Jack Todd: New owner Péladeau gives Alouettes an infusion of prestige


Overnight, the CFL team took a huge step toward the spotlight, especially with the province’s overwhelming francophone majority.

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In the photograph of the Alouettes’ saviour that appeared in this newspaper, he stands with his arm cocked to throw a football, looking slightly mad.

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​Then again, Pierre Karl Péladeau would have to be somewhat off his rocker to take on this challenge: A franchise struggling to maintain its place in a city owned, lock, stock and barrel, by the Canadiens.

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​Unless you win most of the time, Montrealers are a tough crowd. Worse, the CFL has sagged badly under the leadership of commissioner Randy Ambrosie. A gate-driven league struggles to draw crowds in its three major markets, with only Montreal on the uptick of late — and that to an average crowd of 17,000.

​Mario Cecchini, the most competent team president the club has had since it was reborn in 1996, has been lost to the QMJHL. Cecchini’s careful rebuild was increasing attendance and season-ticket subscriptions, but Péladeau is going to have to find someone of Cecchini’s competence, coupled with Larry Smith’s dazzling salesmanship.

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​Péladeau hinted at his news conference on Friday that he already has his candidate for the job and La Presse identified her as Annie Larouche, who worked for the Alouettes for 25 years and is vice-president of the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Montreal Alliance. Kudos to Péladeau for the selection, but Larouche is untested in a very tough job.

​Péladeau himself, however, starts with several advantages. First, his deep pockets. It can’t hurt to have an owner who doesn’t have to fuss over nickels and dimes.

​Second, Péladeau is not Gary Stern, the bombastic bull-in-a-china-shop minority owner who flaunted his 25 per cent stake like it was his slice of Apple.

​Third, Péladeau is not only French-Canadian, he is one of the three or four biggest celebrities in the province. When my trusty sidekick Zeke Herbowsky broke the news that the CFL was negotiating with Péladeau and no one else, my first thought was that this guarantees publicity for the Als — gobs of it.

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​Overnight, the Alouettes took a huge step toward the spotlight, especially with the province’s overwhelming francophone majority. Péladeau is by default the team’s biggest star, capable of keeping his team in the spotlight simply by owning it.

​Fourth, Péladeau has, through Vidéotron and the Quebecor machine, an opportunity to construct the same sort of vertical monopoly that Rogers and Bell have forged with the Maple Leafs in Toronto — though as sports properties go, the Als obviously don’t approach the Leafs in monetary value or clout.

​Péladeau’s purchase of the Alouettes may, unfortunately, also signal the end of his Nordiques dream. That would be a shame. Some anglos dislike and distrust Péladeau because of his short-lived stewardship of the Parti Québécois — but Péladeau and the Centre Vidéotron in Quebec City represent an infinitely better destination for a hockey team than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s desert farce, an Arizona Coyotes team playing in front of 5,000 fans while acting as a sinkhole for more than US$20 million in dead contracts.

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​It’s not inconceivable that Péladeau’s tenure as owner of the Alouettes could become an audition of sorts for the NHL. If eight other CFL owners can swallow their distaste for Péladeau’s politics, perhaps some future NHL commissioner less obdurate than Bettman will be open to repatriating the Nordiques.

​For the present, we’ll keep an open mind. The Alouettes were desperately in need of a local owner, preferably French-Canadian, with passion and deep pockets. Péladeau checks all the boxes.

​Yes, Péladeau has his weaknesses. But in the CFL galaxy, he is a superstar, a charismatic billionaire with a chequebook and a plan. We wish him luck.

​When losing is winning: General manager Kent Hughes could scarcely have drawn a better blueprint for the Canadiens in the month of March.

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​Stay competitive in every game. Play the kids. And lose as many as possible.

Going into a Monday night’s battle against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre, it’s playing out beautifully, with the Canadiens sitting fifth in the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes.

Heavily bolstered by the forward corps from Laval, the Canadiens are fun to watch. They’re fast and fluid. They battle. With one of the toughest schedules in the league to wrap up the season, they aren’t picking up unnecessary points. They won’t be favoured in the draft lottery, but they will have a shot at Bedard and, with one of the best draft classes in years, anything in the top five will do splendidly.

Karma comes around: Having freed his team of the burden of a winning coach in Wilfried Nancy, Joey Saputo can sit back and enjoy the result for CF Montréal:

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​Three games. Three losses. Zero goals. Zero points.

​Leading directly to our zeros.

​Heroes: Alex Belzile, Michael Pezzetta, Rem Pitlick, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Mike Matheson, Marie-Ève Dicaire, Steven Dubois, Gary Lineker, Bud Grant, Martin St. Louis, Jake Allen &&&& last but not least, Kent Hughes.

Zeros: Tony DeAngelo, Michael Bunting, John Tavares, the NHL department of player safety, Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Joey Saputo, Claude Brochu, David Samson, &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

​Now and forever.



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