As the number of “close but no cigar” losses keep piling up for the Montreal Canadiens, so too are the calls for the firing of its General Manager, Marc Bergevin.
Firing the beleaguered GM though is not the answer. It would be an overreaction when brighter times are just a few years away. The next few months will be a real test of team President Geoff Molson’s fortitude and could, if he responds with his emotions rather than patient reasoning, set this franchise back for many more years.
From a purely emotional standpoint, I can understand why there is such unrest among this team’s fans. Bergevin’s early blunders ate away at most of his political capital. It’s been a tough few years without a doubt but this franchise is not alone in its suffering. Supporters from the parallel universe team, the New York Rangers, have also had a rough go of things. This is what happens when you are in rebuild or “reset” mode.
Cold Reality Part I
Like it or not Anglophone fans, the Montreal Canadiens (no longer the “Canadians”) are a Quebec-based team catering primarily to Francophone supporters who principally fill the seats at the Bell Centre. Most of the Habs’ outsider fans are in their 50’s and up. Anglophone fans, especially aging ones, have little value to marketers.
Cold Reality Part II
What all of this means is that there are only two legitimate Francophone GMs with enough experience and potential to replace Marc Bergevin. They are Pierre Dorion in Ottawa and Julian BriseBois in Tampa. That’s it. And both are not going anywhere soon.
So this means that Montreal, like it did eight years ago, will have to hire someone very green to the job. There is no qualified NHL General Manager with 10 years plus of experience waiting in the wings. Likewise, there is still no clear groomed successor waiting in the wings of the organization. Geoff Molson needs to address this matter ASAP.
Those of you who want Bergevin fired then, should better be careful what you wish for.
Fans Need To Be Forgiving
Montreal’s fans have to let go of their anger over Marc Bergevin’s fumbles during his first four years. The GM who is at the helm today is not the same one who took over eight years ago. If fans could simply see him as being in year four of his tenure, the anger and frustration that they currently feel would be significantly reduced.
Bergevin’s hiring back in 2012 can be likened to the hiring a relative with potential who has had to learn on the fly, how to run the “family business.” Members of this “family” though, are still holding his earlier mistakes against him.
Marc Bergevin was not ready for the GM job when he was hired. This is what you get for hiring family over experienced personnel. Bergevin’s initial learning curve was years 1-4. It was a baptism of fire. During this time, he learned that hiring just friends for key positions such as coaching and development was a very bad idea. He also had to root out the less productive members of the scouting staff that he had inherited.
Make no mistake, Bergevin still has some learning to go – particularly in risk-taking but to get rid of him now, after all of the R&D that Montreal has sunk into him, is just bad business. It could be likened to stopping production of a product that has finally addressed its key flaws and is now ready to be launched.
His first 4 years were his “MBA” of sorts. His next two were his seasoning years. His last two have been his most productive.
Imagine if Marc Bergevin was hired last year. The fan base would already have venerated him as a saint at this point. He is amassing some quality young talent. And in a year or two, given his ability to make great trades along with his impressive creativity, will have a very strong competitive NHL team for five to 10 years.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Now someone will argue, “Well let someone else just take over and make sure nothing messes up”.
Here’s the problem with this line of reasoning. If Marc Bergevin goes, he will likely be snagged up by another franchise and most of the key decision-makers responsible for his shrewd trades and draft picks will leave with him. This means that his green replacement GM, who WILL likely come to the job with deficiencies of his own, will – unless he wins the draft lottery and snags Alexei Lafreniere – further delay Montreal’s progress as he too learns the craft of general managing on the fly.
Do you really want a few more years of what you have been currently experiencing just so that you can get a few moments of joy in seeing Marc Bergevin fired? Again, be careful what you wish for.
Marc Bergevin 2.0
Bergevin is finally starting to learn his craft. He has won virtually every trade that he has made. His drafting record has improved dramatically. It’s been decades since Montreal has had as many promising prospects in its system. You would arguably have to go as far back as the 1980’s under the Serge Savard regime to find such a deep pool of talent coming up the pipeline.
Marc Bergevin has also finally started to take development of prospects more seriously. And the team’s coaching staff is generally solid – it seldom is out-coached like it was during Michel Therrien’s tenure. He’s also put in place quality francophone replacements waiting in the wings in Dominique Ducharme and Joel Bouchard.
Without a doubt then, Marc Bergevin 2.0 is significantly better than his older version.
Good GM’s Learn From Their Mistakes
General Managers make mistakes – usually lots of them. Good GM’s learn from their errors usually done while working as rookies for other franchises. They are no different than young players who need to make errors in order to develop.
Some of you reading this article are doctors, scientists, engineers, accomplished business people and the like. You are really smart individuals. If I magically gave you the Canadiens’ GM job, would it be fair to say that despite your higher intelligence, that you would need at least a seven-to-10 year seasoning period – filled with multiple mistakes – before you MIGHT be a decent performer in this profession?
Former Toronto Blue Jays’ General Manager Pat Gillick took years before he finally honed his craft. He was not an overnight sensation. Gillick made a number of mistakes – first with the New York Yankees and then in the first half of his tenure in Toronto before he finally lost the label of “Stand Pat” Gillick.
Likewise, Toronto Raptors team President Masai Ujiri also needed time and mistakes elsewhere before he could have mustered up the courage to make the moves that he did last season in order to win an NBA championship.
Unfortunately, for Montreal, Marc Bergevin made his mistakes in front of a very rabid, impatient, and oftentimes irrational fan base. From 2012-2016, he was literally learning how to play the violin before the public.
What Hab fans need to do is ride things out. Let Bergevin finish the job here. Let him sell some aging assets for young prospects and draft picks. Let him take advantage of the numerous picks he had already accumulated and allow both him and his respected team of scouts to draft players in what is shaping up to be one of the deepest drafts since 2003.
Hab fans need to let go of their frustrations of Bergevin’s past. Yes, right now this franchise is mired in fog. It is hard to see the inevitable bright future ahead if our eyes are guided by our emotions. We, like New York Ranger fans are on the cusp of better days going forward.
Just a bit more pain, a bit of luck and some savvy moves during the trade deadline and post season could put Montreal in a very good position in a year or two. Once this team gets there, these bitter memories of long suffering will be things of the past.
Firing Marc Bergevin is not the answer. Continued patience is.
Again, be careful what you wish for.