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WHAT THE PUCK: Stéphane Richer is right to blast Canadiens' management

 Former Canadiens Chris Nilan, left, and Stéphane Richer were on hand at the Canadiens’ annual golf tournament on Sept. 9. Richer says Habs brass does its best to keep alumni away from current players.
Former Canadiens Chris Nilan, left, and Stéphane Richer were on hand at the Canadiens’ annual golf tournament on Sept. 9. Richer says Habs brass does its best to keep alumni away from current players.

Montreal's last 50-goal scorer alleges that the organization muzzles its players and tries to keep Habs alumni from meeting them.

MONTRÉAL, Que. —

Why is it that the Montreal Canadiens organization is so intent on keeping a Berlin Wall between its players and the rest of the world?

This sorry state of affairs has existed ever since Bob Gainey took over as general manager in 2003, but it has gotten worse in the Marc Bergevin era, as was made clear over the past week with L’Affaire Richer.

Stéphane Richer, the last Hab to score 50 goals in a season, went public last week with some complaints about Canadiens management, saying they do their best to keep Habs alumni away from the current players. He also said management tries to make sure the players are tight-lipped when it comes to talking to the media.

The outburst came after Richer met 21-year-old Canadiens defenceman Victor Mete at the Habs’ official golf tournament Sept. 9. Turns out Mete had no idea who Richer was and was surprised when he saw the former Hab signing hockey sticks for fans.

Richer twice scored 50 or more goals for the Canadiens — once in 1987-1988 and again in 1989-1990. He won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and won it again in 1995 with the New Jersey Devils. In the days that followed the golf tournament, Richer talked publicly about how Bergevin was openly hostile to former Habs turning up in the Canadiens entourage.

Richer told a story of being invited to the press box at the Bell Centre one night. He said Bergevin gave him a funny look and that he had to go over to the Canadiens GM and tell him not to worry, that he wasn’t looking to find a scoop. Richer went on to say that the Canadiens players today are afraid of the media, a climate fostered by all-controlling management.

“The players are all afraid to talk,” Richer said.

Late last week, Paul Wilson — senior vice-president of public affairs and communications for the Groupe CH Club — told Benoît Dutrizac on Québecor’s QUB Radio that it’s not true that Habs management tries to control what the players say.

“We don’t want to control the messages,” Wilson said. “When Carey Price said he wanted to win the Stanley Cup quickly, that was a message he was sending to management and honestly no one told Carey Price what he was allowed to say. Same thing with Shea Weber or Brendan Gallagher. These guys talk when they want to.”

But there is a problem and it speaks volumes about the corporate culture surrounding the CH over the past couple of decades. Hockey reporters here have a much easier time gaining access to management and players from the 30 other teams. It really started with Gainey, who started putting up barriers between the journalists and the players, notably by banning the reporters from travelling on the same flights as the players.

After the disastrous 2017-2018 season, Canadiens president Geoff Molson promised the organization would have a new transparency and it’s true that Wilson, who took over as head of communications in May 2018, has made efforts to be more accessible to the media.

But the fundamental culture hasn’t changed. The bottom line is the CH brass want to control the media because they’re afraid of the impact of what we write and say. And that’s wrong. The team’s management also lives in fear of players who speak their mind, both alumni like Richer and Guy Lafleur, and players like P.K. Subban.

Why be afraid? The Montreal Canadiens are a powerful entity, one of the greatest franchises in hockey and far and away the organization that receives the most media coverage in Quebec. And most of that coverage is relentlessly positive, in part because many of the outlets covering the team have commercial ties to the Canadiens.

The other thing is Bergevin and his colleagues should welcome with open arms the presence of former Habs greats and do everything possible to let them interact with today’s players. Imagine how great it would be for Mete to sit down with Larry Robinson and have a chat about the glory years of the Habs in the ’70s. Do you think it would be a bad thing for inconsistent winger Jonathan Drouin to have a coffee with the Flower, who undoubtedly would have some great tips about how to snap out of a scoring slump?

Last but not least, someone in the Canadiens’ communications department should have told Mete who Richer was. Hey maybe the two could’ve hit it off better together and maybe Richer could’ve offered some insight as to how Mete could break his career-long NHL scoring slump. Richer had 421 NHL goals to his credit when he hung up his skates. Mete has yet to find the back of the net in the big league.

bkelly@postmedia.com

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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