This marks the 10th season that Marc Bergevin has been general manager (GM) of the Montreal Canadiens and the final season of his contract. Without an extension, he’s in a strange position, having to consider the team’s long-term future without knowing his own. The Canadiens cannot afford to have an entire season filled with fans and the media questioning every decision made by a GM who may not be around past this season.
Despite Bergevin’s comments that he is always looking at the long-term future of the franchise, fans must wonder if he will sacrifice some of that to demonstrate to other organizations that the Canadiens can win in the here and now.
New Canadiens Management Structure
There is a new sheriff in town as team owner Geoff Molson, who remains as CEO, has named a new President of Groupe CH. Replacing Molson is France Margaret Bélanger to the position of President, Sports and Entertainment of Groupe CH, which includes the Montreal Canadiens, all hockey operations, the charitable and business branches and the entertainment group Evenko.
Molson has always been vocally supportive of Bergevin, but a new President could affect this dynamic and the decision-making within the organization. One doesn’t have to look any further than the fallout of the Logan Mailloux selection at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft when Molson backed the decision and released a statement in defense of the decision.
We gave Logan a second chance but in doing so, we failed to properly assess the impact of our decision on the victim and on anyone who have suffered in similar circumstances. Once again, I want to apologize to everyone impacted by our decision.Geoff Molson
Even if Mailloux turns into a quality NHL defenceman, the question that can be asked is, did Bergevin choose to overlook the negative optics of selecting Mailloux because he won’t be in a position to be criticized for it in the long run?
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Regardless of Bergevin’s decision, Molson and Bélanger immediately went to work on what has been called damage control by introducing their new Respect and Consent Action Plan. While this is an excellent policy, they were forced to implement it because of a poor decision made by their GM.
Bergevin Earned a New Contract
Bergevin’s team is coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance. His leverage for a raise on a long-term deal has never been stronger. Other NHL GMs with similar resumes have been getting new deals, such as Doug Armstrong, who was signed to a five-year extension by the St. Louis Blues.
For Bergevin, his first five years as GM had some success, leading to a few 100-plus-point seasons and an Eastern Conference Final appearance in 2014, but ended in the disastrous 2017 offseason, which forced the franchise to begin a rebuild. Since then, Bergevin and his staff have done a good job of restocking their prospect pool with quality players at every position, including future stars Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov. In only four seasons, he also found a way to rebuild a core group strong enough to make it to the Final.
That should be enough for him to earn a new deal. But there still seems to be some hesitation. According to Pierre LeBrun, Molson made Bergevin an offer in July, but the two sides have not come to an agreement yet.
Candidate to Replace Bergevin
If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, who will replace Bergevin? In Montreal, there is an added criteria for any management position: bilingualism. During the Canadiens’ golden era, the farm system churned out not just players but coaches and managers who could step into these roles when the organization needed a fresh face. That is no longer the case, and the list of who could fit the role of GM is a short one.
Fans have often suggested that the Canadiens should bring in Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who has managerial experience in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with the Quebec Ramparts. However, the unceremonious way he quit his coaching job with the Colorado Avalanche leaves his ability to handle the pressure in Montreal in doubt.
There is also another Hall of Fame goaltender who might fit the bill, Martin Brodeur. He is a Montreal native, is fluently bilingual, and has several years of experience in management with the Blues and New Jersey Devils. He was also a member of Team Canada’s management team for the 2018 Winter Olympics. His temperament, along with his experience working with rebuilding clubs or those vying for championships, makes him a good candidate to become Montreal’s GM if the position becomes available.
Canadiens Must Make Decision
No possible replacement would be an immediate upgrade over Bergevin, considering where the Canadiens find themselves. Despite the steady stream of problems Bergevin faced during this shortened offseason, including the loss of Shea Weber (to injury) and Phillip Danault (to free agency), the bad press from the Mailloux selection and the perceived mishandling of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s development and subsequently losing him to the Carolina Hurricanes via an offer sheet, he found a way to fill the gaps on the roster in a way that might improve the team in the short term.
There is also the need for the Canadiens to decide the direction the club will take. Leaving a GM in the role for too long without a contract points to him having no future with the organization. In a case like that, fans may see his decisions as being to focus more on the here and now than on the future which could serve the outgoing GM well in a job interview but hurt the team in the long term. This lame duck scenario is one many feel won’t be something Montreal will face for long.
After finally finding some success under Bergevin’s retooling plan, a plan that must continue as players age out and others develop into core pieces as the team needs a qualified GM capable of taking the next step.
Bergevin has always been a controversial figure, who has polarized a rabid fan base, but he has also done enough to earn a new deal. That being said, if he chooses not to sign the contract that has been presented to him, Molson will have to move on sooner rather than later so that the Canadiens can continue an upward trajectory as they work towards their goal of becoming legitimate Stanley Cup contenders someday.