Three of the four coaches in the Stanley Cup Playoff conference finals have some things in common. Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Guy Boucher, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien and Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault were all, at one time, coaches in the Montreal Canadiens' system; the latter two coached the Habs, while Boucher coached in the AHL.
They also all speak English and French; which is probably why they were in the employ of the Montreal Canadiens to begin with.
The Anglophone/Francophone political issue with this franchise is neither a mystery nor breaking news, but continues to color every personnel decision the Canadiens make. For example, when Brian Gionta(notes) was named the 28th captain in team history last summer, the press materials didn't mention he was only the second U.S.-born player to wear the 'C' for Montreal and Gionta ended his message to fans by speaking French.
After 11 years, Pierre Boivin is leaving this week as president of the Canadiens. In a great chat with Dave Stubbs of the Gazette, he went into a detailed analysis of the cultural obstacles and political hot potatoes the team faces, including the endless outcry for increased francophone representation on the roster and in the front office.
All of which, he said, leaves the Habs "severely competitively disadvantaged."
"If you had a star francophone player, nobody would be counting. You could have two - a star and a fourth-liner, and everybody would be happy. If you don't have the star, then they want seven or eight, because it's all about sense de partenance (sense of partnership).
If it's a star, a Maurice (Richard), a Jean (Béliveau), a Guy (Lafleur), a Patrick (Roy), that's all they need to feel the cultural and linguistic connection. If they don't have the star, they want a whole bunch (of francophones) because one day they hate them, the other day they love them."
And that's how you get an endless cycle of Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors.
But where Boivin is most enlightening is in his discussion of the language issue and management, from the GM office to the coaches' room, where he said the need for bilingual hires is a detriment. From the Gazette:
"There's one general manager in the league this year who speaks French and he's in Montreal. If Pierre Gauthier gets hit by a bus, what does (team owner) Geoff Molson do? Every other team says: 'There are 29 others out there, how many contracts are up?' Thirty assistant GMs might be prepared to step up, like a Steve Yzerman (in Tampa), and then there's 30 AHL managers.
"So they have a pool of 90, (even if) not all are good or are available. We have a pool of three, four, five maybe? Sometimes none? It's the same thing with coaches. And that's a huge disadvantage when human capital is your most important asset. So we have to groom them."
The Yzerman example really brought it home: That some of the best and brightest managerial talent are summarily disqualified for this gig due to politics and language.
This is a completely glib comparison, but could you imaging Nashville passing on Dave Poile because he didn't have a twang? Or Boston only hiring guys with the "Hah-vahd Yahd" accent? The Bruins' choices would be Andy Brickley and … Andy Brickley. It's sorta like that.