It really is the most wonderful time of the year. The NHL season is now upon us and for this very fleeting moment, all 30 teams are in first place, their fan bases brimming with optimism and aroused by the promise of Maybe. The last few days have been the time of Season Previews, Mock Lineups, Fantasy Drafts and yes, Offseason Performance Grades. Marc Bergevin would love for you to ignore that last item. In the summer of 2016, The Dapper Directeur officially lost the bloom from his rose-coloured pocket square. The infamous P.K. Subban trade lowered the Montreal-born Manager from favourite son to Public Enemy numero un. It is the move that will define his legacy, for better or for much, much worse.
Following last season’s post-Price implosion, Marc Bergevin promised change and he certainly delivered, to say the least. Of course, the Subban/Shea Weber shocker was not the only move that was made this offseason, but it’s the only one that matters.
On July 12th, less than two weeks after the trade that shook Mount Royal, the Hockey News printed a survey by Dom Luszczyszyn, which documented how much confidence each team’s fan base had in its’ front office. The Canadiens management team finished a lowly 29th out of 30 (thank you, angry Canucks fans) and even more telling, was that fan base confidence had reduced by 93% from a year ago. That number is staggering. It represents almost a unanimous 180 degree turn, by the largest fan base in the league, almost overnight.
Behold the effect of the Subban supernova that blew up in Montreal. Such was the impact, that Bergevin’s subsequent moves seem inconsequential, to say the least. If you sift through the rubble, though, there are actually quite a few gems to be found. In fact, it looks like the kind of offseason Hab fans had once come to expect from Marc Bergevin. Dare it be said: a good offseason.
Without resurrecting the exhausted analysis of the Subban trade, let’s assume that for the short term, the deal is a wash. A #1 defenceman for a #1 defenceman. Better yet, let’s just say the trade never happened at all. Poof! P.K.’s still here, Donald Trump is still a ridiculous long shot and clowns are on our side. Now what does Bergevin’s offseason look like? To be honest, pretty darn good.
The Great Collapse of 2016 occurred for many, many, painfully well-documented reasons and surprisingly, amid the smoke of the Subban Bomb, Bergevin did make significant moves to address the core issues.
The lack of offence was one of the biggest factors in last season’s crash. Scoring is the most difficult component to add, yet Bergevin did very well to secure Alex Radulov on a one-year deal, while his peers were busy handing out rich, long term contracts to second-tier scorers (I’m sorry, Andrew Ladd, it’s true). The addition of Kirk Muller to work with the forwards and on the power play, should also be considered a big win for the offence as a whole. Even a mediocre power play would be a massive improvement from last year’s power play killing unit.
Muller himself represents one of the most significant moves of Bergevin’s tenure. Coaching was one of the biggest dissatisfactions of the fan base in wake of The Collapse, as they vehemently and nearly unanimously called for Therrien’s head. Bergevin’s unwavering commitment to the coaching staff was the second biggest reason for that 93% drop. For many, it was downright maddening; but Therrien’s survival does not mean that coaching has not been addressed – at least to a degree. Muller is a proven power play architect, a ‘good cop’ in a town run by a crooked sheriff and most importantly, he provides a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option. In short, a legitimate potential replacement for Therrien has just been parachuted directly into his foxhole.
Andrew Shaw was another acquisition that in any other year would have been met with much more approval by the Habs’ fan base. Players of his ilk are always sorely needed and welcomed in Montreal. Brendan Gallagher’s prolonged absence last season exposed a real lack of tenacity, grit and energy in the lineup. Shaw provides those qualities in spades and is the kind of warrior that’s especially vital in the playoffs. Shaw is also Therrien’s type of player (preseason buffoonery notwithstanding) and should thrive in this environment.
Finally, to round things out, Zach Redmond is actually looking like a nice surprise, Mikhail Sergachev could be the steal of the draft and Al Montoya is an NHL goalie. Period. Let’s just leave it at that.
So in the bizarro world in which P.K. Subban is still a Hab, the moves above look pretty good. Not a blockbuster offseason, but a shrewd, strategic and overall positive performance. An offseason that looks more like the work of the 2014 edition of Marc Bergevin – only better. Perhaps his best yet.
Back in the real world though, the Subban trade did take place and the ultimate verdict of that transaction alone will determine which section of the Canadiens’ annals Marc Bergevin’s name will one day be filed. In the short term though, the moves that are now emerging from the ashes of P.K.-Day, could result in the most competitive teams the Habs have iced under Bergevin’s guidance. Maybe the Habs are even Stanley Cup contenders.
Ah, Maybe. Glorious Maybe.
On July 12th, the prospect of the Habs icing a contender in 2016-17 seemed laughable…but now with the puck about to drop on the season, even beleaguered Hab fans should at least feel a bit of the pull of Maybe’s song.
Marc Bergevin sure does. His career is staked on it.