Geoff Molson felt the time was right for the Montreal Canadiens to emphatically turn the page.
And with his decision to fire general manager Marc Bergevin and two other executives over the weekend, the team owner came to another realization: Running the Canadiens’ hockey department under the glaring spotlight in a media-saturated, bilingual market — one unlike any other in the NHL — will be a two-person job moving forward.
“I strongly believe that this organization needs a fresh start,” Molson said Monday. “At this stage, a fresh start is not so much at the team level, but rather at the management level.”
One of the roles — the newly formed executive vice president of hockey operations — was filled less than 24 hours earlier when Molson announced Bergevin’s dismissal and the hiring of former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton.
The other — Montreal’s now-vacant GM position — will be occupied by a bilingual candidate following a search Molson said would be completed “the sooner, the better.”
”(Gorton and the GM) are going to assess the situation,” Molson said. “They’re going to develop an identity they want.”
Bergevin was in his 10th season in charge when he was fired after a 6-15-2 start to the 2021-22 campaign that came on the heels of last season’s stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Molson said Bergevin, who was in the final year of his contract, did a good job over his tenure, but change was required following an “unacceptable” start.
The owner also acknowledged his former GM, whose managerial career in Montreal was often marked by bold and sometimes controversial moves, could have used help in the front office.
“It’s a lot for one person,” Molson said. “If I could back up a few years and know what I know today, I would have complemented (Bergevin) with another person. It’s that big a job in this market.”
Gorton was fired by the Rangers last spring after they missed the playoffs, but much of the talent accumulated over his six seasons in charge has New York competing for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
“Nobody’s perfect in the hockey world,” Molson said. “But I look at that team ... it seems to be performing pretty well. He has a reputation for being a great evaluator of talent, but I think somebody who lasts all those years as a general manager must be doing something right.”
The 53-year-old from the Boston area was also briefly interim GM of the Bruins in 2006, and ran a draft that helped set the stage for the franchise’s Cup victory in 2011.
Having also fired assistant GM Trevor Timmins and public relations executive Paul Wilson, and after assistant GM Scott Mellanby abruptly resigned Saturday, Molson said the new managers will need to hammer out how the organization goes about achieving its goals.
“I shared some of the high-level things (to Gorton) about vision — better scouting, better player development, a medical performance team and more diversity (in hockey ops),” Molson said. “It’s going to be up to them to figure out how we’re going to do that.”
Left to be determined is the fate of head coach Dominique Ducharme.
He had his interim tag removed and earned a contract extension after making the final, but there’s been a clear disconnect in 2021-22 for a group minus captain Shea Weber because of injury and star goalie Carey Price, who continues to work his way back after entering a residential treatment facility for substance use.
Molson added he’s never interfered in hockey decisions, and if Gorton and his counterpart agree a rebuild is the best way forward, he wouldn’t stand in the way.
“I’m not afraid of that word,” he said. “And I think our fans wouldn’t be afraid of that word either.”