday, Jeff Gorton held his first press conference as VP of Hockey Operations and gave us some hints of what he’s looking at and what we should look for in the weeks ahead.

Our first look at Gordon was one where he was vulnerable and humble – patiently labouring through a prepared statement in an unfamiliar language. Humility isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of in Montreal in the past decade. Gorton sent a message early that he knew there were boxes he didn’t check for the Montreal market, and he was committed to doing his best to make up for that.

Then he proceeded to use the word look a lot.

Look at some of the teams I’ve been around – that was his response when asked about his vision for the Habs. He used the words fast, skilled, player development, and analytics. He said that over time we would see his philosophy play out.

When asked about the rebuild in New York, Gorton answered that he would like to see more before making decisions, but that when decisions were made, they would be as transparent as possible.

When asked about GM candidates, he said they were going to look at everyone and not rule anyone out. Gorton said they wanted someone who would bring something different than he does – someone who could help them look at various scenarios. He said he’s not looking for someone who always agrees with Jeff Gorton. Diversity of thought is another thing we’ve not seen a lot of in recent years.

Gorton was asked to clarify his role and the role of the incoming GM, and he suggested we look around the league at the many two-man complementary systems. He said that’s what the Habs would strive for.

About that… it’s incredibly amusing to me to watch the pundits pontificate about how on earth the two-headed beast can ever work. Matrix reporting relationships are common in the professional world these days, guys – get your knickers unknotted. If you can only lead in a straight-line-power hierarchy, your leadership might have expired before you did.

Gorton was asked whether he would put an emphasis on local players. He was skillful in his response and pointed to landing Adam Fox in New York. Then he said he understood the uniqueness of the market and the need to look at local players.

He was asked about the number of contracts on the team with terms beyond three years, and how he would unclog that. Gorton said he would have to look at everything but, in his answer, it was obvious he had already considered the challenge left by his predecessor.

Gorton was asked what he was looking for in player development. He talked about contact and relationships, and the need to talk to young players every day about every facet – their games, getting better, nutrition, everything.

Overall, the impression Gorton left was of a guy who is thoughtful and relational, and knows he has a lot of observing and assessing to do. The Habs are currently a bit of a mess. There is a lot to look at.

Patrick Roy’s agent attending Jeff Gorton’s first presser disguised as a journalist was not a good look.

I loved Patrick Roy. I was devasted when he was traded, and my interest in the Habs waned for years after. But this lobbying through the media is horse shit and tarnishes the image for me.

Gordon was classy in responding to the series of questions about Roy – whether he’d heard from him, the comparisons to Cam Neely in Boston and the clarification of whether Roy would be interviewed – but I can’t imagine this approach makes Roy look very appealing as a partner and trusted colleague.

When Gorton tells you to look for something, he’s not kidding.

On Friday he told us to look at his past teams if we wanted to see his vision. Speed and skill, he said. On Saturday he claimed a young, puck moving defencemen off waivers. Kale Clague had lost his way in Los Angeles and may never find it in Montreal. But the move shows us that Gorton has already seen the gaping hole for the Habs.

On Saturday night, the kids gave Gorton something to look at while the coach continues to give him reasons to cover his eyes.

Not everything is grim in Montreal. Ryan Poehling has looked good since being recalled. Alexander Romanov is growing before our eyes. Suzuki and Caufield, though struggling, have provided glimpses of their capacity. Dvorak is starting to look more comfortable and resemble the guy we expected.

Gorton must also see some business opportunities. Chiarot looks like a guy that can fetch you a first. Guys like Kulak and Lehkonen are assets with some value. A picture is already forming of how he can shift the Habs.

I wonder if his assessment, like ours, has been interrupted by odd coaching choices… like when Suzuki and Caufield connect so well on a power play, but then Caufield can’t get ice on a 5-on-3. I wonder if it’s more like the car crash you can’t stop watching, or the scary movie that makes you cover your eyes.

The Habs have spent so much time looking at tradition, they forgot to move forward.

In his presser, Gordon used the word “modernize” and it was music to our ears. He used it in relation to analytics, but he could have dropped it into a few topics. He said things would have to evolve. It’s time.

The history of the Montreal Canadiens is glorious. They are famously the most storied franchise. But the stories are old. It’s possible to spend so much time looking back that you lose your way moving forward.

It’s time to face a new direction, look toward the future and write new stories.

It’s time to modernize the look.

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