resim 58
resim 58

As important as it is, the draft is a normal event in the life of a professional franchise. At the Montreal Alouettes, it is exactly this normality that makes the exercise so special this year.

Danny Maciocia couldn’t be calmer. In a press meeting on Monday afternoon, on the eve of the Canadian Football League draft session, the general manager of the Birds spoke about player evaluation, strategies, expectations with regard to his team for the 2023 season. Finally!, you might say.

Because for the first time in months, “all [his] energy and [his] focus” is devoted to football. “To be honest, I haven’t slept this well in two years,” he told reporters. When you are in this state of mind, it is surprising how efficient and productive you are. I had forgotten that feeling. I take full advantage of it. »

It’s barely three years since Maciocia became the Alouettes’ GM. It could be 30 that it would not be much different, so much this period was marked by chaos. The team was sold, put into conservatorship and sold again. After an ordinary 2021 season that ended in a quick elimination, Maciocia spent the majority of the 2022 campaign on the sidelines, replacing head coach Khari Jones, who was fired after just four games.

The tumult peaked over the past winter. For six weeks, the team was “completely inactive”. The uncertainty surrounding the club’s change in ownership has cut off all of its spending power. The leader did not receive the green light until 9 a.m., the morning of the opening of the free agent market, to hire new staff. Even if he considers having “saved the furniture” in the circumstances, the long crossing of the desert has left its mark.

By his own admission, the 18 months leading up to the sale of the team to Pierre Karl Péladeau last March were “very difficult”. “There were more stories off the pitch than on the pitch,” he recalled. This is what we want to avoid. We want to have an aligned, well-managed and healthy team. We are convinced that this is what we will have for the next few years. »

His new boss gives him free rein, he says. And already, the organization seems to enjoy a better reputation. In January and February, Maciocia constantly had to answer questions about the club’s future when talking to players’ agents.

And as the draft draws near? ” Zero. We are completely elsewhere. »

Finally, they said.

As excited as the Alouettes’ staff may be, Danny Maciocia is not overly enthusiastic about the pool of players available this year.

“It’s far from the best vintage I’ve seen since I’ve been in the CHL,” he said. For 20 years, then.

A sufficient number of “very, very good” athletes should make the first round interesting, and even the following ones. But already, “after the second or third round, we will have to be really strategic”, indicated the DG. Which is probably earlier than in the past. Maciocia says he takes “great pride” in finding players in the late rounds who can help the team quickly. He cites the names of Zach Lindley and Brock Gowanlock, eighth-round picks in 2022 and 2020, respectively, who both saw a lot of action last season.

While keeping in mind to select “the best player available” in all circumstances, the GM reiterates the importance of “strategic” choices. For example, players who still have years of eligibility in Canadian universities and who could continue to develop at this level while the Alouettes retain their bargaining rights.

“Strategy” will also be put to use regarding high profile players. Including Quebecers Matthew Bergeron and Sidy Sow, both drafted by NFL teams last week. Will we take a risk with them if there is a real “chance that we will never see them play in the CFL”? We’ll see.

Maciocia was asked about two other native prospects in the province, Francis Bemiy (Southern Utah) and Michael Brodrique (University of Montreal).

A virtual draft conducted over the past few days by TSN analyst Marshall Ferguson saw defensive lineman Bemiy a clear candidate for the Birds with their first pick fifth in the first round. Maciocia is also convinced that the Quebecer is dedicated to “a great career in the Canadian League” and that he will be in uniform from the start of the 2023 season, in Montreal or elsewhere.

The manager was more circumspect about Brodrique, a “very athletic” linebacker he himself recruited from the Carabins a few years ago. “He performed well” at the evaluation camp organized by the league last March, Maciocia simply pointed out.

Regardless of the players selected on Tuesday, we will make sure they arrive in Montreal with “a good attitude”. Because, notes the CEO, “if we have a good locker room, we will have a good product”.

If this “product” can be talked about just for its performance on the field, it will already be a small victory.