There will be new front office leadership for hockey’s oldest franchise. On Sunday, Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson (yes, part of the Molson family) cleared house and fired embattled GM Marc Bergevin after what was determined to be an “unacceptable” start to the season. The Stanley Cup runners-up have gotten off to an even slower start than the Flyers (ouch) and are currently 6-16-2. In addition to Bergevin’s firing, assistant general manager, Trevor Timmins and Senior Vice President in charge of public affairs and communications, Paul Wilson were also let go. On top of this, assistant GM Scott Mellanby resigned, leaving the franchise with a depleted front office. In the wake of change, the Habs hired former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to serve as the team’s Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.
On Monday, Molson had a press conference where he more-or-less acknowledged that the team’s run to the final was an outlier, as they have been a middle-of-the-pack team for several years. Let’s not forget the Canadiens were on the brink of elimination in Round 1 of last year’s playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but ended up coming back from a 3-1 series deficit.
The clearing of the house could also be related to the Canadiens’, and really all of hockey’s, push to have a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. The Canadiens are in an interesting position as they are (currently) the only team in the league that has an identity of playing in front of French-speaking fans. (Even the NHL shield that adorns the collar of their jerseys is stylized as “LNH” for “Ligue nationale de hockey.” They also wore French Stanley Cup Finals patches as opposed to their English counterpart.) Molson hinted that because Gorton is an English-speaker, the team would be hiring a French-speaking General Manager. There are only three coaches in the NHL who are fluent in both French and English, so this is one step in the right direction towards truly making hockey for everyone and more representative.
This push for a more inclusive and welcoming environment is coming from the team that drafted Logan Mailloux in the first round this year. Mailloux was “fined by Swedish police last year for invasion of privacy and defamation after he showed a photo to his teammates via Snapchat that depicted him and a woman engaged in a consensual sexual act. The photo was taken without the consent of the woman.” The player, who was suspended by the Ontario Hockey League indefinitely, even asked all 31 teams not to draft him because of this incident, citing his lack of maturity and the amount of harm he caused the woman to face. The team did not listen to him, drafted him, and then stated that, together, they are going to create an action plan “to guide him in his development.” Drafting Mailloux caused some backlash in the hockey community, which is already facing a serious culture-crisis, from the top down. Coaches and executives have covered up sexual assault and players have mocked victims, more and more players are facing mental health-issues and battling addiction. While the Canadiens are taking a step in the right direction, more needs to be done in order to effectuate any real meaningful change. Some have called for the removal of Commissioner Gary Bettman, as some team owners are believed to be “unhappy” with his leadership on these issues.
This is not to say that hockey is the only sport facing a culture crisis. A few weeks ago, my friends Mike Perlo and Marissa Egloff wrote about issues in the culture issues in the NFL, from John Gruden’s leaked e-mails to the Washington Football Team’s investigation related to sexual harassment, respectively. In case you missed it, there was a protest, led by two former Football Team employees, over the decision to not release the investigative report ahead of the team’s Monday night match-up against the Seahawks. Protestors were wearing “#ReleaseTheReport” t-shirts.
The two employees, Melanie Coburn and Megan Imbert, called on the NFL to be more transparent and accountable, rather than just sweeping it under the rug. When asked, Coburn stated that: “We want transparency and accountability. We want them to release the report so that progress and meaningful change can happen.” I agree with this line of thinking—in order for there to be meaningful change there needs to be accountability. To end on a more upbeat note, we as individuals, have the ability to bring the much needed change to the culture across every sport at every level. It is truly up to us to make a difference.
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