The departure of Marc Bergevin didn’t come as much surprise after word leaked out of some of the other pending front office changes but it was still a notable departure. Our writers weigh in with their thoughts on the decision to part ways.
Note: We will have separate columns on our preference for GM and on Trevor Timmins’ departure later on.
Terry Costaris: The firing of Bergevin was inevitable. He had spent all of his political capital and the frustrations of both the fan and media base from this disastrous season were too great for team President Geoff Molson to ignore. There was a seemingly, highly competent replacement available in Jeff Gorton and Molson had to quickly move in order to acquire him. Gorton would likely have had other suitors lining up for his services come this season’s end.
Bergevin, like his team, was burned out. COVID-19 has deeply impacted the now-former GM both psychologically and physically. This pandemic has been draining on all NHLers, especially on the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite my clearly over-optimistic predictions at the start of this season, common sense shows that you can’t play two solid months of four games a week hockey, followed by four rounds of playoffs due to COVID and then lose key players such as Shea Weber, Carey Price, Joel Edmundson, and Phillip Danault with the shortest summer break in NHL history, and expect to do well. But the masses wanted fresh meat and Molson gave them their pound of flesh.
There are many things that I admire about Bergevin, the General Manager. First and foremost is that he is, as Brian Burke has called him, “a trading savant.” Aside from any deals with Steve Yzerman, he was almost always the winner on the deals that he made.
Bergevin’s personal kryptonite though was being overly loyal and hiring far too many of his friends rather than the best minds in the game to work with. During his tenure, the Montreal Canadiens were not the LA Dodgers of hockey – not even close.
Bergevin gave away far too many draft picks in his first five years, leaving Trevor Timmins with little to work with. He also failed to provide quality player development personnel.
In some ways, the fan base will feel some relief with Gorton as he should provide far less up and down drama when it comes to running this club. My only concern is that Gorton, like Rick Dudley who was hired to be the then young Bergevin’s consigliere, might be a little too long in the tooth for this job.
His best work was in Boston a decade and a half ago. His work in New York looks promising but we’ll have a better idea of the fruits of his labour in a few more years.
At any rate, Bergevin was out of gas. If he’s smart, he should take a year off to recharge and come back fully restored and show the Canadiens that they were wrong for letting him go.
I have to say that the Marc Bergevin story in Montreal needs to be viewed in two parts. Part one involves the learning years and part two were the ones where he became highly competent in his craft. You don’t get nominated by your peers as GM of the year on several occasions without being very good at what you do. This nomination is not a popularity contest. The 31 other GMs in the league know more about hockey than we do.
As for part three, I believe this will be where Bergevin wins a Stanley Cup elsewhere. He will have less exhausting media scrutiny and club imposed limitations to deal with. He will be free to do so many more things than what was permitted in Montreal. I wish him all the best wherever he ultimately ends up working in. Montreal lost a quality GM, even if its fan and media base thinks otherwise. I truly believe that time will prove me right on this matter.
Allan Katz: Molson had no choice but to fire Bergevin because of circumstances that were his own doing. With his backtracking on the commitment to promote Scott Mellanby, Molson lost the long-time executive. With his recruiting of Gorton being public there was no choice but to act on the inevitable and fire Bergevin. These power changes rarely go well and this was and is no exception, but the bottom line is that it was all overdue. Of course, the playoff run complicated matters, but at least the complication was a ton of fun.
Even though I live in Los Angeles, home to thousands of Hab fans, the squeals of delight coming from Quebec were easily heard. In reading comments by fans; the disdain for Bergevin is evident. What I see as a passionate, hard-working General Manager, many fans see as an egoist run amok. Where myself and I expect most of the glass-is-half-full optimists can agree with the cynical the-glass-is-completely-empty cynics, the overall results speak for themselves and the results have just not been good enough.
In the last days of my father’s life, he had an extraordinary recovery that lasted about 36 hours and then he passed away. I have spoken to many people who have experienced the same phenomena when they lost loved ones. Our family Rabbi recognized this and compared it to a candle, just before it dies, it inevitably flares up for one quick last hurrah. The Habs have been dying for a few years, last season’s playoffs were the one quick last hurrah for the Bergevin era. It is time to move on. The era was not all warts, but that is hardly a rousing recommendation. Yeah, the timing sucked, but there was going to be no right time. With a fond tip of the hat, I bid adieu to Bergevin, hope for his health he takes a year off and now we all await the sunrise of the next era.
Brian La Rose: I’ll argue the other side of the coin compared to what many others here are just so it’s not all the same. I would have been okay with Bergevin finishing out the season. He’s not the type of person who would have sold the farm in a last-ditch effort to save his job. He has sold before and, quite frankly, did pretty well. I think he would have been able to add some good future assets had he stuck around and with their contract situation, it’s not like he’d have been able to afford to add any significant pieces anyway (of course, this is part of the reason why he’s gone…).
Am I arguing that they should have kept him long-term? No, it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to be back beyond this season and once they identified Gorton as the choice to replace him – a good choice – then I can see why Molson made the move when he did. But if the timing of this move prevents them from speaking to some of their desired candidates (teams have blocked assistant GMs from interviewing midseason before somewhat routinely), then it may not have been the right time for the move, especially since Bergevin has shown he can and will sell in the past. Gorton could have been scooped up by Anaheim and Chicago, sure, but those vacancies have been there for a while and both teams have indicated they’re waiting until the offseason to fill them (so they can speak to some AGMs on other teams). There’s a good chance Gorton would have been there in May as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Gorton and he should be a very good addition to Montreal’s front office. Between that and the creativity in job title to satisfy the self-imposed language criterion, full marks to Molson. But had they stuck it out with Bergevin through the rest of the season (the expiring contract was much less of an issue than many made it out to be), I think the Habs would have done just fine while having access to more potential GM candidates had they waited.
Kevin Leveille: Bergevin is not even a season removed from being a candidate for GM of the year, and while I think his reign was a good one overall, I think it was time to move on. Bergevin was a successful manager in terms of trades but his demise was the inability in developing players drafted by the organization. What’s worse is that while he was shrewd within the organization for the first part of his tenure, he had become attached to certain players and likely valued them disproportionately. This is why he leaves behind a cupboard of interesting prospects, but a roster filled with too many bad contracts.
I think the timing for the dismissal is also appropriate. While it is true that some teams will not allow their AGMs to interview, I’m not sure how important that is with Gorton overseeing things. Gorton is the boss, or at least he should be. Now consider the time required to sort out a whole new draft strategy, draft staff to get on the same page, which also widely leads to a whole different perspective heading to this season’s trade deadline.
This season is clearly over, so preparing next season absolutely starts with this season’s trade deadline, where the new regime has a chance to attempt to parlay some assets into a massive haul in the next few drafts. It also allows new management time to perhaps reset the clock and entice pending UFA Jordan Harris to get on board and come to Montreal instead of losing yet another drafted asset.
Peter Longo: Like most NHL general managers, Bergevin has had his share of successes and decisions he’d likely change. Overall, though, I think he’s done a good job and has given the team several chances at winning the Cup over the years. If it wasn’t for Carey Price getting hurt in 2014, or maybe more puck luck in the last couple of playoffs, the Habs might have raised the cup.
Bergevin has had a lot of successes in terms of trades (Weber, Petry, Danault, Galchenyuk, Domi, Pacioretty) and waiver pickups (Byron!!). And while we may complain about the signings, he’s done a pretty good job signing the reasonable contracts and avoiding free agent bonanza contracts (except Alzner – ouch!).
Looking at his overall performance, the most negative aspect is draft success. Somewhere between 50-60% of first-round picks should have a reasonable NHL career. After the first round, drafting becomes a lot less reliable, so it is much harder to blame a GM for results. But if we look at Bergevin’s record for first-round picks, nowhere near 50% have been properly selected and/or developed into solid NHLers. Only Galchenyuk (solid performer in Montreal and then eventually traded into Josh Anderson) and Sergachev (can we please have him back?) should be considered successful first-round picks. So between 2012-2018, he’s batting 28%. Ouch.
Despite this year’s performance thus far, I don’t see the need for a complete re-build. The team Bergevin built is only a few months removed from two very impressive play-offs, and I think many of the pieces for long term success are in place. However, there are some serious decisions that need to be made with key players who may need to be moved (Price, Weber, Chiarot, Drouin) and there will be some big draft picks to make.
We can’t change the past, so the only question is who do they want to lead this team going forward? It’s vital that the reset is perfectly executed. Did they want Bergevin leading this reset again? Clearly not.
What concerns me the most is looking back to the 2017 offseason. The Habs had just finished ninth overall and had only a few holes to fill to take that next step. But, as we all painfully remember, it was an unforgivable offseason for Bergevin:
- Instead of walking into the 2017/2018 season with a solid top four set of defencemen (Weber, Petry, Markov and Sergachev), Bergevin jettisoned all the left-handed defencemen from the roster (Markov, Sergachev, Beaulieu, Emelin). To make things worse, he had no plan for replacements which resulted in the team plummeting to the bottom of the standings. The Habs have still not fully recovered from this summer and they are still searching for left-handed puck-moving defencemen.
- Trading a potential top four defenceman (Sergachev) with an unblemished record for Drouin, who at the time had a questionable commitment and no track record of NHL performance.
- Instead of finding a way to bring back both Markov and Radulov, he offered a first-come-first-served ultimatum to two high performing players who wanted to play in Montreal. Instead of keeping both high performers, Bergevin’s ego got in the way and he lost both, with no replacement plan!
- He was unable to effectively spend to the NHL salary cap leaving significant unspent dollars on the table for multiple years. Rather than weaponize this asset, he simply let left it unused and essentially left the team shorthanded during those years.
Bergevin certainly should have been fired in 2017 as his decisions seemed to be guided by emotion and ego. He clearly lacked any strategic plan and the damage he caused that off-season is still affecting the team today. Yet somehow, he managed to maintain his role and has certainly made some good decisions to correct these errors. However, the question still remains; was Bergevin the right one to lead the team going forward into another reset?
If I was the owner of a billion-dollar hockey organization (or however much the Montreal Canadiens are worth now), I would certainly want someone who is level-headed (i.e., non-emotional), a strategic thinker, and who has a good track record for player selection/development.
Can you trust Bergevin to be a strategic thinker 100% of the time? No. His history shows us otherwise.
Can you trust Bergevin to draft and develop players at a reasonable success rate? No. His team’s performance shows us otherwise.
While I’m a big believer in people being able to learn from their mistakes, the fact that this would be Bergevin’s third opportunity to lead the team through a reset (once in 2012 drafting third overall and again in 2018 drafting third), I feel he’s run out of chances. It was time to move on to someone else.
In terms of timing, now is always the right time. Remember when the Edmonton Oilers fired GM Peter Chiarelli on Tuesday, January 22, 2019? Edmonton fans wish they had done it two days earlier, right before he committed $4.5M for 3 years to Mikko Koskinen. Once you have made your decision to replace a leader, the time to implement that change is always right now, before they make decisions that you’ll have to live with.
And for those pundits out there crying that Bergevin’s status of not having his contract renewed has impacted the team, you need to wake up. The players couldn’t care less about whether a GM is on his first or last year of a deal. Does anyone care about their boss’s boss’s contract situation? Certainly not if you are a highly paid sports star with a guaranteed contract. I’m sure there are some players on the team who are actually quite happy with there being some accountability for Bergevin.
I love the way the change has been made. At the beginning of the season, Molson made it clear he wasn’t going to give Bergevin an extension. That’s a crystal-clear message to Bergevin and his management team. Given how the season has unfolded, it shouldn’t be a surprise that changes needed to be made. Molson clearly communicated this to Bergevin and Mellanby and was in the process of changing the teams’ leadership when word leaked out into the public. You can’t blame Molson for the leak but you gotta love him making the decision to change the organizational structure (adding a VP hockey operations) and bringing in someone with great credentials (Gorton) almost seamlessly.
When hearing of this news, Mellanby resigned mid-game in an obviously emotional time. Apparently, he was upset at being passed over for the GM role. Instead of putting the team first and looking at the opportunity to learn from another experienced hockey executive and potentially becoming better himself, he let his ego get in the way and threw a temper tantrum and resigned. It is difficult to understand his perspective. As someone responsible for player development, can he honestly believe that player development has been successful since he started in 2012? And given where the team stands today in the standings being part of the management team – how could he possibly have imagined he’d be considered for the GM role?
For the first time in many years, I am truly optimistic about the future for the Habs.
Paul MacLeod: The firing of Bergevin was inevitable once this season got off to a historically horrendous start. The optimism of reaching the Cup final evaporated like a sandcastle at high tide, revealing, once again, that the foundation of Bergevin’s team was indeed built on sand.
To be honest, I wanted Bergevin fired in 2017. He was allowed a reset and that resulted in a Cup Final run but the fatal flaws of Bergevin’s regime: poor drafting and rushed/poor development of prospects finally came home to roost.
A decision had to be made and Mr. Molson made it. The firing of Timmins and his comments in the press conference indicated that he finally had enough with the drafting and development system to which I can only say: it’s about time. The firing of Paul Wilson was initially a surprise but not upon reflecting of how ill-prepared, poorly timed and reactive the Canadiens have been during this current crisis and during the Logan Mailloux draft saga. Surprisingly, Molson reversed course and hired an Executive VP of hockey operations in Gorton. Hiring an experienced hockey man as a buffer/mentor/confidant between the owner and the GM is something that I, and numerous other pundits have been calling for, for many years. As structured, it is also an ingenious solution to the requirement for the GM to speak French which is understandable in the market, but which didn’t always result in Montreal getting the best or most experienced candidate. Exhibit A: Bergevin who had no experience in the top job before joining Montreal, and who will no doubt be a better GM for his next team after a personal reset.
The new structure gives the team a highly experienced and successful leader of rebuilds in Gorton coupled with a French-speaking GM who can gain needed experience without, we hope, the serious mistakes a rookie GM often makes. The Habs have an enormous opportunity to kickstart a reset or rebuild and having an experienced, connected hockey lifer in charge is certainly preferable, not to mention that they have a built-in succession plan in place that would have been advantageous when Julien BriseBois was still in the organization.
All in all, Molson has navigated a difficult situation with skill and innovation and we will give him the benefit of the doubt around how it played out in the press. Now all they need is a new GM, Gorton to perform like he did as interim GM of the Bruins, and the players to play well enough not to be unwatchable as we dream of Shane Wright as a Canadien.
Norm Szcyrek: Hallejuah, Bergevin is gone! Perhaps waiting until the end of the season would have allowed a few more candidates currently in assistant GM positions the chance to be interviewed. Two hockey operations people like Mathieu Darche in Tampa Bay and Martin Madden Jr. in Anaheim fit that niche, and both could be good options. However, Madden could also be a strong candidate to become Anaheim’s GM after Bob Murray stepped down recently; their current interim GM Jeff Solomon is also their VP of Hockey Operations, so he is likely to return to that position after Anaheim hires or appoints a GM, and therefore not likely to put his own hat in the ring for the job. In Tampa’s case, Darche is a little less experienced as an assistant GM, but not less than Bergevin was before he got the Habs GM job. It’s possible either team owner could agree to allow their assistant GM to be interviewed midseason; every team handles those types of requests differently so it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will not be available. It may be somewhat easier to do so this early in the season before key hockey dates like the trade deadline and the draft are near when their services would be more useful. I am sure Molson is aware of this potential roadblock but was undeterred in proceeding with Sunday’s management hockey cleaning.
Molson’s decision to hire Gorton as the Vice President of Hockey Operations was an astute move. He mentioned during Monday’s press conference that he wanted someone to mentor the next GM, and that should have been done at the time Bergevin’s was hired. It’s possible inexperienced candidates are already on their short-list, and if one of them is hired then at least this time they can rely on Gorton for help instead of hiring his buddies as “yes men”. This same VP hiring move was one I brought up during one of our HabsWorld podcasts, and it’s something other NHL franchises have also done successfully.
Dave Woodward: There is a time for everything and it was clear that Bergevin was not returning. Bergevin had to be fired in order to provide sufficient time to recruit the new GM that will oversee the rebuild in Montreal. Of course, a key part of that rebuild will be the trade deadline moves, if any, that will be made later in this lost season. The new GM, once appointed, will need time to evaluate the players before deciding which players should be moved in season. As a lame-duck GM, these moves could not be left to Bergevin.
Did the move have to be made this past weekend? No, but the Mellanby resignation probably accelerated the process by a few days or weeks. Either way, it was time for Bergevin to go.
In sports, GMs and coaches are hired to be fired so this does not mean Bergevin’s tenure was a disaster. His track record on trades was positive but the team’s player development work was terrible under his watch.
This pundit thought Bergevin should have been fired after the abysmal 2017-18 season after he traded Sergachev for Drouin and failed to re-sign either Radulov or Markov. It was a disastrous offseason that included the dismantlement of the entire left side of Montreal’s defence corps (Markov, Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu) and the signing of Alzner.
At the time, Molson gave Bergevin his vote of confidence, no doubt in part because Molson did not want to absorb the following four years of Bergevin’s contract. Bergevin did an acceptable job of retooling the following offseasons but a rebuild is what is required in order to be a perennial contender. With Bergevin’s contract expiring this season, Molson was prepared to make the move and hopefully start the process of building a team that can contend each year.