Things change fast in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Montreal Canadiens all of a sudden alive and well in their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. So is Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. The primary difference is Bergevin was realistically always going to stay that way.
Canadiens Come Back Against Leafs
True, as recently as two games ago, the Habs were on the verge of being embarrassed in the first round after three consecutive defeats in which they got outscored 11-2. Hell, even with the series now tied three games apiece, the Habs have still been outscored 17-11. However, barring exceptional circumstances, Bergevin was logically always going to stay on as GM once the Canadiens made the playoffs.
Following a season in which the Habs were forced to play 25 games in 43 days down the stretch, suffering numerous key injuries, Bergevin’s squad had to show just enough resilience to make the playoffs in order to prove they’re on the right track. After they had just finished 24th in the standings last season, improvement is improvement no matter how it materializes.
Granted, in reality, only a first-round victory over the Leafs would be (or should be) enough to redeem the Canadiens and set them up to potentially be contenders before Bergevin’s contract expires in 2022. Only under those circumstances would Bergevin deserve an extension, considering he’ll have been on the job for 10 years at that point.
Of course, there is a caveat. Only owner Geoff Molson’s perspective matters here and reports that Molson has already been discussing Bergevin’s future even before the playoffs started at least suggest Molson is satisfied with how his team has been progressing. The way the Canadiens have battled back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7 in this series certainly won’t change his mind for the worse, as far as Bergevin’s fate is concerned, even if they lose. It’s a shame, because if the Habs had been the team up 3-1 instead of down, the perception changes drastically, even with the same outcome. Considering how long Bergevin’s had, there’s no good reason why the Habs shouldn’t have been the favorites, though.
Molson Sticks with Bergevin
However, even if the Habs hadn’t have been the ones to win the last two games, almost unimpressively becoming the first team in NHL history to give up multi-goal leads in the third period in consecutive elimination games and survive, there’s no real precedent for Molson to have considered any other path forward.
If Bergevin wasn’t let go after the Canadiens wasted a historic start 9-0 start to the 2015-16 season and then missed the playoffs largely through inaction on his part, he isn’t going to be let go now. If Bergevin wasn’t let go after missing the playoffs in three of four seasons from that campaign on, he isn’t going to be let go now. If Bergevin wasn’t let go after the Canadiens narrowly avoided missing the playoffs in four of five seasons in 2019-20 on a technicality due to a global pandemic, and then got eliminated in large part due to a systemic failure to score in the playoffs, he isn’t going to be let go now.
Really, for Bergevin to have been in any sort of trouble, the Canadiens would have had to miss the playoffs altogether, especially after he made the decision to switch coaches mid-season, replacing Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme. Combined with Bergevin’s moves last offseason, the change behind the bench signaled acknowledgement on his part that mediocrity wasn’t cutting it any more. And, while simply making the playoffs and being one of the top 16 teams in a soon-to-be 32-team league is by definition mediocre, Molson seems keen on giving Bergevin until the end of his term to prove himself… if not longer.
Price Continues to Deliver Alongside Young Guns
Considering the lack of results up to now, is it fair? In a world in which people with nine-to-fives have been let go for a lot less, especially over the course of the pandemic, no, not really. However, life’s not fair. Molson, as hands-off of an owner as he’s been, clearly believes in what Bergevin has been selling over his tenure with the Canadiens, and, to Bergevin’s credit, the team’s youth movement is going well by all appearances.
The issue is and will continue to be how that youth meshes with the contracts of Shea Weber and Carey Price, who aren’t going anywhere. Price especially has shown he continues to be a big-game goalie, even if regular-season consistency eludes him, just like it did the Canadiens. Along with opportunistic scoring on the part of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, Price, with a .932 save percentage over the last two postseasons at age 33, continues to keep the Canadiens in it. In some ways, just like he does Bergevin.
Now, unlike a puck in overtime, Price hasn’t saved Bergevin. Neither have the Canadiens as a whole simply by coming back in the series. In spite of the impressive moves Bergevin made last offseason to improve his team, there’s a case to be made he hasn’t saved himself either, at least not yet. He’s a beneficiary of circumstance and nothing more at this stage, until the Habs reach the next level, i.e., Round 2.
Doing so would undeniably be an accomplishment on the part of both the Canadiens and Bergevin worth acknowledging. While the Canadiens themselves deserve credit for coming back in the series, it should almost go without saying, but Bergevin won’t if they end up falling short. He may have admittedly given the Canadiens a chance to compete, but it’s a results-oriented business, meaning he’ll have failed if they don’t. It’s still a business though, and for that reason and that reason alone, he’s safe for the time being.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.