Montreal Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson Says It’s All About Respect

By Harry Dole


P.K. Subban Montreal Canadiens
P.K. Subban of Montreal Canadiens plays roll of basketball fan during NHL lockout. Tom Szczerbowski – USA Today Sports Images


While making the rounds at the annual Bell Centre Blood Drive, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson was interviewed by Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, where Molson said, quite frankly, a whole lot of nothing.  Due to NHL owners being muzzled during the lockout like wild rabid dogs (a rather apt description for some of them), Molson has been pretty much relegated to damage control public relations duty for the league.  Since the younger Molson is one of the cooler owners in the league, one can see why he is being used in this capacity by the league.

The muzzle in itself is rather odd, since Molson is the owner of one of the handful of profitable teams which are keeping the league in business.  One could more easily understand Molson’s deafening silence if he owned one of the lame unsustainable American teams commissioner Gary Bettman has burdened the league with.  But the owner of the powerhouse Habs to be silenced that easily?  What exactly is going on here?  This is the NHL though, a second rate sideshow league where very little makes sense to begin with.

Getting back to Molson, he did say two things in the interview which require some additional scrutiny.  Hey, don’t blame me for splitting hairs here, but locating compelling material to write about during this work stoppage is as about as easy as finding a good hair day for Donald Trump.

Molson stated, “Gary’s (Bettman) in charge and doing a good job”.  This softball toss may be a little too easy to rip apart, so let’s swing for the fences on the first pitch.  Aside from thirty owners, who exactly is Gary doing a good job for?

Bettman’s employment file contains three major work stoppages in seventeen years, during his non-distinguished stay with the NHL.  Due to perpetual labor relations issues, there comes a point where Bettman’s motive and competency must be questioned.  Although the product is there, it has been greatly degraded and diminished under Bettman’s tenure.

The beleaguered commissioner may be doing a good job for the owners, but for the fans, his shot from the point isn’t even coming anywhere near the net.  Bettman’s image is complete crap right now – and if people think that does not affect the image of the league, they are living in a fantasy world.  As always, credibility starts from the top.  And for the league to put a weasel like Bettman as their front man speaks volumes.

How about Bettman’s decision to expand into suspect American Southwestern markets for television revenue; cities which have as much chance of sustaining NHL teams as Scott Gomez has of scoring a goal?  Would the league be in such financial disarray and continue hitting up the players for concessions, if not for this ill-advised expansion?  Why are Glendale, AZ taxpayers paying for a team which could have been sold for nearly a couple of hundred million bucks in cold cash a few years back?

One can hardly call getting the players, fans and taxpayers to pick up the tab for ownership’s bad investments, “a good job.”  But since Molson is an owner looking out for the bottom line, he apparently is analyzing Bettman’s work from his side of the fence and certainly not from the fans’ side.  He is treading on precarious ground, considering there is an inherent conflict of interest, even in the best of times, between being an owner and being a fan.

And since we are talking about the NHL’s failed All-American expansion policy, how about Bettman throwing hockey’s greatest ambassador, Wayne Gretzky, under the broken down Phoenix Coyotes team bus in the Glendale, AZ desert dog fiasco?  Has Bettman done a good job there as well or does a questionable move like that just end up damaging the reputation of the sport even more?  If this is how Bettman and his clusterfunk of a clique feel about the greatest player in the game, imagine how they feel about the rest of the players in the league?

The other comment of interest attributed to Molson in the interview was, “If there are fans out there who think for a moment that I don’t respect them, hopefully they understand that I do.”  If only it could be so easy to gain back the fans’ loyalty.  Let’s dig a little deeper and see how much respect is actually being dished out here, not by Molson per se, but by NHL owners as a collective.

Molson is part of a group of owners, who once again have taken the game away from the fans, due to their own business concerns.  Regardless of how Molson feels personally about this lockout, he is guilty by association, so the fans are not really feelin’ it…not feelin’ the r-e-s-p-e-c-t… certainly not at this point.  Maybe he can play some Aretha for the fans when the games resume.

And by keeping quiet, it shows Molson is complicit with what the owners are doing, although he would explain it as “not interfering with the process”.  Sounds like he was ordered not to interfere.  If you are a Canadian and you cannot speak your mind about hockey, you are losing people’s respect, not gaining it.  If there is anything Canadians are over-opinionated about, it is hockey.

The Canadiens also have some of the highest ticket and beer prices in the league.  Molson is maximizing his profits because he has a team which is in very high demand.  The Habs can put the Hanson brothers from the movie ‘Slapshot’ on their top line and still sell out games. Again, is this showing respect for your fans or is it taking advantage of their passion for the game?  One can say Molson respects the fact that Montreal fans will continue to pay top dollar for NHL hockey come hell or high water.

Sorry, but the cynic in me is having a bit of difficulty buying Molson’s plea.  After three lockouts in seventeen years, most grown up hockey fans have earned the right to be cynical.  If anything, Molson is just performing damage control 101 for the league by giving the more gullible fans some lip service.  As they say, talk is cheap.  And with the muzzles in full force, we are not even getting the cheap stuff.

Those who know Molson personally say he is nothing like the Bettmans, Jacobs, Sniders and other individuals who keep taking the fans for granted.  Is this enough to give him a pass and the benefit of the doubt?  Oh well, we understand…somewhat…since the hardliner guys have Molson pinned up against the boards with little wiggle room.  Bettman and this ownership group has made it literally impossible for more moderate owners to show any respect toward their fans.  This was obviously by design from the start.

By trying to smooth over relations with mostly indifferent and apathetic fans, in this “respect”, Molson is the one who really has to do a little more than “a good job.”

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