He was widely seen as one of the next great hockey minds during his tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks’ front office. He rose quickly through the ranks upon his retirement as a player and has a proven championship pedigree. He is charming, well-liked, and a charismatic leader who is unafraid to speak his mind in French or English.
In short, Marc Bergevin is precisely what the Canadiens were looking for when the club set out to hire their new General Manager.
By now, fans have heard all the break-downs of what Mr. Bergevin has done; a third round draft pick in ’83, a twenty-year pro career that saw him lace up the skates for nearly one third of the NHL’s thirty teams, and a reputation as a practical jokester in every locker room along the way.
We are aware of his meteoric rise through the Blackhawks’ front office, starting as a pro scout in 2004 and finishing as Assistant GM just this past season.
But the questions surrounding Marc Bergevin no longer revolve around his past. In a city where hockey fans change opinions like most people change underwear, the emphasis is squarely upon what will happen next. With the Canadiens’ worst season in a decade sitting front and centre in the rear-view, Bergevin will set to work on building what he hopes will be a resurgent Habs roster for the 2012-13 season.
But what does that involve, and where will he start? Here’s a look at the top four immediate challenges facing Montreal’s new General Manager:
1. Build a staff. Games may be won and lost by the men in uniform, but long before steel touches ice, the process of becoming a winner is begun. As a first time GM in a high-pressure environment, look for Bergevin to surround himself with a wealth of experience and highly specialized talent.
He will obviously be on the lookout for top-end assistance in the role of Assistant GM, with many of the same men he beat out for the top job appearing on his short list of candidates, but it will be interesting to see exactly how Bergevin fills out the rest of his advisory team. Many GMs choose to keep a small, tightly-knit group of insiders close to them, but given Bergevin’s relative inexperience, he may opt for a more non-traditional approach, taking in as much expert counsel as possible.
2. Hire a coach. After reassigning Randy Cunneyworth to his assistant post, Bergevin will look to hire a head coach capable of walking the tight-rope that is the Montreal media situation. He has already gone on record saying the next Canadiens next bench boss must be capable of speaking both languages, so the list of potential candidates essentially writes itself.
Once again, the smart money is on experience. Because Bergevin is so new to the position, looking for a head coach with enough backbone to hold up to the pressure is going to be crucial to the team’s success.
The general consensus is that Patrick Roy has been removed from the running for this exact reason, but this is Montreal we’re talking about…and stranger things have certainly happened. Other names on the list include Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault, former Pens coach Michel Therrien, and TSN analyst and former Stanley Cup champion Marc Crawford.
Of those, Crawford seems to be the most logical choice. He has won a Stanley Cup, has not already been fired as Canadiens’ head coach, and taught himself to speak French while being embraced as an Anglophone head coach in Quebec City… during the referendum.
Based purely upon speculation, personal preference and Kerry Fraser-like awesomeness in the hair department, Marc Crawford would my top choice.
3. Sign the RFAs. At this point, we are all aware that Bergevin has set the signings of Price and Subban as top priorities. But with eight more RFAs, and two UFAs also coming due this off-season, the Canadiens’ new GM had better make sure there is plenty of ink in his pen.
Looking down the list, there are a sure to be some significant changes to the team which staggered to a fifteenth place finish in the Eastern Conference, accumulating just 78 points in an underwhelming 2011-12 season…but there are also a few gems.
Outside of Price and Subban, Bergevin will likely try to lock up rising defensive stars Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz to long-term deals, and while Lars Eller may not be developing as quickly as the team had hoped, he has shown flashes of brilliance over the past two seasons and will most likely be offered a significant extension.
After choosing not to move Travis Moen at this year’s deadline, it seems the club will make an effort to retain the veteran winger’s services, possibly on a one or two year deal, and fan favourite Ryan White has done more than enough in the past year to earn a regular place in the Canadiens’ line-up.
In his initial press conference, Bergevin spoke of having what he believed to be a strong core of players around which to build a contending team. It will be very interesting to see how his core compares to that of the average fan…and what kind of reaction occurs in the event of a discrepancy.
4. Draft. With their deepest selection of draft picks in years (six in total, four in the first three rounds), the Canadiens will look to fill in the organizational blanks with some strong young talent in when the management team arrives in Pittsburgh this June.
Bergevin will most likely rely heavily upon Trevor Timmins and his support staff for the later choices, but with the number three overall pick at his disposal, the pressure is on as fans of the bleu, blanc, et rouge hold their collective breath.
While situations can change in a heartbeat when it comes to the draft, the Canadiens have been in the market for a big-bodied scoring forward for quite some time. All signs point to either Mikhail Grigorenko or Alex Galchenyuk filling that role, with the edge in talent going to Grigorenko and the intangibles advantage going to Galchenyuk.
There have been whispers of Edmonton possibly looking to shop their number one overall selection, but the question for Montreal is: do they have the pieces Edmonton needs to make a deal…and would they be willing to move them?
The Oilers hold an embarrassment of riches when it comes to offensive depth, and would probably benefit most by drafting projected number two pick Ryan Murray, who has been a defensive standout with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. For the Habs, the potential of moving up to draft Nail Yakupov is there…but it will not come cheap.
Most experts place the cost at a minimum of a top draft pick (which the Canadiens have), and at least one roster player (of which the Canadiens do not have an abundance).
Despite the fact that there is no hockey being played, the next few months will be every bit as interesting as a deep playoff run in the city of Montreal, as fans of hockey’s most storied franchise wait with bated breath to see what direction their beloved franchise will choose to go.
Marc Bergevin clearly has all of the tools to become an exceptional General Manager at the NHL level, but his next four decisions could very well define his tenure at the Canadiens’ helm.
K. Ross Read is the lead hockey analyst for Backsportspage.com and co-host of the “Off the Krossbar” radio show and podcast. He also covers the Montreal Canadiens for TheHockeyWriters.com and is a feature writer with Canadian Hockey Online.
Covering all things hockey with an honest edge and keen wit, he continues to develop a loyal readership on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border. Offering refreshing insight and sharp criticism, K. Ross Read is quickly earning a reputation as one of hockey’s straightest shooters.
You can contact K. Ross on Facebook or twitter: @KRossRead