Ray Lalonde set to take over as Als' president

There are plenty of connections between the NHL and the CFL, and they go beyond just debates about hits and concussions. The Canadian NHL teams in particular tend to have a lot of overlap with their CFL brethren on fronts ranging from competition for fans' dollars to marketing issues and initiatives to combined charitable efforts. Thus, executives often travel between the two sports. The latest one to do so appears to be former Montreal Canadiens' vice-president (marketing) Ray Lalonde (pictured above at the 2010 inauguration of the Canadiens' Hall of Fame, an initiative he developed), who Herb Zurkowsky reports is set to become the next president of the Montreal Alouettes. That role will likely officially be announced at a press conference tomorrow.

Lalonde comes in to this new job with a significant range of applicable experience. As mentioned above, there are often considerable synergies between what Canadian NHL franchises and CFL ones are trying to do from business and marketing standpoints, and that's even more the case for teams in the same city. One of the most important jobs of a team president or a marketing vice-president is courting corporate sponsors, and Lalonde likely already has a substantial network of contacts from his days with the Canadiens. From that perspective, he's the ideal candidate for the Alouettes; even if Lalonde didn't have the natural skill or education of another candidate (and there's nothing to say that he doesn't), his contacts would probably give him the edge. Moreover, Lalonde clearly has a pretty good history of working with those contacts and keeping them happy; he joined the Canadiens in 2001 and was there until January this year, so he must have been doing a solid job.

A team president's role isn't all about corporate sponsorship, either, and Lalonde's other experience suggests that he'll be able to handle its other demands as well. Zurkowsky writes that Lalonde is considered "a marketing genius" and has experience overseeing everything from general ticket sales to luxury suites, digital media broadcasts, arena programs and game production. He was also involved in the Canadiens' 100th anniversary celebrations in 2009, which were well-regarded by many, so it's clear he's got an appreciation for history; that should serve him well in the CFL. From the outside, it's impossible to evaluate just how much Lalonde contributed to any of the Canadiens' successes, but what the team accomplished on a variety of important business fronts (general ticket sales, corporate sponsorship, fan outreach and digital media, to name a few) during his tenure certainly is impressive.

It's also notable that Lalonde has a background in football and other sports as well. He played CIS football for the McGill Redmen during his university days, served as an assistant coach to the legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State and was the director of football operations for the short-lived Montreal Machine (a World League of American Football franchise in the early 1990s). After that, he spent eight years working to expand the NBA's presence in Europe (something which has really blossomed lately) before returning to Montreal to take the Canadiens' job. That's positive on a number of fronts; he's worked with a variety of different leagues and organizations, so he should be able to bring plenty of new ideas to the table, but his football background and extensive time in Montreal means he should have an idea of the specific challenges the Alouettes have.

Of course, the proof is always in the pudding, and Lalonde does have some tough shoes to fill. Larry Smith, the former CFL commissioner who preceded Lalonde as Montreal's last official team president (Paul Harris has been serving in an interim role), may be more famous these days for his seat in the Canadian senate and the somewhat-insensitive remarks he made upon taking that role, but he did accomplish quite a bit during his time with the Alouettes. He led the team from 1997 to 2001 and again from 2004-2010, and was there for their initial move to Molson Stadium (thanks to a 1997 U2 concert). Smith had the vision to recognize the way fans embraced outdoor football, and he was instrumental in the Alouettes' eventual decision to move to Molson Stadium permanently, which may have saved football in Montreal. More recently, he built up critical corporate sponsorships for the team and oversaw the impressive renovations of the stadium.

The Alouettes certainly appear to be in good fiscal shape, and they're in tremendous on-field shape; the 2010 Alouettes were the first team since the 1997 Toronto Argonauts to repeat as Grey Cup champions, and they've already had one of the CFL's best offseasons. Lalonde isn't coming into a crisis by any means, but that isn't going to make his job easy; sometimes, maintaining a strong business can be just as difficult as building one. We'll see if he's able to use his NHL experience to good advantage and keep the Alouettes as successful off the field as they have been on the gridiron.

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