Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2nd Montrealer Named To NHL GM Post

On Monday, Michel Bergeron ran a piece reminding us all to be very proud of Jacques Lemaire and Mario Tremblay for keeping their jobs in the NHL.

When the news arrived today for me, I dug through a piece on Dale Tallon's failings to learn that Stan Bowman was to be named GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. While, I'm sure Michel's article is well in the works celebrating the Montrealers able to climb the GM rankings, I decided I couldn't wait any longer.

Quebec GMs were going out of style like Russian wingers

When Steve Tambellini took over from Kevin Lowe as the GM for the Oilers, the number of Quebec-born GMs fell to a mere four (Cliff Fletcher, Bryan Murray, Francois Giguere and Dale Tallon; Jacques Martin born in an Ottawa suburb, of course). The news got worse when Fletcher was asked to step aside for a louder alternative and Giguere was let go to be replaced by someone from Scranton, PA – a city more renowned for being mocked as dull on TV sitcoms than for raising hockey masterminds.

The Montreal numbers looked worse, where Cliff Fletcher was the last remnant.

All the while, Ontario was plowing along with 11 GMs; there were an embarrassing (to Montreal anyway) 5 GMs from New England, 5 others from the US and a handful from Western Canada. The way Quebec was faring, you'd have thought Trevor Timmins was the leaguewide consultant on GM hirings.

But in late May, the tides began to turn. Doug Riseborough (a man with good Montreal links himself) was let go. He was replaced by Chuck Fletcher, the son of the aforementioned Silver Fox, who himself was born in Montreal way back when his Dad worked for the Habs in the 1960s.

Today, we get news that one Quebec-born GM will be replaced by another as Rouyn-Noranda's (and Toronto's) Dale Tallon will be replaced by Stan Bowman, the son of Montreal Canadiens legend Scotty. His connection to Montreal is even stronger than Chuck's since his days in town went beyond his third birthday – right from 1973 up until the time Irving Grundman took over from Sam Pollock following the 1979 season.

From no Montreal sons running NHL teams to two in a matter of 2 months. It's quite a turn around and one worth sounding the trumpet for.

Frank Selke's heirs

Geographic origins aside, these two appointments are very interesting for other reasons. Both these GMs are young and both are the sons of men who have shaped the NHL for the past four decades or more.

Scotty Bowman needs no introduction to fans of the Canadiens. He is our legendary coach at the NHL level, of course, winning a number of Cups in the 1970s. However, it is often forgot that he also played the part of prospect, scout and minor league coach for the Habs. His first coaching job was beside Sam Pollock with the 56-57 and 57-58 editions of the Ottawa Junior Canadiens. Next he coached the Petereborough Petes (Montreal-affiliated, of course). Finally, he jumped at the chance to make it in the NHL when the St. Louis Blues came calling following expansion. A few Stanley Cup finals later, he was back in Montreal coaching the Habs and naming his son after the trophies he was winning.

Cliff Fletcher was a Montreal boy as well, though his story is less well known in Canadiens lore (probably because his biggest successes came in winning a Cup in Montreal for the opposition and setting up a Maple Leafs team that would overshadow the Habs for most of the late 1990s). His career, though had strange parallels with Scotty's, though not on the ice where he never attained the top junior ranks. Like Scotty, his first coaching assignment came under the watchful eye of Sam Pollock in the late 1950s (then the overseer of all minor league and junior operations for the Canadiens). His duties expanded over the years to scouting, coaching and other player development tasks. By the time expansion came around, Cliff was mature enough and ready to take on bigger roles. His first step was to go to St. Louis like Scotty. And his first promotion was to become assistant GM to Scotty himself – the Montreal Canadiens tandem to outwork the other expansion franchises in those early years to a significant degree. Unlike Scotty, he never returned to Montreal, but instead took his own GM post with the expansion Atlanta Flames in 1971.

So Chuck and Stan not only trace shallow roots to the city of Montreal (like say Bryan Murray who went to school in Ste. Anne-de-Bellevue), but also back to the Montreal Canadiens themselves. Specifically, these two appointments can trace their hockey know how right back to the greatest GM of all time (Frank Selke) and his greatest rival for the title (Sam Pollock). Both sons of Selke employees and Pollock proteges.

It's an interesting development that comes at a time when the NHL needs new ideas and new minds to spice things up a bit. If they've retained even an iota of the wisdom their fathers must have soaked up from the "How to totally outwork and outperform the other NHL GMs" academy they attended in the 1950s and 60s, they'll be in good stead. One can only hope that their experience goes a little bit smoother than that of the man who in a way laid a path for them and all 30-something aspiring GMs – son of former Canadiens player, John Ferguson, Jr.

As for RDS's version of this piece, trust me I'll eagerly await Bergeron's parallel take on Stan Bowman and Chuck Fletcher. I'm sure he'll say something like he did regarding the coaches.

Oh, what the heck, in case he doesn't. We should all be proud of Chuck and Stan, Quebecois and Montrealais. With the departures of Francois Gigere, Kevin Lowe and Cliff Fletcher from the management reins of NHL teams, it's important that some Quebecers hang on and carry the torch for the rest of us.

And long live the Selke line...

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