When Marc Bergevin was hired on May 2, 2012, there was a sense of excitement in Montreal. A hometown guy, coming off Stanley Cup victories in Chicago was coming home to help bring that same success to the Habs.
His first major hire was of course Coach Michel Therrien, who would start his second stint with the Canadiens. Again, no major problems with his hire, at the time, considering he had made Stanley cup appearances and grown as a coach since he had last been in Montreal previously.
Fast forward to 2016, and boy have things changed. Bergevin has shown a lack of competency when it comes to solving the Canadiens issues, which in turn has handicapped Michel Therrien, which now has raised speculation that he has lost some of his players. These were the events that lead to the 2015-2016 Canadiens missing the playoffs.
So how did we get here? Why are the Canadiens going down a tunnel with no light at the end of it? Let’s further examine by trying to get into the mind of the complicated, complex, Marc Bergevin.
The Bergevin Draft Strategy
People may not realize how long Marc Bergevin was in Chicago. He began Chicago when the Blackhawks were going through their rebuild. He was there shortly after Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were drafted. So Bergevin saw firsthand the benefit of drafting well.
In Montreal however, that’s not the way it works. The Habs, (excluding Galchenyuk) have had the pleasure of picking later in the first round in most drafts. Something that Bergevin hasn’t quite understood yet is that you’re likely to get a better player at the top of the first round than the mid-twenties.
His draft strategy seems to say to Hab fans that he doesn’t understand that concept. Sure one year there might be a guy available in the twenties that will make teams kick themselves in later years, but it doesn’t happen often. Instead, Hab fans cringe when the Canadiens continuously pick fringe prospects who “could make the team eventually” or a player with “potential”.
The fact that Bergevin preaches the draft as the be-all end-all solution is mind-boggling. In the National Hockey League, it takes prospects years to reach their potential. The Canadiens and their fans don’t have years to wait. Carey Price and P.K. Subban aren’t getting any younger.
The thought of trading a first round pick for immediate help sends shivers down the spine of Bergevin and it shouldn’t. His deadly grip on his first round picks has bothered me for a while now. Teams that have the urgency to win now understand that they may have to sacrifice some of the future to get immediate help. The fact that Bergevin has no sense of that is not encouraging.
The Bergevin Free Agency Strategy
This strategy is just as discouraging as his draft strategy. Bergevin has preached, since he arrived in Montreal, that to win you need to draft well. He’s not wrong. The problem with his views is that they’re extreme. There’s no happy medium with the way he thinks.
He recently said that to get something good you have to give something up that’s as equal. I don’t see it that way. For example, does anyone remember what the Penguins gave up for Phil Kessel’s services? Or are people going to remember what Dallas Gave up for Tyler Seguin? Other than Loui Ericksson off the top of my head I can’t think of a player of value that went with him.
So okay, Bergevin doesn’t want to give up anything to get better. In the business of hockey how do we do that? It’s this thing called free agency.
Bergevin has an excuse for that too, though, as he says it’s not right to overpay for a free agent. Well that’s too bad considering that’s what free agency is. To sign guys like Stamkos, Okposo and so on, you need to pay them. The reason guys reach free agency is to achieve that pay-day that they may get only once in their career.
Montreal isn’t in a situation where they can afford to bring young guys in to fill top six roles. I hate to break it to you Habs fans — there are no top six caliber players in the system. Living off of what the Canadiens currently have on the roster won’t fix any problems. The lack of top six forwards has an effect on the whole team, including the coach.
Effect on Therrien
Fans are hard on Therrien — almost too hard. I know this isn’t the most popular thing to do, but he deserves some defense in this situation. Sure he has done some questionable things over the past year, such as not defending Subban in front of the media and waiting too long to move Galchenyuk to center, but it’s not all his fault. If a head coach isn’t supplied the right players for his team/system how, as a coach, do you succeed.
On any championship team Lars Eller is a third line center — on the Canadiens he’s a second line winger. Paul Byron, at best, is a fourth line penalty kill specialist — on the Canadiens he makes his way into the top six. If the Therrien was supplied adequate players for the right position, we aren’t having this conversation about him. I understand he deserves some of the blame, but to put this into perspective, Therrien doesn’t make player personnel calls, he just tries to fit all the jigsaw pieces together.
What Does This Mean?
So what do we get in the end? A never-ending circle of madness. As of now, if things don’t change that circle will always lead back to 20th overall picks and headlines that read “Stefan Matteau to play alongside Pacioretty in effort to produce scoring”. For all we know, the Marc Bergevin Era Canadiens will be remembered as the team that knocked on the door but never broke through.
Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.