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Canadiens owner sees 'brighter' future, eager to end Stanley Cup drought

Molson reflects on decade at helm in interview with NHL.com

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said he is thrilled about the possibilities for his team this season and a few seasons beyond that.

"I'm really excited about the next I'll say three to eight years," Molson said this past week. "Because of the core group we have, the newcomers and the really newcomers, I think we're going to have a good team. Anything can happen. Injuries can happen, but if all things are equal, we're going to have a good team on the ice. …

"We've made additions to the team, a couple subtractions here and there, and the core group that did well, way better than we expected last year, is coming back hopefully with a little more fire in their bellies."

Personnel changes this offseason include the arrivals of defenseman Ben Chiarot, forward Nick Cousins and backup goalie Keith Kinkaid, who each signed as a free agent in July, and the departure of sparkplug forward Andrew Shaw, who was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on June 30.

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Molson is entering his second decade as owner. On June 20, 2009, it was announced that the consortium Molson led had reached agreement in principle to buy the Canadiens, its Bell Centre home and a concert/entertainment promotion company from U.S. businessman George Gillett Jr.

The deal was approved by the NHL Board of Governors on Dec. 1, 2009, three days before the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens' birth. It put the League's oldest and most storied team back in Molson family hands for the third time since 1957.

Eleven of the Canadiens' 24 Stanley Cup titles have been won under Molson ownership, the most recent in 1993, also Montreal's last championship. The current owner has been a fan since his youth, when he'd hang around the Montreal Forum with his father, Eric, then the chairman of team proprietor Molson Breweries of Canada.

With his 11th season as owner five weeks away, the 48-year-old looked ahead and back in an interview with NHL.com, discussing his years at the helm and the pursuit of the Canadiens' 25th championship.

 

Does it seem like you've owned the Canadiens for a decade?

"It's unbelievable how fast it's gone by. I guess that's a sign of really enjoying it. Beyond the occasional period of difficulty on the ice, I haven't regretted for one day doing this because I have so much fun doing it. I wake up every day reminding myself how lucky I am to be in this position. I can't wait for the next decade."

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As the season nears, do you find that, like a player, you can't wait to get started?

"Two years ago (2017-18), we had probably the most difficult season that I've had in 10 years (finishing sixth in the Atlantic Division at 29-40-13, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs and dealing with serious injuries to goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber). You could point to any reason for that, but at the end of the day, we were a team that really underperformed. But from that moment, from the end of that season until today, a lot has changed, most of it for the better.

"I'm really excited about not only the core players who have been with us for a long time -- our group of 'captains': Price, Weber, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry -- but also the newer players -- Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Philip Danault. And the ones under them, the new ones, starting with [Jesperi Kotkaniemi]. Since we had that bad season, the future is so much brighter and it's happened so quickly."

Forward Cole Caufield, selected in the first round (No. 15) by the Canadiens in the 2019 NHL Draft, is joined by (from l.) assistant general manager Trevor Timmins, captain Shea Weber and owner Geoff Molson.

 

Before last season, forward and fan favorite Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for center Max Domi, and forward Max Pacioretty, who had been your captain for three seasons, was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Tomas Tatar and forward prospect Nick Suzuki, this after Price and Weber, your current captain, had suffered through a season of injuries. Despite fans' low expectations for 2018-19, you were in Stanley Cup Playoff contention until the final weekend of the season and finished two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.

"There were a lot of outstanding questions, (but) the stars aligned last year. You could say it was a combination of a lot of things. The players we expected to step up, stepped up. The injured players were healthy. The new players gave us new life. We made a few good trades. We haven't won anything yet, but I'm so impressed with the turnaround and how quickly it happened. I talked to all the players at the end of the season, and everyone was so disappointed that we came this close but didn't make [the playoffs]. They are so excited about coming back this September and building off that. I could see it in all their eyes."

Montreal Mayor Sarto Fournier presents a pair of cuff links to Canadiens great Jean Beliveau at City Hall in October 1958, joined by co-owner Sen. Hartland de Montarville Molson.

 

Twenty-five is a nice round number, and it's been 25 seasons that you've been chasing the Canadiens' 25th Stanley Cup championship. Is it safe to suggest that if you get into the playoffs, anything can happen, as the St. Louis Blues proved last season?

"[In 2015-16], we started the year [10-2-0], and then Carey got hurt and the whole thing changed. Go around the League and take the best player on each team out -- it's hard to make the playoffs because there's so much parity. It was fun to watch the Blues do what they did, that was a great story. But they played Game 7 in the Final against the (Boston) Bruins very healthy and very confident with a hot goalie, all of their stars aligned.

"I go into every season saying, 'Touch wood, stay healthy.' I know the desire and the coaches are there, I know we're going to support the team in any we can to enable their success, but there are uncontrollables. If we'd won one more game last year, we'd have been in the playoffs. I don't use that as an excuse, but what you can say is if we were better overall in this position, or that, maybe we'd have won a couple more games."

Marc Bergevin, Canadiens general manager since 2012, with owner Geoff Molson.

 

In 1957, when Sen. Hartland de Montarville Molson and Thomas Molson bought the Canadiens, Hartland said, "We don't own the Canadiens, really. The public of Montreal, in fact the entire province of Quebec, owns the Canadiens. This club is more than a professional sports organization. It is an institution -- a way of life." You've often spoken about the public trust of owning this team. No matter that the Canadiens are a massive business whose scope your family never could have imagined, is this still a bit of a guiding principle?

"Our internal theme that we don't necessarily advertise but we say to each other is, 'We are the team of the people.' That's an important statement. Times have changed. In the old days, before I was around, we'd hear about players going to a tavern or restaurant and everyone saying hello. It's harder for players nowadays. Media, selfies being taken … it's entirely possible that someone is taking a picture of us having lunch right now. Your privacy is not quite the same as it was. It's harder for players.

"What we want to accomplish is to bring our players as close as we can to our fans because, ultimately, we are the team of the people. The more the fans love and support our team, the better our players will feel performing. It's a high-pressure environment in Montreal, which comes with great exposure and risky exposure as well.

"A guy like Max Domi is made for a market like Montreal because he turns pressure into positive energy and does things that are very impressive in the community. Not only marching in Montreal's (August) Pride Parade, but he's also involved with other efforts, such as diabetes education and support."

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson (l.) and his brother Andrew flank their father, Eric, at Bell Centre looking at a tribute to Sen. Hartland de Montarville Molson, who co-owned the team from 1957-68. Montreal won six Stanley Cup titles during that time.

 

Has there been a single personal highlight in the past decade?

"It's hard to point to just one. The best moments for me are when we win because the whole city lights up. I'll never forget my first playoff experience as owner. We were down three games to one to the Washington Capitals (in the first round of the 2010 playoffs), I was walking across the street and a man in a pickup truck opened his window and said, 'You'd better fix this team, Mr. Molson.' That was the sentiment. Then all of a sudden, we win the series. Then we beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Those are the moments that will stay with me forever, even though we didn't win the Stanley Cup.

"The feeling among our fans and everyone, really, was so powerful that I really want that back. I can offer more food, I can open sports bars, refresh the seats and all the suites, make the lighting and sound and game presentation better, but there's nothing better than winning."

Geoff Molson, owner of the Canadiens since 2009, said of pursuing their 25th Stanley Cup title, 'It is hard for me to have not accomplished it yet.' 

 

How has ownership of the Canadiens impacted you personally, and what drives you every day?

"I put my heart and soul into this every single day of my life. I want to be successful. Not only for myself, but for the fans. I know how amazing it's going to be when we reach the 25th Stanley Cup. I lived it many times in my youth but it's been a long time. A very long time.

"It is hard for me to have not accomplished it yet, but at the same time, over the course of these 10 years I've learned that no longer can you buy a Stanley Cup. You need to build. You need patience, to be able to accept that it's going to be tough and that what you do might or might not lead to greatness. That uncertainty is hard because you want to deliver No. 25 to your fans. There are no guarantees at all. Look what happened this year -- the best team in the League (Tampa Bay Lightning) was swept in the first round (by the Blue Jackets). Imagine if that happened in Montreal?

"The sentiment I hear and feel now from fans, and obviously I see them all the time and I'm not shy to talk to anybody, is very positive. They're really pleased with the changes that have been made and excited about this coming season and the future. It's a good place to be."

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