Marc Bergevin is one of the most controversial and enigmatic general managers (GM) in recent Montreal Canadiens’ history. So controversial in fact that he has single-handedly divided one of the most passionate fanbases in hockey. Fans either love him or hate him and there are very few in between.
What makes him so controversial? Mostly how the media and fanbase have reacted to some of his more high-profile moves, and the fact that he holds all his cards very close to the chest. Let’s take a look at why and how he divided one of the greatest if not the most invested fanbase in the NHL.
History and Hiring
Bergevin was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 59th overall in the 1983 Entry Draft. He played in over 1,000 games for eight different NHL teams and won a gold medal with the Canadian national team at the 1994 World Championship.
Upon retiring in 2004, he was hired by the Blackhawks as a scout. After three seasons, he became an assistant coach and in 2009 was promoted to director of player personnel, helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010. In 2011, he was again promoted to assistant GM before finally replacing Pierre Gauthier on May 2, 2012, and becoming the 17th GM of the storied Canadiens.
Related: Top 5 Trades in the Bergevin Era
The first four years were very successful. The team went on to win three division titles and made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons, making it to the Eastern Conference Final (ECF) in 2014. Bergevin was also runner-up to the GM of the year award in 2013. Since then the Habs have missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons and until the season was suspended, were on their way to a third-straight year on the outside looking in.
Starting the Fire
When Bergevin was hired, he was asked how long it would take to turn the team around. He said, he didn’t have a time frame. At the time the Habs had the third-overall pick in the 2012 Draft. The team desperately needed a top-line center, so they picked what was suppose to be the best center in the draft in Alex Galchenyuk.
I don’t have a time frame, but my vision of this team is that it has a good nucleus.Marc Bergevin
Galchenyuk did not end up being the center they thought he was. He was up and down the lineup and never was able to develop as an everyday center. After six seasons where he only scored over 20 goals twice, he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. It was highly rumored that a lot of Galchenyuk’s issues were because his father was so involved in his play, others would say the team rushed him to the NHL and didn’t give him time to properly develop. This would be the first spark in a fire that would divide the fans.
The first time they missed the playoffs under Bergevin happened in the 2015-16 season. The team was off to one of its best starts in years and looked well on its way to another division title. Then tragedy struck when star goalie Carey Price went down with an injury. Many fans and media were not very happy with the way management, especially Bergevin, handled the injury.
Many felt the team knew Price would be out long term but didn’t inform anyone until it was too obvious. On top of that, the only thing the GM did to help the goaltending situation was to acquire Ben Scrivens, who went on to only play 15 games and didn’t help at all. The Habs would miss the playoffs and then Bergevin would make his most controversial move in the summer of 2016.
The Subban Trade
P.K. Subban was a huge fan favorite — his dynamic style and exciting play always had the fans on the edge of their seat. He had won the Norris Trophy as best defencemen in the NHL in 2013 and the hearts of all Canadiens fans. However, behind the scenes, not everything was roses.
There were rumors of tension in the locker room between Subban and a few other players. With rumors swirling of turmoil in the dressing room, trade rumors started. Bergevin stated that Subban was not being shopped and he wasn’t trying to trade the All-Star defenseman.
It’s not even listening to offers is I’m taking calls. When a GM calls me I don’t know who he’s calling me about so I answer the phone. Yes, I’ve received calls on P.K., but I’m not shopping P.K. Subban. I can tell you that.Bergevin on PK Subban trade rumors
Although Bergevin said he wasn’t shopping Subban, on June 29, 2016, only a week after his infamous quote, Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators for NHL All-Star Shea Weber. This left some fans feeling lied too and betrayed, while others excepted the trade and felt it strengthened the defense. Shea still provided the same offense Subban had, just not as flashy. Fans even defended Bergevin by saying shopping a player and listening to offers are two different things. This move created the biggest divide between fans, that the GM might never recover from.
After the Subban trade, Bergevin signed highly sought after Russian Alexander Radulov. He was playing in the KHL and was considered a risky signing, but he captured the hearts of the fans and went on to have a great season.
In the offseason, Radulov and Habs legend Andrei Markov became free agents (FA). Neither signed with the team and many felt that Bergevin was at fault. Radulov went on to sign with the Dallas Stars for five years for $31 million. Bergevin insisted that he offered the same contract but Radulov wanted more from the Habs. The trust in the GM was at a low since the Subban deal and many felt he was just saying he had given the same offer to cover himself. Others believed him and felt Radulov just used the team to get back into the NHL.
Markov, at 38, was looking for long-term stability and asked for a multi-year deal. Bergevin wanted a one-year deal with bonuses that would help Markov get more money. The negotiations were very cold with Markov representing himself and Bergevin giving him a take-it-or-leave-it situation. The treatment of Markov left a bitter taste in some fans’ mouths while others felt at his age he was asking too much. The division only grew bigger.
Trades and Signings
No one can argue that Bergevin can trade — in almost all of his high-profile trades he has come out on top with very few exceptions. Some would argue the Subban trade was hit or miss and the Jonathan Drouin trade was a complete miss, but when all you can do is say two significant trades didn’t work out in eight seasons, then that’s a pretty good record. Even smaller trades at the time they were made became important, like acquiring Philip Danault for two fourth-liners, or Andrew Shaw for two draft picks. Whether or not you hate the GM, you can’t argue his trade record.
With all the good trading Bergevin has done, his signings have been suspect. A lot of fans feel he doesn’t have the selling power to bring high-profile FAs to Montreal. In eight seasons the highest-profile player that has been signed was Radulov. Other than that it’s been mostly third or fourth-liners after the departures of Subban and Markov.
Related: Top 5 Picks in the Bergevin Era
The biggest FA Bergevin signed was Karl Alzner who has spent most of his time being the highest-paid player in the AHL. Fans put a lot of the blame on the GM for not signing better FAs, while the other half argues that the Habs have a history of being snubbed by FAs due to taxes, weather, and the media. The division continues.
Many Habs fans think that Bergevin’s drafting is terrible and if you look at the past eight seasons, the Canadiens have no first-round picks in their two lines. With the early on-ice success, the team drafted in the mid-20s, which makes it harder to get a top-quality player. The other side of the fanbase especially recently has no issue with the drafting. The hope is Bergevin learned from past mistakes of drafting Mike McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and Galchenyuk, and since the drafting has been greatly improved with the likes of Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Mikail Sergachev.
The fans who dislike the drafting would argue that they didn’t draft any top-tier talent in eight seasons and the one they did sign was traded after playing only four games. Others would argue that they drafted the best players available based on team needs and draft position at the time. The last three picks will need more time to figure out where they fit but all look promising.
In the past three seasons, the Habs have been in what management calls a reset. The team thinks they can build for the future while staying competitive, but some fans think that Bergevin is driving by the seat of his pants and has no real direction. Missing the playoffs the last two seasons and most likely this season — depending on how things play out — won’t help his cause.
The other side of the coin feels Bergevin is on the right path to building for long-term success and not just making the playoffs. Since his hiring he has maintained that he wants to build through the draft, which is proved by his hoarding draft picks and not trading high picks for players. Whether this plan works out or not is yet to be determined; however, half the fanbase wants results now while the other is willing to be patient.
Will They Ever Get Back Together?
As anyone can see Bergevin is either loved or hated with very few in between. The team has missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons and with some fans not seeing anything positive for the future. From the trading of Subban to now, the fans who dislike Bergevin will never see much good and want him replaced ASAP. The fans who love him are fine with the reset and moves made, and are seeing the positive in what he is doing — hopefully leading to a successful future.
Love him or hate him Marc Bergevin isn’t going anywhere soon — Geoff Molson is sold on the plan. I think the team is on the right path. It is building for long-term success and not just making the playoffs and being mediocre. The fans who want him gone need to learn that sometimes missing the playoffs for a few years helps the team in the long run, while the ones who want him to stay need to learn that not everything he does is golden and he has made many mistakes.
Bergevin isn’t the greatest GM or the worst. He’s average and learning from his mistakes. The success of the team kept him from starting his reset as soon as he was hired and he didn’t build on what he had. It’s ok to build for long-term success, but there must be a point when you stop building and start adding. If Bergevin waits too long, the division will sway to the side that wants him gone. As of right now, the only way he can bring the fans together is to have this team start competing at a high level ASAP or win a Stanley Cup.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.