We have all seen it. NHL coaches who have enjoyed success somehow can no longer reach their players. All permutations and line combinations fail, the losing streaks mount, confidence in the coach’s systems is undermined, whispering is heard and reported in the media and eventually change is imperative. Usually, it is more than a run of bad luck. Coaches have a shelf life and, ultimately, the players tune them out. Coaches lose the room and have to go.
Marc Bergevin is now experiencing the General Managerial equivalent of a coach who has lost the room (in this case, the room being the Habs’ fan base). The confidence of the Montreal Canadiens’ fan base in Bergevin is rapidly approaching Houleian levels. At this point, in light of Bergevin’s disastrous offseason moves of the past year to two years and, most importantly, his management team’s utter failure to develop players over the last six years, Bergevin must go.
The most knowledgeable fan base in the NHL could accept a planned rebuild – what else can the Canadiens do at this point – but not by the person who created this mess. The media and fan reaction to Bergevin’s offseason moves demonstrates the lack of respect anyone has left for Bergevin. The Canadiens will never win with their current core and have either decided or, more likely, have been forced to try and solve this problem through a medium to long-term rebuild with younger players. This strategy makes sense but it is not Bergevin’s preferred strategy. And at this point, anything Bergevin has recently done or will do, regardless of the merits, is fodder for a bitterly disappointed fan base.
What was Marc Bergevin’s preferred strategy? Prior to the end of last season, there was chatter about Bergevin’s plan to turn around the Habs’ fortunes quickly. Given the whispers out of Montreal, it is hard not to conclude that Bergevin’s plan was to use the team’s unused cap space to sign John Tavares, thereby addressing the team’s need for a number one centre (a chronic need that he had been unable to address for his prior six years as GM and his predecessors had not addressed for well over 20 years). His ace in the hole was presumably his friendship with Tavares’ agent, Pat Brisson. If this was his strategy, it is hard not to respond apoplectically. Why (and how) would/could Pat Brisson ever use his friendship with Bergevin to convince Tavares, the most coveted free agent in the past 20 years, to sign with Montreal? Absurd. Of course, there again was no Plan B and the team is now in a rebuild, notwithstanding the team’s repeated and implausible denials of the r-word (by the Canadiens’ new and improved open communications policy team).
The rebuild is the team’s only alternative because Bergevin’s hand-picked management team has consistently failed to develop players and more generally he has been one of the worst GMs in the NHL, particularly over the last few years. Of course, no free agents want to play for one of the worst teams in the NHL, especially a team led by a GM who inherited a promising core group six years ago and systematically humiliated and/or ran them out of town, presumably due to their attitude.
Some pundits have reasonably supported the long-term strategy of building through the draft and the development of young players. Agreed. It is the best option for the Habs at this phase primarily because, as noted, there is no other alternative. However, this is not a planned rebuild of a well-designed team whose talent cycle has run its course. This is a reluctant rebuild of a team that is in disarray.
Now that the rebuild is required, one must ask whether Bergevin is the person to lead it. Over the past six-plus years, Bergevin put in place a team of coaches, scouts and managers that have failed utterly in the area of player development. Can the Canadiens have any confidence that Bergevin is up to this task? While recent hires are encouraging, if Bergevin’s past performance is any indication, it is difficult to be optimistic.
Bergevin has also most likely earned a reputation among NHL players that he is not a players’ GM. Would you want to play for a GM who treated P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov the way he did? We can argue about Alex Galchenyuk’s (and his father’s) own personal foibles but he certainly did everything possible to drive down Galchenyuk’s value before dealing him. And Bergevin is about to do the same thing to Max Pacioretty, a stand-up guy and skilled player who clearly (and perhaps unwisely) wants to play in Montreal. Does anyone really view the Pacioretty soap opera as either warranted or constructive? How confident can one be in Bergevin’s ability to get fair value for Pacioretty, especially now that everyone knows Bergevin must deal him? And this “Attitude is Everything” motto is quite simply a self-serving, contrived excuse, bordering on gibberish.
The consequences of this crisis of confidence in Bergevin may have implications far beyond his personal and deteriorating position within the Canadiens’ front office. If Geoff Molson clings to his strategy of keeping Bergevin on in order to avoid eating Bergevin’s ridiculously lengthy contract (that he foolishly agreed to), Molson may be facing a very costly diminution of the Canadiens’ brand. It’s that serious.