Last week, Geoff Molson answered the question foremost on the minds of Canadiens fans when he confirmed that GM Marc Bergevin will return because he is an elite talent evaluator who really knows how to build a hockey team. With respect, it is hard not to respond apoplectically. When one considers how the Canadiens core, its team, its AHL team, and prospects have declined over the last six years that the esteemed GM has been at the helm, the disconnect between Mr. Molson’s statement and reality is almost Trumpian.
Geoff Molson is either living in a dream world or he is allowing Bergevin’s rich contract (which expires in 2022) to seriously impair his judgment. Mr. Molson operates a publicly traded beer business. He should be acquainted with concepts such as “sunk costs” or quarterly write-offs for business decisions that have gone awry. In passing, Molson referenced Tampa Bay’s failure to make the playoffs last year, thereby implicitly equating the state of the 2017-18 Canadiens to the 2016-17 Tampa Bay Lightning. Mr. Molson, the two situations are not even moderately similar.
Tampa Bay sustained a series of difficult injuries and experienced underperformance throughout its lineup last season, as did this edition of the Habs. This season, Tampa is a Stanley Cup contender. Molson effectively said he expects the Canadiens to rebound similarly. Wow!
Tampa’s player development is so superior to the Canadiens that the comparison is simply self-serving, perhaps to the point of being absurd. A full review of Tampa’s line-up is beyond the scope of this article but was the subject of a prior column. At every position, Tampa has drafted and developed elite players…and the Canadiens have not.
Short-term blips will occur for every franchise. A good example is the 1969-70 Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were Stanley Cup Champions in 1968 and 1969. Unexpectedly, the Canadiens missed the playoffs in 1970. The management team was not replaced as they were consistently drafting and developing elite NHL players. When you have a solid management team, you ride out the inevitable disappointing seasons, which will ultimately prove to be an aberration. The next year, the Canadiens won again and, in the 1970’s went on to win a total of six Stanley Cups.
Unfortunately, the Canadiens’ 2017-18 season is not an aberration. It is a direct result of the poor drafting and subpar player development of GM Marc Bergevin and his management team that he hand-picked. The core of the Canadiens has not changed in six years. The Habs’ core has simply aged, either through the inevitable passage of time or the P.K. Subban trade.
Marc Bergevin must be replaced. That is clear to anyone that is not going to be paying Bergevin millions to stay home. It is hard not to conclude that the decision to retain Bergevin is anything other than a short-sighted cost-saving measure. Faced with a restive fan base that is rapidly moving from anger to apathy, ownership would be wise to consider the cost of keeping Bergevin as the team’s GM.