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Sports New Canadiens boss will focus on player development, analytics

04:51  04 december  2021
04:51  04 december  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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Jeff Gorton watched the Canadiens play in person for the first time Thursday night in his new role as the team’s executive vice-president of hockey operations.

“I do believe in analytics and I think that the way the game has gone I think it’s a big piece of information that you need to have,” says Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens’ new executive vice-president of hockey operations. © Provided by The Gazette “I do believe in analytics and I think that the way the game has gone I think it’s a big piece of information that you need to have,” says Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens’ new executive vice-president of hockey operations.

He watched his new team lose 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre, dropping their record to 6-17-2. He also watched a frustrated fan throw a Canadiens sweater onto the ice in the third period.

“You never want to see that happen,” Gorton said Friday morning when he met the Montreal media for the first time since being hired last Sunday. “It’s obviously disappointing to see someone throw their jersey on the ice. But something that’s out of our control. My first concern and my thought is to the players, the people that are out there trying their hardest. It’s a tough thing to see. I would say that is not going to help the situation but, again, we can’t control it.

Secret Formula: Analytics in the NHL

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“As far as where the team’s at, obviously, it’s been a difficult time,” Gorton added. “We all can see that … anybody in hockey can see that it’s almost been a perfect storm against Montreal with all the injuries and everything that’s gone bad and now you have COVID (with Brendan Gallagher and Sami Niku testing positive on Wednesday). It just seems like it’s adding up. It hasn’t started off great. I would say that walking into this building you can tell that the energy’s a little down and the attitude is a little bit … it hasn’t gone great and you can feel that when you walk in the building. So I hope that I can bring some energy and some positive way of thinking that we can turn this around and move forward.”

Gorton said the first thing he wants to do is talk with the players so he can get a better understanding of what’s going on now before he starts taking steps to fix things moving forward.

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“Listen, they’ve won six games in 25, so I understand the frustration,” Gorton said. “The players are feeling it, I can tell you that just from being here for two days.”

One of the first moves Gorton has to make it to hire a general manager to replace the fired Marc Bergevin — someone he’s going to be comfortable working with. Gorton said head coach Dominique Ducharme’s job is safe until the end of the season.

“Thank you to Geoff Molson for trusting me with this opportunity,” Gorton said. “Working for the Montreal Canadiens is a dream for anybody in hockey and this is a position I will not take lightly and look forward to.”

When asked what his best quality is as a hockey executive, Gorton said: “I think probably knowing people and players. I think that’s probably it. I think that I have a good feel for players and I have a good feel for people.”

Here’s more of what Gorton had to say Friday in his news conference that lasted just under 30 minutes at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

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On his vision for the team:

“The team’s obviously had a tough start to the season. I recognize that and Geoff and I in our conversation we went through that. I think it will evolve over time. There’s obviously things that have to happen here. I would say that if you look at some of the teams I’ve been around and been a part of (the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers), we want to be fast and skilled. We need probably to work on our player development here. I’d like to add to the analytics. There’s a lot of different things I’d like to do. It’s my second, third day here, so I’d ask you to give me a little time on that how this plays out. But I think over time you’ll see my philosophy.”

What are his first five priorities?

“Five would be a lot right now. I think I really want to concentrate on being close to the team and understanding the players and the coaching staff and also the support staff. Scouting, spend some time with the scouts, I need to do that. So there’s a lot of things that go into it. As we move forward as a group we’re going to have to select a general manager, so that’s there, too.”

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On improving player development and adding to the analytics staff:


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“Starting with the analytics, I think we need to build that out better, to modernize it. I do believe in analytics and I think that the way the game has gone I think it’s a big piece of information that you need to have and so I would like to build out a staff. Player development, I think that they have a couple of gentlemen in place that are doing a good job. I think that we need more. The way the game has gone, the way these kids are, they need help in a lot of ways as soon as we draft them or sign them. I’d love to build that out a little better, too.”

On his philosophy when it comes to player development:

“I think to help them through. I think when you take them it’s important to be in contact with them. It’s important to talk to them every day about their game and how they can get better and nutrition, anything we can offer them. The communication, really from the moment we draft them until they reach the NHL I think we can do a better job. Every team can really do a better job of working with these kids and bringing them and turning them into men and eventually good pros. It’s really just a day-to-day contact and keep those relationships. Listen, it’s a high-pressure game, there’s a lot that goes into this for these players and we want to help them as much as we can get there as soon as they can. But I think that we could do a better job of supporting them and adding to that and having the right people in place for that.”

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On the current situation with several players signed to long-term contracts and not much salary-cap space:

“I think as we move forward we’re going to have to look at everything. There’s definitely contracts that are long-term that we’ll have to look at and discuss and figure out who’s going to be here and who’s going to be part of that going forward. Who those players are … tomorrow (in Nashville) will be my second game with the team. I still want to get a little feel for this team moving forward, the players and their personalities before we decide what’s going to really happen.”

On working with an inexperienced bilingual GM, whoever that might be:

“I would encourage somebody with different views and I would go in wide-eyed to understand that that person might think differently. That’s better, I think, that everyone doesn’t agree with Jeff Gorton. So I think when we’re out on that search we’re going to look for somebody that has different views, that has a different background that can complement me. … Listen, anybody that’s ever been in a hockey room that’s had some FU fights with people about what to do and at the end of the day you make the right decisions as a group and you move forward and you live by those decisions. So it’s not going to be any different.”

What kind of authority will the new GM have in the management setup?

“I’ve been a general manager. I believe once we hire a general manager that general manager’s going to need some authority to make some decisions. I believe with my history and the amount of time, my experience in the game, I think I’m going to be a pretty good asset for that person. That’s one of the reasons why it attracts me to this position.

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  Not on my watch: Canadiens' Allen hopes to keep Fleury stuck at 499 Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc-André Fleury is poised to win his 500th NHL game, but Jake Allen is hoping the milestone win isn’t at the expense of the Canadiens. “He’s going to reach it sooner or later, but hopefully not tomorrow,” Allen said in advance of the Canadiens-Blackhawks game at the Bell Centre Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Fleury will become only the third goaltender in NHL history to register 500 wins. Martin Brodeur is the all-time leader with 691 and Patrick Roy has 551. The closest active player behind Fleury is the Canadiens’ Carey Price, with 360.

“I’ve been a general manager and for me I think it was important when I met with Geoff Molson that the general manager has a direct line to Geoff Molson, that can make decisions. My role is to use all my experience to help that person and to help make this team better again and start winning. That’s how I look at it.  … Anybody that knows me, I don’t have a huge ego, I’m not worried about titles. I’ve never been worried about that. I just want to help. I want to be a hockey-decision guy and I think I can really help this team move forward.”

On the belief the new GM will only have a small say on decisions?

“I would say no. I would say that we’re going to bring a general manager that’s going to have a say. He’s going to be the general manager, and being a general manager I would not want to be a general manager unless I had the power of a general manager. So that would be my answer in short to that.”

Who will be talking to the other GMs around the league?

“My answer to that is the general manager we hire is going to talk to the general managers around the league. That’s part of the job. For me, I would say that once we find somebody in place … my role, for now, that’s what I am doing, talking to general managers and holding down that. But as we go forward we’re going to empower the general manager to talk to GMs and make deals and whatever it is. Listen, I think they’re bringing me here for a reason to help and use my experience and help that person. I’m confident that we can find the right person, we can work in tandem and we can move this thing in the right direction.”

If things don’t go well over the next 3-4 years with the new GM, who would have the power to fire him?

“I don’t think I’ve been in an organization where you made a decision like that that wasn’t at the ownership level, too. Listen, I’m not going to think about if it goes bad. I’m going to think about how it’s going to go good. So we’ll go that way.”

On the rebuild he started in New York as GM of the Rangers:

“It got to the point in New York we had some really good teams. We made it to the finals, we went to some conference finals. But based on where we were at — and our team was good, but not great — we had internal meetings and decided that was the way to go and that was right to the ownership level. We decided that it was the right thing to do to tell our fans exactly what we were going to do. Basically, we wrote the letter (to fans) and the rest is a little bit of a history. We traded a lot of players, a lot of good players away, and here it is, I guess, three or four years since the letter. So the rest, I guess, you could probably figure out. But that was the process. We met, we discussed it, we decided to do it and we were pretty open and transparent with the fans. As far as bringing it here, if that’s what we decide we’ll be pretty transparent.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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