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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Montreal Canadiens: Shameful and Destructive 2021 Draft Pick

The first-round selection of Logan Mailloux by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 NHL draft is so shameless, short-sighted and harmful to the organization, that you have to wonder if something is seriously wrong with Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin

Is he on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is he harbouring deep resentments about a real or perceived slight from the NHL, other GMS, or even someone within the Canadiens’ organization? Has he become immersed in a bizarre corner of the online world like so many other people these days? A warped alternate reality of grievances and rage that have roid-charged his world-view and led to an irrational thought process? Is he consciously or otherwise trying to self-destruct?

Whatever the reasons, he has done severe damage to his and the team’s reputation, alienated many fans, and likely increased the suffering of a young woman in Sweden. He will undoubtedly reap real consequences for this ill-advised selection. And scrutiny on his past and future actions will surely increase. 

Why did  Bergevin and the Canadiens slither out from under a rock to make such an unwise choice?

Freakenstein

First, some background. On loan to Swedish hockey club SK Lejon last season, Mailloux committed  a sex-related crime. He took a non-consensual photo while engaged in an intimate act with an 18 year-old woman, then distributed the photo online, without her consent, in a group chat with team-mates. He also attached one of her social media profiles to the photo in the chat, revealing her personal details. The woman learned of the incident and contacted the police. Mailloux, seventeen at the time, admitted his crime, was found guilty, received a summary conviction and was fined. The unnamed victim has stated she does not feel Mailloux is remorseful. 

But some of the facts still seem a bit murky. For example, the status of the posted photo is unknown. Any of the individuals in the group chat could have disseminated the photo more widely or saved it to distribute at a later date. Regardless, the psychological effects will be immense and long-lasting for the young female victim. Her reputation has undoubtedly been damaged. 

The news was known by many, or perhaps all, thirty-two NHL teams shortly thereafter. He was interviewed by some of those teams, ignored by others and put on no-draft lists by at least eleven teams. The news didn’t break publicly until a few weeks ago. Mailloux made a public announcement only days before the 2021 NHL draft claiming that he didn’t want to be selected. It was all scripted PR boilerplate, of course. An expedient, self-serving decision no doubt, but the effect of losing a year would have at least been something. Especially considering the long-term effects the crime will have on his victim. 

And then, inexplicably, Marc Bergevin selected Mailloux in the first round, thirty-first overall. Since that moment, it has been a surreal psychodrama starring the po-faced Mailloux and the shameless Bergevin. 

This pick was wrong on so many levels.

The biggest problem is the crime was committed less than a year ago. If you commit a crime like this and suffer no consequences aside from the fine and negative publicity, it sends a very bad message. If you are rewarded so soon after the crime, it sends an even worse message to fans, other young hockey players and anyone who has been victimized in a similar way. But the complete lack of sound judgement didn't end after the selection.  

The actions of the Montreal Canadiens since the controversial pick have been cringe-worthy at best. Shortly after Bergevin announced the pick, an emotionless Mailloux starred in a freakish press conference, during which he read from a head-up-the-ass, cack-handed script, surely prepared by one of the most incompetent PR hacks in history. An intoxicated ape with a Ouija board could have produced something with more empathy. Instead, the focus was on Mailloux and his 'journey.' He didn’t utter the word ‘crime’ once, and repeatedly referred only to a ‘mistake.’ I imagine those close to the victim, and perhaps the woman herself, would like to perform some ‘mistakes’ on a few people’s skulls with blunt objects. 

Mailloux has not faced any real consequences for his crime. And the Montreal Canadiens endorsed that reality when they went against his published wishes not to be selected. When the doppelganger for a young Frankenstein’s monster (but lacking a similar level of emotional development) deflected questions about the Canadiens ignoring his request not to be drafted this year, he removed any doubts about the sincerity of that initial request. Then he was asked if he knew the pick was coming and dodged that question, too, instead offering a weasel-word response. 

The fallout from this decision will be greater than having been pressured to wait a year to be drafted. All it would have taken for that minor inconvenience to become a reality was for all thirty-two teams to honour that request. Now the rightful criticism will ramp up a thousand fold and the scrutiny on the person who did the crime and the people involved in the draft selection will increase. 

Just as important, the Canadiens and specifically Marc Bergevin, have aligned themselves with some invincibly ignorant people. The people supporting the first-round selection don’t have much to say aside from empty clich├ęs. They don’t provide a shred of nuance or even reference the specific details of the crime. The irony is that the loudest, most shamelessly dismissive will do more harm  than good to their young hero. And yet Bergevin and the Canadiens have seemingly embraced this kind of idiocy. They spoke of a ‘plan’ for Mailloux, but when pressed they gave no details. They referred to ‘his journey’ as if all that matters is how Mailloux can turn this into a positive experience for himself. In choosing equivocating, dismissive words, they have elevated this colossal blunder to a whole other level. 

Let’s do away with all this nonsense about character, shall we? All sports teams pay tribute to past victories and legendary players. But everything is about degrees. The Canadiens really play up that angle. As the oldest NHL franchise, they do have a lot to be rightfully proud of. And they are very quick to reference their standards of character and conduct. But for the current iteration of this team, it’s no longer going to mean a whole helluva lot. Stop coasting on the reputation of the past and show that all this self-congratulatory nonsense is more than just words. 

The current owners and management seem to think having legions of loyal Canadiens fans means the team is immune from backlash. But you should never take that kind of loyalty for granted. The pick and accompanying behaviour adds up to a very repellent degree of arrogance. This may have more tangible consequences than Bergevin or any of his flunkies thought possible. And that’s what it’s really all about. When something doesn’t touch you directly, it’s easy to be dismissive. 

If the crime had hit closer to home, the Canadiens would not be so cavalier. A case occurred last year that may serve as a good analogy. A veteran reporter for the New Yorker magazine was caught ‘pleasuring himself’ on a Zoom call with colleagues. Apparently he’d been flashing back and forth to another screen where he was engaged in some kind of seedy interaction with a sex worker. He was promptly fired when the story leaked. His conduct wasn’t even criminal. So why this analogy? After all, he’s over 50 and should know better. Besides, the worlds of sports and journalism are far different.

Here’s the point: if a young NHL prospect did the same thing, he would rightfully be released outright by the team that had drafted him. Why? Because the fallout and shame would be immediate and in close proximity to the team. It’s easy to dismiss the seriousness of the crime committed by Mailloux because it occurred half-way around the world. But most importantly, it didn’t directly affect Bergevin and other Canadiens executives who signed off on the selection. When you don’t have the capacity to feel empathy, you’re a poor choice for GM of such a high profile team.

Look at it from a more self-serving angle: even if you’re a mule unable to empathize and show respect towards the victim and instead announce ‘proudly’ that her victimizer is worthy of joining your team eight months after the crime, how much damage are you going to cause the organization? How about the current roster of the Canadiens? How do players like Carey Price feel? This bizarre move by Bergevin stole the spotlight away from important comments Price made about residential schools just a few days before the draft. 

Everyone now knows about one of the most horrific episodes—which lasted longer than a century—in Canadian history: residential schools. The devastating treatment, including sexual abuse, suffered by generations of Indigenous children in those schools is made far worse by an unpleasant truth: very few, if any, individual people have ever been held to account for those crimes. Obviously more severe and horrible by many degrees of magnitude than what I’m discussing here. But it’s in the same sick wheelhouse of destruction and avoiding consequences.  

It's hard to fathom that the clowns who made this selection can't comprehend what all the fuss is about. Marc Bergevin has been derided for many years as one of the worst GMs in the NHL. That was before the Canadiens' amazing playoff performance that ended a few weeks ago. But the goodwill the team and Bergevin earned during the run to the Cup Final has been wiped out for many fans. 

Simply declaring that something is not a serious matter does not make it so. An interesting thing about pressure is that it can never be fully resisted. The selection of Logan Mailloux is a destructive move that will haunt Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens for many years to come.

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