Back in 2012, when Marc Bergevin became the GM of the Montreal Canadiens, it was an interesting choice for two reasons. Former Stanley-Cup winning GM Serge Savard had an influence in this choice and the diverse experience Bergevin brought with him (20 seasons as an NHL player and his multiple experiences with the Chicago Blackhawks organization in professional scouting, coaching, player personnel, general management) using it to help them win a Stanley Cup in 2009-2010.
For one reason or another, the same level of team success has not yet translated as GM of the Montreal Canadiens thus far. His tenure so far has been perplexing and ironic given his diversity of roles and executive experience. Being GM of any NHL club is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, you may have to totally rebuild or make a few major/minor changes here and there.
Some NHL markets also come with their fair share of public pressure and scrutiny, which makes managing a club like the Montreal Canadiens a more challenging but rewarding experience. When done right, you’re considered amongst the greats a la Serge Savard.
Organizational philosophy and player deployment are some of the key traits that demonstrate and influence the course of an NHL franchise. Here are three examples of how organizational thinking influences player deployment and team success.
Why Michel Therrien and J.J. Daigneault?
In the first three years, two key decisions made that impacted team success were bringing back Therrien and Daigneault. During their tenure, there was regular season success and some playoff success here and there, but something more still left to be desired. Both had hockey experience, there was no doubt about that, but only one (Daigneault) had Cup-winning experience in Montreal and that was in 1993.
It is a bit surprising that Habs alumni like Guy Carbonneau and Larry Robinson, who were both brought up and gained success through the “Montreal Canadiens Way”, were not given an equal chance to bring their expertise to the organization. Carbonneau had success as Montreal’s head coach and was unfortunately unceremoniously fired by Bob Gainey while Robinson not only contributed to the success of many Habs Cup-winning teams but also from a pure coaching and establishing a winning culture standpoint, guided the New Jersey Devils to multiple championships. Most importantly, Robinson had expressed his desire on multiple occasions that he would be interested in a coaching role with the Canadiens organization. It is unfortunate for the habs that the organization never gave itself the chance to benefit from Robinson and Carbonneau’s depth of experience and expertise.
Looking back now, it is not to say that not hiring these two esteemed alumni is the reason why the Habs have not won the cup yet since it also depends on the talent that you have on your roster, but it does beg the question what was the thought process and why were Therrien and Daigneault prioritized over Carbonneau and Robinson who had and come from more proven winning backgrounds and had experience with building winning cultures.
Trading P.K. Subban for Weber?
Ah, not this trade revisited again. It was hard not to be a fan of P.K. Subban, especially since at that time he was one of a few homegrown talents that made successful contributions during the Therrien era. But the way he was made to be scapegoated at times by Therrien and scrutinized based on his playing style was unprofessional.
During his time, for the most part, he was a model citizen and player for the organization while being passionate about being a Montreal Canadien and still serves the community through his hospital donations to this day. It is completely understandable that based on one reason or another Subban just was not Bergevin’s “foxhole type of player” and Shea Weber was more of a better fit. However, the way the game was trending towards a faster, dynamic, puck-possession style; thus, having puck-moving defencemen is like having gold, it is at a premium. We can see that in how Jeff Petry is deployed and the impact his talent has had on the habs transition game.
Reflecting back on this trade, it’s one that has looked like a marginal win at best, given the decline in play of both Subban and Weber currently, but again when trading a Norris-trophy winning defencemen like Subban whose value at the time was at its peak, it seems now that more thought and consideration should have been given to acquiring talent that was more aligned with how the game is currently being played rather than going with the old-school, throwback type of player who isn’t front and centre in today’s dynamic transition game.
Deployment of Galchenyuk and Drouin?
One of the most perplexing things from a fan’s perspective is to see an up-and-coming talent being mishandled, it is that adage “forcing a square peg in a round hole”. Frankly, when concerning Alex Galchenyuk’s tenure with the Canadiens, it had its highs and lows. Initially, when he was given a chance to showcase his raw talent, there was a lot of positive development and he offered a peek into his potential (i.e. his 30-goal season). The centre position at the time was barren with talent, and it is one of the major reasons he was drafted.
However, considering that in his draft year he was coming off an injury-plagued season and quickly made the jump to the NHL, it ended up being a recipe for disaster later as he was traded because he could not play centre and his defensive game was underwhelming at best. Sure, it was Galchenyuk’s responsibility to take the initiative to find and address areas of concern, but the onus must also fall on the organization for also rushing a player who may have been highly talented but needed more development time since every player progresses differently.
It also did not help that there was not a winning environment/culture being established at the AHL level for a player like Galchenyuk to experience at that time. As we now understand, it is invaluable to have a strong development system for the growth of prospects (i.e. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans, Alexander Romanov) so that they can transition successfully to the NHL club.
Watching Jonathan Drouin’s play this season has been gratifying simply because it seems like his overall game is all coming together now the way we envisioned. It can be attributed to many other reasons, but two main ones can be because of his assertive mindset, whether points are on the board or not, he is playing with talented linemates that understand how he “thinks the game” so it makes his job a lot easier to go out there and demonstrate the talent that he is capable of and to contribute towards team and individual success. Playing with like-minded linemates is not the only reason for the rejuvenated Drouin, but it is also important to have a coach who understands what your strengths/weaknesses are and does their best to put you in positions to succeed for the most part.
Earlier on in Drouin’s tenure, the organization viewed him as a centre and forced him into playing in a way that conflicted with his identity of himself as a player and was not maximizing his strengths. We now realize that he is a crafty playmaking winger that needed a coach who gives him the opportunity, time, and space to exercise his strengths/learn from his mistakes instead of stifling his creativity and disciplining him into playing a more conservative way.
It is tough to say whether the situations would have been dealt with differently had there been a President of Hockey Operations or a seasoned Senior Advisor, who could help guide Bergevin to manage the team better than he has. However, having someone who understands the GM’s position and has a grasp of their thought process behind the choices they make, the vision they have for the organization’s future, and player management decisions, can impact an organization’s success in a positive way.