Appropriately Marc Bergevin played defense in his 20 year NHL career. He’ll certainly have to call on his defensive capabilities several times during his tenure as Montreal’s GM what with public comments already vilifying the hire of the Habs 17th GM in their history since 1909.
Most of the call-to-arms have been made in the twitter-sphere, which may have never been so aptly named, for twits who are condemning his selection before he mouthed his first bonjour. That being said, let’s take a look at Mr. Bergevin and the GM position as a whole.
By my rough count there has been somewhere in the neighbourhood of 180 GM’s in the history of the NHL. Of that number eighty-four have sat in the cat-bird seat since 2000, a number of them simply switching deck chairs on their various titanic operations still those moves represent roughly 47% of all GM’s since 1917. For a position that should require minimum five years to assert ones game plan, remove pieces that are not part of yours and set up staff conducive to your thinking etc., that’s a tremendous amount of movement. We are used to it from the coaching ranks, we continue to hear the incredible number of moves by teams behind the bench since Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz have assumed the helm in their respective cities, still, by GM standards that’s a massive amount of change and 100% reflective of the immediacy and the transparency of the world we live in today and imagine, that’s taking into account Darcy Regier, George McPhee, Glen Sather and David Poile’s longevity in the position with one team. Can you imagine any fan of the Habs actually criticizing Mr. Bergevin for not having a ‘game plan’ re Scott Gomez during his opening press conference. Surely the sheer idiocy of that can’t just be lost on me.
Let’s delve into Mr. Bergevin’s back ground a bit; a twenty year pro, twenty-one actually if you include a handful of games with Springfield prior to his NHL debut where by the way he was with a Chicago Black Hawk team that made the semi-finals in his first season, albeit he was a spare part that playoff run. Back-to-back Calder Cup championships with the aforementioned Springfield Indians, coached by Jimmy Roberts, himself an eight time finalist and five time Cup winner who would end up coaching Marc Bergevin longer than anybody else in his pro hockey career. Mr. Bergevin also won gold for Canada at the 1994 World Hockey Championships, he was a two-time President Trophy winner, once with St. Louis and once with Detroit, the latter where he made another trip to the semi-finals and among the numerous men he played for in his career were the following names; Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Roger Neilson, Bob Pulford, Mike Keenan, Terry Crisp and Darryl Sutter. Nearly 1200 NHL games, eighty playoff games, fifty-four fights and by all accounts a very well liked teammates on his journey through the pro hockey landscape with twelve teams, eight of them in the NHL. He stayed in hockey after retiring as a player, hired as a scout by the Chicago Blackhawks ( you’ll notice historians always spell Blackhawks differently if you are referencing them prior to or since 1986. It was determined at that time through the original charter that the team name was not separate, however all references prior to have it as two words so we honour that). And later promoted to assistant coach then Director of player personnel which was his role on their Stanley Cup championship team of 2010. He completed one season as assistant GM and obviously interviewed well enough for the powers-that-be to hire him for the most difficult job in hockey and one of the toughest in all of sports.
Mr. Geoff Molson, CEO of the Canadiens started the procedure by announcing former GM and HHOF legend in Montreal, Serge Savard, would be involved in the interview stages with potential candidates. Rumours abound that Mr. Molson’s assistant Kevin Gilmour was also involved in the selection process, he was not. This was a two-man decision that they both unequivocally agreed on in the hiring of Mr. Bergevin. Mr. Savard told me today ( May 6) that the top candidates all interviewed well but that both he and Mr. Molson were fully united on their choice of Mr. Bergevin as the new GM. ” We couldn’t ignore his background,’ stated Mr. Savard. ‘ We felt that Mr BriseBois is still learning the job, he’s doing a great job in Norfolk this year obviously but the decision between he and Mr. Bergevin was a unanimous one. Re Pierre McGuire, Mr. Savard said, ‘ he interviewed, very, very well but again, in our discussions as to who was best suited at this time, we feel we made the right choice.’ Our conversation quickly morphed into various Team Canada 72 Alumni preparations which are upcoming as the group continue to celebrate their 40th anniversary of the greatest series in the history of the sport of hockey but I digress.
GM of the Montreal Canadiens circa 2012 is certainly different from when Mr. Savard assumed the helm in 1983 although no less demanding. You have to surround yourself with good hockey minds. Trevor Timmins who runs Montreal’s player recruitment and development position is an excellent scout and assessor of talent. I’m biased, I’ve known who he was since he played Bantam AA hockey for the Ottawa Valley Titans with several very good friends of mine and I met him formally seventeen years ago when he was first employed by the Ottawa Senators. That being said, you trust your scouts to point you to the right players that your team may be in a position to draft and you assess their relative talents. You need a cracker jack pro scouting operation and in this area as it’s been pointed out by many, Doug Gibson, Vaughn Karpan and Christer Rockstrom are about to get a major facelift and/or additions to their department.
The next biggest decision is player procurement. Find the pieces or attempt to acquire them to build a team that will compete. How in the name of Rocket Richard this team has steadfastly gone with a majority of smaller players up front for the past 6-8 years is mystifying. Obviously we’re in an era when they can compete, we’ve seen that but you need to have them insulated and that’s been both sorely missing and improperly coached and managed in Montreal for the past several years.
The third part of your resume is properly assessing contract length’s. Montreal is now faced with this situation with two of their potential corner-stone pieces, Carey Price and P.K. Subban. How Mr. Bergevin handles these first decisions and the aforementioned Gomez situation will stamp his GM card for life, as unfair or fairly that statement is, he has assumed the job at a tumultuous time in Montreal’s history with the only good news really being, there’s no where but up from 15th in your conference.
The final piece of this jig saw puzzle in Montreal are your dealing with the media, which are a conduit to your fan base. Again, nowhere to go but up for Mr. Bergevin as the ghost, Mr. Gauthier, has thankfully been exorcised out of a city that he didn’t live in anyway, regardless, if Mr. Bergevin’s comic respite and frank responses are a harbinger for things to come this important element of the job will be handled with relative aplomb if steps 1-3 are conducted successfully.
My hopes for the selection of the coach in Montreal are with Marc Crawford. Although their pro hockey relationship was brief in Vancouver, that aside, he is I feel the best qualified candidate to shake up whatever the Montreal roster will look like next season. I don’t see the Crawford hiring as a long term solution but he’s got tremendous experience, he’s very aggressive, his french is passable, he’s in tune with today’s game and I don’t care about what happened more than eight years ago. I feel at this time right now Montreal needs an experienced NHL coach, with all due respect to Patrick Roy who it seems is waiting for the other skate to drop in Phoenix, well, that just might be with a Stanley Cup parade and new ownership scuttling the Quebec City plans. We’ll see, at any rate, I guessed incorrectly on Mr. BriseBois as the next GM, as Mr. Sarvard said, ‘ he’s a lawyer, super smart on the cap and getting his feet wet running pro teams, just wasn’t his time,’ well, perhaps I’ll be wrong on the potential Crawford hiring as well. Either way, never a dull moment in Montreal.