The Bell Center in March hasn’t exactly been a festive place in recent years. In 2020, it was during this month that the pandemic broke out. In 2021, the stands were empty because the matches were played behind closed doors.

In 2022, the Habs were 32 points out of the playoffs as of March 1. Last year ? At 13 points.

Jeff Gorton constantly puts on the brakes when asked about measurable goals for his team. But during a thirty-minute interview with La Presse on Friday evening, he was asked if playing significant matches in March could be one of them. In short, may the Bell Center become a lively place again at the dawn of spring.

Answer: “It’s certainly important. It would be good. “It’s a goal,” said the Canadiens’ executive vice-president of hockey operations.

“But to get there, we won’t stand behind the players and say, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that. “Our approach is more to see what we can do to help them improve. Let’s give them the necessary minutes of play. »

Even if the Canadian concluded the last seasons to applause, Gorton refuses to say that he has no pressure. His club just missed the playoffs two years in a row; In the very likely scenario where CH is excluded again this season, it will be the second time in 100 years that it has missed three years in a row. “We feel this pressure of ‘when’. People are wondering when, when, when. People are angry, but success will come with the improvement of our players. »

You can feel Gorton becoming more animated as he supports his thoughts. Here he starts banging on the table in front of him, imitating an impatient manager.

The objective of playing “meaningful” matches in March remains very timid, that said. This is simply to say that the end-of-season meetings still have a certain stake in the ranking, other than determining the probabilities in the famous draft lottery.

Except that we had before us a man who, three weeks earlier, was talking about the “word that starts with a P” (playoffs, the series) as if it were a goal so distant that it was taboo.

The question of quantifiable objectives arises because before long, important decisions for the future will have to be made. Based on what criteria will they be?

In Laval, Jean-François Houle is completing the last year of his contract (see other text). Martin St-Louis is entering the penultimate year of his contract.

Gorton seemed surprised when the case of his head coach was mentioned. “He still has time, right? You probably think about it more than we do! »

It remains a principle of sound management that a coach’s contract be renewed at least one year before it expires, in order to avoid being perceived as a lame duck. In other words, the coming season will be crucial in determining the continuation of the relationship between St-Louis and the organization.

The Laval resident seems well in the saddle if we trust his boss’s words.

When pressed to specify the evaluation criteria, however, Gorton defers to “growth,” the buzzword at the latest golf tournament. “The growth of the players, the team getting better. »

“Geoff [Molson] put his trust in us to rebuild the right way. This is our plan. Do I feel pressure to win our opening match? No. With a young team, wins and losses are not the only measure. You have to watch the matches. I use the examples of Kirby Dach or Samuel Montembeault, even Mike Matheson, and how much better he played under Martin. Several players blossomed under his command. Cole [Caufield] too. It’s encouraging. They respond to the coach and they haven’t reached their ceiling yet, which is a good sign. »

Those who have nightmares at the mention of a five-year plan, a favorite expression of Pierre Boivin’s reign as president, can sleep soundly: Gorton refuses to lock himself into this straitjacket.

Jeff Gorton is recognized by those close to him for his sense of humor and it served him well when we mentioned an interview that his Coyotes counterpart, Bill Armstrong, gave to The Athletic last December. Armstrong estimated a rebuild could take between 11 and 14 years, based on his experience with the Blues. The latter had obtained the 1st pick in the draft in 2006, the 4th pick in 2008, but won a first round of the playoffs in 2012, and the Stanley Cup in 2019.

Thirteen years to build a champion club, really? “He must have been negotiating his contract extension! »