Habs icon Cournoyer says Molson must leave hockey decisions to GM

Habs icon Cournoyer says Molson must leave hockey decisions to GM
Yvan Cournoyer, one of the greatest players ever to wear a Montreal Canadiens jersey, weighed in this week on the controversy surrounding the management of his former team.

The Habs have had a rough couple of years under the management of team owner and president Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin, only making it into the playoffs once in the past three seasons. The year they made it into the post-season, in 2017, they were eliminated in the first round.

Some have suggested one potential solution is to appoint a president of hockey operations, to allow Molson to focus on non-hockey matters. Cournoyer, who won 10 Stanley Cups as a Canadien, said what needs to be done is to establish a clear division of labour between Molson and Bergevin.

“Geoff Molson is the owner,” said Cournoyer, in an interview Wednesday, at a press conference held to announce the building of a skybridge between the Bell Centre and the Tours des Canadiens 2 and 3 on the other side of St. Antoine St.

“He’s got somebody to work for him,” Cournoyer said. “He can take some (non-hockey) decisions, but the hockey decisions should be taken by Marc Bergevin. I (think) the people should leave Geoff alone because if he tries too much to do Bergevin’s job, that’s bad. He should have confidence in the people he’s hired. He’s not the GM.”

Cournoyer’s 10 Cup wins is second in National Hockey League history, trailing only his teammate Henri Richard, who won 11. Cournoyer is tied for the number of Cup wins with Jean Béliveau. Cournoyer, who is known as the Roadrunner in recognition of his incredible speed, is near the top of the all-time list for almost every stat for Canadiens players. He’s fourth in terms of goals scored (428), eighth in assists (435), sixth in terms of points (863), and ninth for games played (968).

He was captain for his last four years with the team and the Habs won four consecutive Cups when he was wearing the C, though he only played 15 games his final season, in 1978-1979. He was forced to retire due to a back injury.

Cournoyer, along with fellow 1970s Habs great Guy Lafleur, is an official paid ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens. Cournoyer said he supports Bergevin’s much-debated decision to trade captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights. In return, Montreal received forward Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick at the 2019 draft. On Monday, Vegas announced that Pacioretty had signed a four-year, $28-million contract extension that will take him to the end of the 2022-2023 season.

“We didn’t win the Stanley Cup the past two or three years, even though we kept Pacioretty,” said Cournoyer. “He wanted $7 million for four years. It’s better you have two or three guys coming now and in five years, (the team) will be at the top. Not one guy. Five guys. Last year, it was really tough for the players. It was really tough for the spectators. It all goes together. When you win the Stanley Cup, you have to have a good team, a good coach, a good GM, everything has to be good. So I think maybe it’s reconstruction. We’ve never done that before. But it’s been 25 years since we’ve won the Stanley Cup. So maybe it’s time to try something else. If we want to go further and not just make the playoffs and lose the first series.”

There is too much focus on the captain, according to Cournoyer.

“People put too much emphasis on the captain,” he said. “The guy is human. He’s just a hockey player. And it’s not one guy on the team who’s going to win the Stanley Cup for you. It’s the whole team.”

Cournoyer knows there’s lots of negativity around the team, but he believes you have to remain optimistic.

“The day you’re not going to believe, you’re finished,” Cournoyer said. “The day you quit, you’re finished. Never quit. That’s why we won all the time. … It’s very tough today to build a team for a long time. Look at Toronto and what they did last year. They were supposed to win the Stanley Cup last year and they went only one series in the playoffs. I hope they’ll be back because I like Original Six teams. But you never know. Today the playoffs are long. Four series.”
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