Marc Bergevin has had a whirlwind career as general manager (GM) of the Montreal Canadiens. He’s made mistakes; he has – subjectively – sat idle when he should have been adding pieces, and he has proved he is very good at making trades and managing assets. However, during his eight-year run as GM, he has done one thing consistently the entire time: divide the fans.
This offseason, though, he may have pulled off all the right moves and reunited that fan base by spending to the cap and filling holes he long left unfilled. One of my first articles for The Hockey writers was about how Bergevin divides the fans with some of his moves – or lack thereof, but with what he has done this offseason, it would seem that he might have mended bridges and brought the fans back together.
The First Five Years
To understand the love/hate relationship between the fans and Bergevin, you have to start at the beginning. Bergevin was hired in 2012 after a disastrous season where Pierre Gauthier’s Canadiens finished fifth in the division with only 78 points and would end up drafting third at that summer’s entry draft. Gauthier was let go, Bergevin hired, and a new era was to begin.
From the beginning, Bergevin believed the team had a good nucleus and the building blocks to make a great team. You could argue for the first five years of his tenure, the team with that core was good, but not great; they relied heavily on their superstar goaltender Carey Price. Price, who helped lead the team to four playoff appearances, three division titles, and one Eastern Conference Final.
You would think when you are winning, things would be good, and everyone would be happy, but that wasn’t the case; many fans and media felt Bergevin didn’t build on the core he had. He first had rough negotiations with fan-favorite and Canadiens legend Andrei Markov – who never played in the NHL again after parting with the team. Then he completely divided the fans with the trading of P.K Subban, a huge fan favorite and a player who, at the time of the trade, Bergevin claimed he wasn’t shopping.
Then came the disastrous 2017-18 season where the Canadiens finished in the bottom five of the league and once again ended up drafting third overall. This would divide the fans further away and mark the beginning of a new era in Bergevin’s tenure.
After the 2017-18 season, Bergevin decided it was time to shake things up and do a retool or reset – whatever you want to call it – and build the team properly. This would mean the Habs team may not be perfect for a few years, with the goal being to make the playoffs without sacrificing any prospects or young players. Many felt that a full rebuild would be the only way to achieve what Bergevin was looking for. Still, in only the second year of the so-called retool, the Canadiens finished just shy of the playoffs with 96 points – the most points by a team in the salary cap era not to make the playoffs.
This almost playoff run give some hope to the fans until last season. The 2019-20 season was yet another disastrous one where the Canadiens struggled all year even to come close to a playoff berth. This divided the fans even further because there was so much hope going into the season. They would finish with 71 points in 71 games after the regular season was cut short due to COVID.
However, as luck would have it, the league would decide to go with a 24 team playoff format, which included a Qualifying Round. The Canadiens would be the last team to make it in 24th place and win their Qualifying Round but lose in the First Round of the playoffs.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
After three seasons of not spending cap money, building up one of the leagues’ top prospect pools, and not sacrificing the future for today, Bergevin finally decided it was time. He went out this offseason and started filling holes in his lineups and spending the cap money to build a team that could very easily compete with the top teams in the Atlantic.
He acquired goaltender Jake Allen, defensemen Joel Edmundson, and forward Josh Anderson via trades and signed them all to long term contracts. He then signed free-agent winger Tyler Toffoli and extended the contracts of winger Brendan Gallagher and defenseman Jeff Petry.
All of Bergevin’s moves this off-season filled holes that the Canadiens had in their lineup; they added a quality backup goalie in Allen, a big gritty power forward in Anderson, a goal scorer Toffoli, and toughened up the defense with Edmundson. He also finally spent to the cap, so much that they may need to move someone to have some wiggle room. Finally, after three long years, the Canadiens fanbase is reunited. The Anti-Bergevin group and the Pro-Bergevin group are finally agreeing that this team looks like it will compete and management is moving in the right direction.
So, after eight years of debating back and forth about how good or bad Bergevin has been the past eight years, the fans can finally look at this team and see not only playoffs but also a possible deep playoff run. Did Bergevin bring the fans back together? Or is it hope? Well, if Bergevin didn’t make the moves he did, there wouldn’t be much hope.