This should come as no surprise, particularly from a team that appointed a former GM to be first-time EVP of hockey operations, and a former player agent to be first-time GM and Bantam. Coach to graduate to the largest NHL platform.
The Montreal Canadiens have a new way of doing things, and Nick Suzuki, the youngest captain in the team’s history, is perfectly aligned with that.
At 23 years old, just a few hundred games in a promising career in the NHL and entering the first year of an eight-year contract worth $63 million, neither Jeff Gorton, nor Kent Hughes, nor Martin St. Louis felt that this extra weight would be too much to carry.
Consider this a huge departure from the old way of doing things.
Their management style is certainly very different,” Canadiens owner Jeff Molson told reporters at the team’s annual golf tournament just moments after St. Louis announced that Suzuki would be flanked by Joel Edmondson and Brendan Gallagher in his new role.
The statement rings true.
Gorton, when appointed to head operations in November, said Canadians would work outside the box. Hughes has embraced the unconventional style since taking over as general manager in January. And St. Louis, in his very short stint as Canadiens coach, has taken on a very modern approach to managing the bench.
Together, they made this all-important decision, approaching Suzuki on the NHL Draft in July and allowing him to take the time to consider all the ramifications before eventually accepting him ahead of Monday’s golf tournament. They have no reservations about it.
“For me, I’ve known him for a few years now and he’s ready, he’s a gentleman, he’s loved by his teammates, he’s loved by his coaches, and that’s just a statement in itself,” he said. “He is young, but I think he is very mature for his young age, and I have no doubts that he is ready to lead the Montreal Canadiens.”
The Suzuki colleagues believe in him, too.
“It’s obviously a huge honor for Nick,” said goalkeeper Jake Allen. “I’m so happy for him. He’s so worth it. I think, probably, if you’ve polled most of the players in the locker room we’d probably imagine he’d be the captain of this team, so I don’t think it’s a huge surprise to many of us. He’s respected. Big in the locker room. He has a great demeanor to be a leader, especially in an organization of this type, really very happy for him. He has such a bright future, and he will lead this team to a good place.”
It’s hard to imagine the previous management would have hired Suzuki at this point in his career.
We can’t say for sure, but given that they didn’t even want to be named a captain a year ago – when Shea Weber could no longer serve in that role and they had a number of experienced leaders to choose from (including Edmundson and Gallagher) – It would be an exaggeration to think that they would entrust such a young player with such heavy responsibilities.
This was the role of Maurice Richard, the role of Jean Bellevue, the role of Henry Richard, the role of Evan Cornuer, the role of Serge Savard, the role of Bob Jenny. They were all deep in the careers of the Hall of Fame and were intimately familiar with the rich history and time-honoured traditions of Canadians before she took over. They were nominated by their teammates – most unanimously because their experience and personality made them the most obvious choices.
It would have been imagined that Suzuki would eventually follow in their footsteps, but that won’t happen soon.
It’s a bold decision. One of many owners and his new management group over the past several months.
“We brought in a lot of new people, and we built our divisions — analytics, exploration, player development, and so much more,” said Molson, explaining the depths of the rebuilding that Canadians had begun as an organization.
The making of Captain Suzuki is an extension of this change of guard.
“It is my honor to become captain of the Montreal Canadiens,” said the London, Ontario-born in French. “It’s a real honor for me, and a privilege. This team is going in a great direction, and I couldn’t be more excited to be and represent the team.
“It means a lot. Just to see the respect that management, colleagues and coaches have for me – I know it’s a big role, but I think I’m ready for it, there is a bright future here and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
If Molson, Gorton, Hughes and St. Louis feel confident in Suzuki’s ability to handle it, it has a lot to do with his poise, maturity, intensity, competitiveness, and yes, that respect he’s earned since arriving with the Canadians via a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.
The kid collected 49 goals and 143 points in 209 regular season games and was the most productive in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He did everything equally, always rising to the occasion when the occasion called for it, and Hughes said it became clear, speaking to his Suzuki teammates throughout last season, that he was the man for the job.
“He’s very mature,” Gallagher confirmed. “He is a young player, but he is very mature. I think the most important thing is that he is respected by everyone in that locker room and he is the heart of our team.”
Having Suzuki already experience so much – such dramatic ups and downs in such a short period of time in Montreal – and that he has such exemplary leaders (like Webber) to learn from them will only help him.
“I think we went through a lot of my first three years — going to the Stanley Cup Final and finishing last,” he said. “There were a lot of highs and lows and a lot of learning experiences, and I think I was able to handle every situation really well and lead by example. I think it’s a privilege to put that pressure on you, we want to win hockey games, and that’s the biggest reason we are here.”
It will take time for this group, who is young and probably two years away from entering their competitive window. There will be heavy blows, heavy losses, and stifling pressure to deal with along the way.
But Canadians are betting that Suzuki can handle all that and thrive – even at this early stage of its development – and it’s quite emblematic of how they think and operate.
It’s different. So refreshing.