Marc Bergevin was the general manager (GM) of the Montreal Canadiens for nine years and had his ups and downs. He seemed to be very good at making trades but lacked the ability to draw in good free agents.
Although it started out rough, his drafting had been better lately, which it needs to be if he plans on building through the draft. He made mistakes along the way and this is a look at the five biggest mistakes he made.
1. Not Building on the Original Core
When Bergevin became the GM of the Canadiens in the summer of 2012 he had a good, young core group of players like Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, and Carey Price. To help these young players along they had veterans like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, and Josh Georges. The Habs finished near the basement in the 2011-12 season and Bergevin’s job was to build the team to contender status again. He proclaimed he wanted to build through the draft, but the team would win the division in two of the first three seasons he was GM, which made it hard to draft a top-10 elite player.
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Since the team started so successfully, Bergevin wasn’t able to build through the draft as efficiently as he would like. Not only was the drafting mediocre, but he didn’t sign that big free agent that could push his team to be better. It was quite obvious there were several holes on the team, but they were all overshadowed by the play of All-Star Carey Price.
In that time, whether it was due to the success or Bergevin’s inability to attract free agents, he never brought in the right players to replace the aging veterans like Markov, or fill the holes on the offense to help Price make the team a true playoff contender. This has led to a lot of wasted prime years for Price, now in his 30s, with time running out. If Bergevin could have built the team around this original core, they could be closer to being a contender now, if not already one.
2. Not Getting a Top Center for Subban
In the summer of 2016, after claiming he wasn’t shopping Subban, Bergevin traded him to the Nashville Predators for All-Star defenceman Shea Weber. The trade itself was not a bad one — in fact, the Habs gained a great leader and changed the dynamic of the dressing room, but this is still a highly debated trade that didn’t have to be. At the time, Bergevin was still in need of a number-one center, and Subban is a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman who fans want to watch. Bergevin might not have been able to trade Subban alone for a top center, but he could’ve packaged him with a prospect, draft pick, or both and gotten a bona fide number-one center.
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There was a big rumor that the Edmonton Oilers were in talks with the Canadiens for Subban before he was traded to Nashville. The asking price was the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 Draft, center Leon Draisaitl, and either defensemen Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom. This seemed like a high asking price for Subban alone. However, if the Habs added their ninth pick, it could’ve possibly happened.
The Oilers needed a top defenceman and the Canadiens were looking for a top center. Granted, it was unknown at the time how good Draisaitl was going to be, but the potential was there and both teams would have gotten what they needed.
3. The Jonathan Drouin Trade
There are many reasons why Bergevin made this trade; he wanted a francophone star, to improve the offense, and maybe find a top center. When the trade happened in the summer of 2017, Drouin was coming off a stellar playoff run where he scored 14 points in 17 games and finally looked like the third-overall pick that he was after a bumpy first two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Habs needed a flashy forward and Drouin could provide that, with the added bonus of being French Canadian.
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Montreal had been wanting a francophone star for years. The Canadiens were also still looking for that number one center. Drouin had played wing his entire pro career, but did play center with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL.
There’s no doubt we looked at that closely, but at the end of the day Claude will sit down with Jonathan and a decision will be made of what is best for the organization. But we definitely took that into consideration.Marc Bergevin on where Drouin will play
Mikhail Sergachev had played four games with the Habs, registering only 2 shots and 12 minutes of ice time. The ninth-overall pick in the 2016 draft didn’t have a stellar start, but he was something the Canadiens needed at the time — a puck-moving, left-handed defenseman. The team was already thin at defense, especially on the left side with Markov’s’ future unknown. The lack of top defencemen was more of a need than the lack of a french star. Trading Sergachev ended up creating a bigger hole than what the team had before the trade.
Again, overall this wasn’t a bad trade — it just wasn’t the right trade. Management created a bigger issue on what could be considered a PR move. Drouin has shown signs of being a star player but he hasn’t been consistent enough. Meanwhile, Sergachev has improved immensely each year in Tampa Bay.
4. Karl Alzner
The Canadiens were desperate to fix their left-side defensive issues in the summer of 2017. Karl Alzner was the highest-rated defensive free agent on the market and Bergevin signed him for a $4.6 million contract. This ended up being a huge mistake from the start.
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Alzner was 28 years old and already dropping on the depth chart in Washington, to the point where he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. The strong defensive core in Washington disguised the issues Alzner had. As a third-pair defenceman, he can play well; however, the Habs needed him to play top-line minutes alongside Weber.
Alzner struggled from the start, proving it was a mistake by Bergevin to sign him for not only the money but for five seasons. After his first season with the club, he was sent to the AHL to play for Laval Rocket, becoming the highest-paid player in the minors. The pro scouts should have known Alzner wasn’t going to be a top-four defenceman in Montreal, so this was either a mistake by them or Bergevin was blinded by the desperate need for a left-handed defenceman.
5. The Markov Situation
Andrei Markov had built a career in Montreal as a steady, two-way defenceman who won the hearts of fans for 16 seasons. He wasn’t just a fan favorite, but he was also on his way to Habs Legend status, so in 2017 when his contract was up, no one thought he would be leaving the team.
Markov decided to represent himself, and that might have been a mistake for him, but the bigger mistake was the way Bergevin handled it. One of the major sticking points was that Markov wanted a two-year contract while the Canadiens were looking for just a one-year, bonus-heavy contract.
Markov felt very disrespected during the negotiations; he felt that management didn’t want to sit and talk to him, and they gave him a “take it or leave it” type attitude. Bergevin stated they gave him a contract that would have given him the money he wanted through bonuses, but only if he signed for one season and not two.
Either way, Markov — who was only 10 games away from 1,000 in his career, all with the Habs — deserved better. Bergevin seemed to take a very business-like attitude with Markov and didn’t consider his legacy. This could have been worked out better if management just sat down and discussed the future with the Canadiens legend.
What Could Have Been
The biggest mistake was not getting a high-end center for two of Bergevin’s assets in Subban and Sergachev. If he got one for Subban like in the Oilers’ supposed deal, it would have changed the whole dynamic of the team right now. With the number one center, the Canadiens probably wouldn’t trade for Drouin or if they did, maybe not for Sergachev. This fills two holes the Habs currently have — they would have their center and a puck-moving defenceman on the top line in Sergachev.
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Another aspect that probably wouldn’t happen — they wouldn’t draft Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the 2018 draft. Without the need for a center, they would more than likely pick Brady Tkachuk, which fills the third and final hole in the Habs’ current lineup: a power forward. So with just one trade in 2016, the entire dynamic of the team would change, probably for the better.