At the end of the 2012 season — which saw the Montreal Canadiens miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007 — change was afoot. Owner Geoff Molson, now fully in control of his franchise, hired Marc Bergevin as GM. Bergevin then brought in Michel Therrien to take the reins of a battered and defeated Montreal Canadiens team that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference.
Bergevin and Therrien immediately set out to right Montreal’s ship and set sail towards the team’s ultimate goal, a Stanley Cup Championship. Not that they expected it to take one season. There was just too much work to do.
First things first. Make the playoffs.
Little did both know the 2012-2013 season would end up being a lockout-shortened season of only 48 games.
Little could both imagine their team would win the Northeast Division and finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No doubt, it was a great accomplishment for a once-proud franchise that somehow, somewhere lost its identity.
But in the end, 48 games does not a season make. Even then, Montreal struggled with consistency and injuries down the stretch and were eventually knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs by the surging Ottawa Senators, leaving many to wonder if the team would have finished that high in the standings over a full 82 game schedule.
Challenges From the Get-Go
Before the lockout even became a reality last year, many in the hockey world had predicted the Canadiens would be hard-pressed to make the playoffs — some even going so far to say they would be a lottery team once again.
Once the season finally got going, it looked as if the lockout would hurt the Habs more than some of the other teams around the league. With an entirely new coaching staff and a new system for the players to adjust to, the lack of an exhibition season meant the team didn’t have the luxury of time to work out the kinks.
Further complicating things was the P.K. Subban contract dispute that threatened to divide both team and fans alike. It was Bergevin’s first real test as GM.
Aside from filling the holes on defense and hoping, praying waiting to see if Andrei Markov’s surgically-repaired knee was going to hold up, Therrien had to deal with a disgruntled Erik Cole while ensuring rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were well surrounded so they had every chance to succeed at the pro level.
After losing their opening game against the Maple Leafs the Canadiens quickly discovered their identity, playing a fast but grittier team game where everyone looked out for each other.
Newly-signed Brandon Prust quickly became the poster boy for this new team attitude. The rookies had an immediate impact. And Markov did the job on the powerplay while Subban mulled over his options. Even Rene Bourque was buying in and the results were immediate.
Therrien Demands Accountability
Therrien knew he needed accountability from the players and knew he needed to set the tone early. So set the tone he did in sitting players like Ryan White and Lars Eller early on. The message to the players was clear: perform and you will play; but underperform or hurt the team, and you will sit.
His now infamous comments regarding Eller were especially blunt when he uttered “Pas le temps de niaiser” — which roughly translates to “There’s no time to fool around” and in a way, sums up the Canadiens’ entire season (in French only at the end of the following clip):
Eller heard his coach loud and clear, going on to post a career high 30 points in 46 games. The season before, he had 28 points in 79 games.
For most of last season, the Canadiens played with a sense of urgency and desperation. Bergevin wasn’t about to sit on his laurels either, surprising everyone when he traded Erik Cole for Michael Ryder.
But that was then, this is now. Now for both Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien the real work begins. Ryder, Colby Armstrong and Jeff Halpern are gone. Bergevin missed out on Vincent Lecavalier but made a small splash signing free agent Danny Briere, then added size and toughness with George Parros. Most recognize it’s not enough but it’s another small step in the right direction. Therrien has the opportunity to build upon last year’s success and further entrench his system with his players and coaching staff over an 82 game schedule.
Then both men will be able to see where this Montreal Canadiens team is really at.
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I’m a goalie — apparently that says a lot. Writer, producer and bon vivant I’m from Montreal but live in Toronto and write from that perspective on HabsFanInLeafLand.com. Young enough to be hip; old enough to remember where I was when Guy Lafleur scored against the Bruins in the infamous “too many men” game in the ’79 playoffs. Can you say that?
You can contact Ari Grief on Facebook or on twitter @habsfanleafland