Picture it: April 11th, 2016. The Canadiens missed the playoffs and Planet Habs was huddled around the TV and social media, hoping the team would announce their plans for wholesale changes. However, most teams, especially the Montreal Canadiens, rarely make bold announcements following such bitter disappointment.
There were no major moves immediately following the end of last season’s disaster. A general manager almost always enters with a five-year plan to mould a team towards their vision to compete for the ultimate prize in the NHL.
Fan bases often embrace change, especially at the beginning. They are full of hope with the promise of something new.
After five seasons with Marc Bergevin at the helm, the Canadiens have yet to reach a Stanley Cup final, let alone win a Championship. The often-heard phrase is, “the honeymoon is over.” In the case of Marc Bergevin, it definitely is over.
This brings us to April 24th, 2017. It was another Bergevin press conference in which the Canadiens season ended too soon. Fans and media alike will dissect what was said. Mostly, it will be a post-mortem to what can only be described as a failed opportunity.
Full marks to the New York Rangers, especially Henrik Lundqvist, for their hard fought, and well deserved victory. Yet, that series was every bit of a winnable series for the Canadiens. They had ample opportunity to score the necessary goals, but lacked the “je ne sais quoi” to capitalize on the ample chances that were generated.
Fans are quick to reach the boiling point when a team fails to reach its expected goals. A first round exit cannot be seen as expected, it is nothing short of a failure for the Canadiens. Bergevin admitted as much in not-so-subtle references when he said, “I didn’t think I was going to be sitting here on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that.”
After last season’s failure, #FireTherrien trend was generated. It didn’t happen when expected but eventually, Michel Therrien was replaced with Claude Julien mid-season. This season’s failure has opened the door to a new social media firestorm with the hashtag #FireBergevin.
Many are still seething from last summer’s trade of fan favorite, P.K. Subban. They see the trade as an example of what they felt was an unnecessary move that led to a failed opportunity to win now. These fans want change, and they want their favourite player back. However, as the saying goes, “you can’t go home again.”
Many become wrapped up in what they want management to do based on the “what I would do is” mentality instead of realizing that, whether they agree with his decisions and approach or not, Marc Bergevin is the general manager. He will be for at least another year, and they need to try to read him and his objectives instead.
A popular complaint about a Marc Bergevin press conference is that he always says the same things. Yes, he does have canned responses. He is like an old poker pro.
Bergevin crafts his message to not give any definitive statements, leaving himself open to multiple outcomes without committing to any. He rarely shows his “tell.” His tell is when he diverts from his canned responses and delivers firm answers.
At the 2016 season ending press conference, Bergevin stated, “Am I trying to move P.K. Subban? No. To move him, it would have to be something special”. A statement that leaves an opening to make a move, one he made two months later.
At the end of this season, he made an out-of-character, unequivocal statement. One that leaves no room to maneuver and provides a sense of direction.
“I never comment on trades, but in this case I will; [the answer is] no.” Bergevin on the possibility of trading Carey Price #gohabsgo
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 24, 2017
Bergevin made statements about scoring, saying, “I think scoring is at a premium in this league”. A statement he makes at the end of every season.
Bergevin addressed scoring last off-season by signing Alex Radulov to a one year “show-me” contract. Radulov showed the league that he is a legitimate top line player capable of producing in the playoffs.
Radulov has been clear that he wants to stay.
“I don’t think you have to wait for first of July,” he said. “You can just take that offer because if it’s everything good, why would you go and look for something better? There’s no point.” – Alex Radulov
Moving into this summer, Bergevin was clear that the feeling is mutual, yet contract term will be an issue for the team as he referenced Radulov’s age on more than one occasion during the press conference. The sticking point will be how to get the two sides to meet in the middle on their targeted goals.
Another uncharacteristic statement was when Bergevin was questioned about Nathan Beaulieu’s progression and plans for his future after ending the season as the seventh defenseman.
“At some point, players have to take ownership. So I’m not going to start blaming our people. At some point, players have to take ownership, know where their game’s at. You tell players this is what you have to work on and until young players realize that it is an issue, they need to get better, they never will. So hopefully this year was a message strongly sent on their play and hopefully they can turn around.” – Marc Bergevin
Normally, Bergevin has carefully-crafted statements to defend and protect his players, hoping to deflect criticism and lessen the pressure. Yet, in this case, he placed the blame squarely on Beaulieu.
This level of criticism has consequences. Will this cause the player to step up or to regress? Does this also signal a shift for management in their future plans making Beaulieu expendable?
In my opinion, Beaulieu will need a change of scenery to have any hope of reaching his full potential, and the comments made by Bergevin point to management having him on the trade block. This seems much more likely when keeping in mind the upcoming expansion draft and the ability to protect only three defensemen, two of which will be Shea Weber and Jeff Petry.
Contrast that approach to the one he took in regards to Alex Galchenyuk. Despite stating that the season was not up to the expectations of both the player and the team, Bergevin remained positive for next season.
He praised Galchenyuk’s willingness to listen and his work ethic. Despite saying Galchenyuk will be played on the wing, he left it open for Galchenyuk’s play to decide where he will lineup stating that Alex is aware of what he needs to focus on to reach his goal.
“Il est concient de les choses qu’il faut apprendre pour devenir cet joueur de centre qu’on veut qu’il deviennent”
“He’s aware of the things that he has to learn to be the centerman we want him to be.” – Marc Bergevin (translated)
The five-year plan has reached its end, and effort and good intentions will no longer be rewarded with praise, only results. The honeymoon is over and management will need to give the fanbase the result it craves.
In Montreal, which has a long history of winning and has not had the success it craves in so long, a Stanley Cup Championship-caliber team is the only result fans will accept. If he cannot deliver on that promise in the near future, there may be a divorce in the Molson family that leads to a new honeymoon with the next suitor.
Edited by Donna Sim