My take, as a Canadiens fan, of the Habs hiring Marc Bergevin as the new general manager.
In my role as a free-lance NHL columnist/blogger I maintain an unbiased approach in covering the league and its teams, but many of my long-time readers know I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan.
That doesn’t mean I cheer-lead or put the Canadiens above the other NHL teams in my coverage. I praise or criticize them depending on the circumstances.
So when the Canadiens finally ended their month-long search for a new general manager by hiring Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, several of my readers – who are also Habs fans – e-mailed me to ask my opinion of this move.
While I believed Tampa Bay Lightning assistant GM (and former Habs “capologist”) Julien Brisebois was the best choice, I feel Bergevin is a good, safe choice.
Bergevin is Montreal-born and of course bilingual, removing any potential controversies about his origins and linguistic abilities in a predominantly francophone market.
More importantly, he is a former long-time NHL player, who went on to spend seven years with the Chicago Blackhawks organization in a variety of roles (pro scout, assistant coach, director of player development, assistant GM), playing a contributing role in the Blackhawks rise from laughingstock to Stanley Cup champion.
So, bilingual and with considerable, recent front office experience. Two obvious pluses.
He’s also apparently a personable individual with a great sense of humour who is highly regarded around the league by former teammates, peers, and his former employer.
Considering the high pressure job he’s about to take on, he’ll need to have that kind of personality, both to deal with the second-guessing and abuse he’ll eventually face from the local media, as well as rebuilding the trust with the fan base which was destroyed by his predecessor.
If there’s a knock against Bergevin, it’s his admission (albeit a few years ago) he didn’t fully grasp the workings of the salary cap, though he added he was determined to learn it.
Believe it or not, Bergevin’s not alone, as I daresay there are several general managers and their assistants around the league who don’t fully grasp the intricacies of the current NHL CBA.
That’s why they hire “capologists” and assistants to guide them through the complex workings of the NHL salary cap system.
Bergevin’s also considered a quick study, which is one reason why he rose so quickly in the Blackhawks organization. Critical Canadiens fans shouldn’t avoid being quick to assume he’s not the right choice for the job.
Finally, I’ve said in the past that whoever the Canadiens hired had to bring stability to the franchise, that they shouldn’t overshadow the team by the force of their personality. Bergevin – likeable, experienced and knowledgeable – fits that criteria.
Sure, hiring Habs legend and Quebec Remparts overlord Patrick Roy or NBC analyst Pierre McGuire would’ve grabbed bigger headlines, but the sheer force of their respective personalities, rather than their plans for the improvement of the Canadiens, would’ve dominated the news.
Moreover, Roy lacks management experience at the NHL level, and there was a risk he might have brought in a form of nepotism by favoring staff and players from the Remparts.
McGuire, meanwhile, hasn’t worked in NHL management in nearly twenty years. Bergevin may have expressed some ignorance of the workings of the salary cap, but at least he’s worked within it, unlike McGuire, whose management experience dates back to the early 1990s, well before the salary cap, and the days of high-salaries free agents.
Bergevin lacks Roy’s fiery temperament, and has considerably more recent management experience than McGuire.
It’ll be interesting to see what Bergevin has in store for the Canadiens, both behind the bench, and in potential player moves, including the selection of a top three prospect in this year’s entry draft, which could be looked upon as a potential franchise player.
Canadiens fans, meanwhile, should keep their expectations for Bergevin on a realistic level.
Bob Gainey came into the role nine years with considerably better credentials than Bergevin, and was expected by many Habs fans to be the franchise “saviour”. While he managed the Habs back into respectability as a near-perennial playoff team, he fell well short of building them into a Cup contender.
Gainey’s successor, Pierre Gauthier, also had years of management experience, but earned nothing but contempt from Canadiens fans and media for his cold, aloof management style and questionable moves during his three seasons on the job.
Bergevin’s hiring, by contrast, comes with less fanfare and brings a more personable presence into their front office.
Time, of course, will tell how well or poorly Bergevin does in one of the most high pressure positions in North American sports.
Regardless, his hiring should a much-needed measure of stability into their front office as they attempt to build back into a championship contender.
It’s hard to imagine he could do worse than his recent predecessors, and there’s a good chance he could do better, perhaps much better.
For now, I’m looking forward to finding out who he hires as the new head coach, who he selects with the third overall pick at this year’s draft, how well he handles contract talks with Carey Price and P.K.Subban, and what other moves he has in store to improve the Canadiens.