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The Canadiens Are Limiting Possibilities With Language Requirements

I'll lay this out at the beginning of the article where it cannot be overlooked: this article is not about the superiority of english-speaking coaches and managers over french-speaking coaches and managers. This article is not about ethnic and cultural suppression or superiority. It's not about the historical significance of francophones. Thanks for reading.

I've looked at the hiring pool for NHL General Managers and come to the conclusion, "The fastest way to the executive washroom is through the locker room. NHL teams purposefully limit their hiring pool to a very select group of people who may or may not be qualified, but possess the minimum hiring standard.

I've talked about the failures of this unspoken policy before:

Any type of major change in management style isn't going to happen overnight. Most of the men currently employed in the role of General Manager have common roots. They've all played for and worked for the same group of old boys previously employed in those positions. They all have a common upbringing, they've all been taught many of the same standard plays by many of the same standard guys. What's especially evident is that few of the old boys have figured out how to operate in a cap world. The best and brightest invention they've come up with has been the long-term contract intended to circumvent the CBA.

Rather than focus on finding managers that understand the single-most important concept in a capped world:

...value is of the utmost importance in hockey just as it is in baseball, but for a different reason. At one time the NHL was on the same path as the MLB. The economics of the sport were giving an unfair advantage to the teams located in large markets. It took a lockout to resolve the NHL’s payroll parity issues and by the time the teams resumed play they did so under the weight of a hard salary cap. In The New NHL teams are forced to make difficult decisions not because they lack the dollars to spend, but because they lack the cap-room to spend. As a result, all NHL GMs are faced with the same problem that plagued Beane. Every dollar spent on one player precludes a dollar from being spent on another.

...the singular most important concept is trumped by the singular most-important requirement by nearly all NHL teams.

One team that ignores both of these requirements in favor of two more important qualifications is the Montreal Canadiens. For the Canadiens, the most important qualifications are provenance and language. The french-language requirement for coaching and managing in Montreal is well-known, and it's driven by both political will and media hype. But adding this additional requirement to the job description comes with a heavy price, a severe depletion of the coaching and management pools.

In NHL history, 12% of all players have come from the province of Quebec. If we assume that all hockey players to have played high-level professional hockey in North American follow a similar birthplace distribution compared to the players who have played in the NHL, and we assume that francophone players are limited to Quebec, the Canadiens eliminate 88% of all possible candidates in the hiring pool. It's clearly a rough estimate as it doesn't include border towns like New Liskeard, Haileybury and Ottawa, places or origin for bi-lingual players. I argue in the linked story above that limiting the hiring pool to ex-NHL players is a bad idea, limiting that pool by another 88% is a bad idea, ad oculos.

This impacts the Canadiens in different ways. Though the longest-serving General Manager in Canadiens history, Frank Selke, was not a native Québécois, every GM since was born in the province, except for Bob Gainey, who played for the Canadiens and lived in Montreal for 16 years prior to joining the front office. He was not French by birth, but he was certainly French by experience. When Gainey was fired, he was replaced immediately and without a search by Pierre Gauthier, a native of Montreal. There was no dip into 88% of the hiring pool.

The Canadiens last seven coaches have been Jacques Demers, Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien, Guy Carbonneau, and Jacques Martin. Demers and Martin were experience NHL coaches when they were hired, but between them, the Canadiens delivered five native French speakers in their first role as a head coach in the NHL. Experience didn't matter, language did. It's worth noting that Jacques Demers, admitted he's a functional illiterate. Though he was bi-lingual, he could not read. This is not meant as a joke, but for the Canadiens, speaking the French language was a requirement, reading or writing it was not.

The Canadiens are no longer made up of mostly French-Canadian players as they were in the territorial rights days. In fact, this year's team is made up of 2 Québécois, and 1 player each from Belarus, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, 2 from the Czech Republic, and 6 from the United States. Communication with the players and their representatives becomes paramount, regardless of the message delivered by politicians and media outlets. The determining factor should be lingua franca. England's national football team has been managed by a Swede, Sven-Göran Eriksson, and an Italian, Fabio Capello, for 5 of the last 10 years. Jürgen Klinsmann, a German, manages the U.S. national football team. American Bobby Bradley is managing the Egyptian team, despite not knowing the language. He coaches with a translator in tow, something a coach or GM could do in Montreal when dealing with the local media. At the end of the season, it's not the manager's ability to communicate with the media that enables a team to win a Stanley Cup.

Whether it's a German, Swede, American or Albertan, by excluding candidates because they don't speak the language, the Canadiens are impacting their ability to compete. If an NHL team publicly dismissed the idea of drafting or signing 88% of the player pool each year for a non-hockey related reason, fans would riot in the streets. The team would be unable to compete and would go decades without winning a Stanley Cup. Montreal may be doing more harm to the franchise through their extremely shallow candidate pool.