Canadiens Eras Under Hughes, Bergevin Strikingly Similar to Start

If Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes needs proof honeymoons don’t last forever, he can look to predecessor Marc Bergevin’s tenure for proof. Of course, in Hughes’ case specifically, he probably need only look at the comments sections under certain stories printed about his hiring. They’re that quick to judge.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

You don’t necessarily need to search far and wide to find critics of his selection as GM, even if Hughes hasn’t even had time to so much as clean out an office space. That’s almost equal parts due to the polarizing nature of the position and the nature of the market that is Montreal, in which owner Geoff Molson had just hired a unilingually Anglophone Jeff Gorton as the team’s new executive vice president of hockey operations. However therein lies the primary reason why people, who are unsure of what to make of Hughes’ hiring, should be convinced he’s the right man for the job. 

Hughes Beats Out Briere, Darche

It of course remains to be seen if that’s the case, but it is at least a good sign Molson (and Gorton) went with someone with the name Kent Hughes instead of say, Daniel Briere or Mathieu Darche. Each of the two former Habs would have been fair choices in their own rights, but they also would have been easier choices in the face of hypothetical backlash (hypothetical no longer), going with someone with an English last name, albeit someone originally from Montreal who can also speak French.  

Instead Molson made the hard choice, presumably because Hughes was more of a good fit for other reasons. That in and of itself is a reason for optimism, just like Hughes’ introductory press conference, during which he said all the right things, like how, “I’m very familiar with the [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League]. We’re going to follow it and we’re going to use our contacts too, to do all the research to draft the best players from Quebec.” 

Geoff Molson Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson – (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In fairness, there isn’t really another answer to that question, but it’s worth noting the similarities between Hughes’ answer and Bergevin’s 10 years ago when he got hired in 2012: “The [QMJHL] is here in our backyard. My vision is to put people in place to make sure we don’t miss guys from Quebec.” 

Of course, it’s also worth noting how under Bergevin last season the Canadiens iced a lineup without a single Quebec-born player for the first time in franchise history. In reality, not dressing a Quebecer should have been a non-issue, especially due to the team’s injury situation last season, but it was, proving yet again that Hughes was never going to be unanimously approved as the team’s choice for GM. 

Hughes vs. Bergevin as Canadiens GM

It also goes to show that a) things change over time and b) whatever is said at these press conferences should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s exceedingly rare for a new GM to say something eye-openingly bad, at least as they’re being introduced. The bad decisions come later.

Related: Top 10 Telltale Quotes from Canadiens GM Bergevin

Hughes, a former player agent, is seen as a player’s GM for all intents and purposes. However, that’s far from a departure of how Bergevin was billed initially. After all, he was a player himself, one with a reputation of being a practical joker who kept things loose in locker rooms. 

To Bergevin’s credit, right until the end, he displayed what seemed like a genuine sense of empathy with regard to his players, for example showing unconditional support for Carey Price as he entered the player assistance program. Considering some of the contracts Bergevin awarded players, like Price’s eight-year, $84 million deal, that’s not always the best policy from a managerial standpoint, though. 

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the interest of full disclosure, it would be dishonest to describe the two press conferences as carbon copies of one another. For example, Hughes spoke of analytics and said, “in a perfect world, we would be an offensive-minded hockey club… I envision a team that plays fast with the puck that’s a possession hockey team.” 

Put simply, focusing on insulating goalie Carey Price with shutdown-defenseman acquisitions like Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson, Bergevin could not honestly say the same, especially by the end of his tenure (even if the Habs looked good analytically under ex-head coach Claude Julien). However, keep in mind, few if any newly hired GMs are going to preach defense first, trying to ingratiate themselves with the fanbase. At least it’s a(nother) reason for cautious optimism. 

The More Things Change at Habs’ Helm…

Ultimately though, Hughes is entering a similar situation as Bergevin, trying to turn around the team that is struggling (like most new GMs). It puts in perspective how GMs, like coaches, are only really hired to eventually be fired. Bergevin lasted 10 years, even if there had been calls for his dismissal far sooner than that. It’s an accomplishment that can’t be taken away from him along with the run to the Stanley Cup Final last summer. Still, a fresh start was clearly needed. 

“Today marks the first step towards bringing back a winning culture to our organization. Our priorities are as follows: improve the team in the short term, re-establish a winning culture over the long term, give our fans what they deserve, the best possible product on the ice, and establish stability in all areas of the organization,” said Molson. Truer words have never been spoken, even if those words in this instance came 10 years ago. 

Marc Bergevin Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Maybe the biggest difference is Hughes was hired mid-season, while Bergevin came on board after the 2011-12 season, with a lockout looming. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching (March 21), fans won’t have to wait nearly as long as they did a decade ago to get actual first impressions of their new GM. Hughes definitely has his work cut out for him. One can only hope he’s assessed primarily on that work from this point moving forward. He’s here to build first and foremost a team, but also a name for himself, not be judged for that name before the ink dries on his contract.