Marc Bergevin habs montreal canadiens gm

The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM

“Bergevin did plenty of good for the franchise, and helped the team look more competitive than they’d been in eons. But he also made some truly frustrating missteps.”

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for the Montreal Canadiens — and Habs fans are feeling good.

Marc Bergevin has been fired after a decade-long reign as general manager of hockey’s most storied team. With former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton joining the fold as Executive VP of Hockey Operations, the search has begun to find Bergevin’s replacement. As such, it’s time to evaluate the legacy he has left behind.

In 2012, Marc Bergevin left his job with the now-tainted Chicago Blackhawks dynasty and returned to his hometown to become the new Habs GM. With that always comes immense pressure, especially following a disastrous final season with Pierre Gauthier in charge. Bergevin inherited a team that had just traded Mike Cammalleri during a game, and whose big-money forward, Scott Gomez, had only scored twice all season.

He began his tenure as GM making a statement, selecting Alex Galchenyuk — then a promising young centre prospect — at third overall in the 2012 draft. Of course, Bergevin was a rather charming dude himself, dressed to the nines in his stylish suits. Oh, and he had some ridiculous biceps. It didn’t hurt that he was a pretty big jokester, either.

Michel Therrien & Marc Bergevin legacy
Michel Therrien & Bergevin (The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM)

Bergevin also brought in former Habs head coach, Michel Therrien, for a second round of duty. Though Therrien would bring them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014, his methods were defensively minded and largely outdated, on top of his harsh and allegedly abusive demeanour. His dislike for both P.K. Subban and Lars Eller was evident in his usage of both players. David Desharnais was not only our 1C during these years, but also appeared to be his petit chouchou. Therrien kept his job until 2017.

All this to say, Marc Bergevin’s reign as Habs GM was a mixed bag. He made a number of shrewd roster moves, both in their time and in retrospect. Acquiring Thomas Vanek for a prospect and a second rounder was also a steal, even if Vanek disappointed during the 2014 playoffs. Trading a second rounder to Edmonton for Jeff Petry in 2015 was a masterstroke. Equally impressive was him claiming Paul Byron off waivers from the Calgary Flames the following season, as Byron blossomed into a two-time 20-goal scorer.

Trading Galchenyuk for Max Domi three years later was also a victory. Getting Joel Armia for a minimal return that same offseason was another big coup. Best of all, he got maximum value for two trades in particular: moving Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to Chicago for Phillip Danault and a second rounder used to select Alexander Romanov, and sending Max Pacioretty to Vegas for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and another second round pick he later flipped for two third rounders — one of which would become Mattias Norlinder.

Bergevin, Shea Weber and Claude Julien (The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM)
Bergevin, Shea Weber and Claude Julien (The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM)

But Bergevin also unquestionably deserves his share of criticism. His failure to retain both Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov ended the Habs’ 2017–18 campaign before it started. His treatment of Markov in particular was utterly disrespectful to a player who gave so much of himself while wearing the bleu blanc et rouge, and whose power play quarterbacking prowess has still yet to be replaced. Oh, and he was 10 NHL games away from his 1,000th.

Flipping Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin has mostly been a loss for Bergevin, with Sergachev evolving into a top-pairing defenceman with two Stanley Cups under his belt. Rushing both Victor Mete and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the NHL has also come back to haunt him, despite the latter’s excellent rookie season. Nabbing Alexander Semin in free agency was a catastrophe. Signing Karl Alzner to an epic albatross of a contract, even more so. Replacing Markov and Radulov with the wilting corpses of Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky? Don’t even get me started.

Acquiring Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen at the 2017 deadline was a poor decision, as was trading for Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson four deadlines later. After trading Lars Eller to Washington for two second rounders, he immediately flipped those two picks to the Blackhawks for… Andrew Shaw. Who did Chicago select with one of those picks? Alex DeBrincat.

Of course, there’s also Le Trade 2.0. While the Subban-Weber exchange that hit the city like a bomb in June 2016 ultimately worked out for both the Habs and the Predators (each eventually going to the Final with those players onboard), the two players’ four-year age difference caused it to directly alter the course of the franchise. It’s also hard not to interpret Bergevin’s emphasis on “character” and “attitude” after the trade as a form of dogwhistling against Subban. If character was really so important to Marc, then why did he reportedly have interest in signing a known abuser in Slava Voynov and an obnoxious, ill-tempered racist in Tony DeAngelo?

Perhaps no move was more consequential to the team’s trajectory under Bergevin than hiring Sylvain Lefebvre to coach the Habs’ AHL affiliate. Despite multiple seasons without playoffs, and few full-time NHLers developing under his watch, Lefebvre somehow kept his job until 2018. If a better development system was in place, perhaps Assistant GM/longtime draft guru Trevor Timmins — also fired yesterday, and frequently criticized by fans over his draft picks — would’ve had a better batting average with his selections. Such consistently weak drafting and developing was another major component of Bergevin’s time as GM.

In spite of everything, owner Geoff Molson maintained his confidence in Bergevin to keep running the ship. This bore mixed results: six seasons of playoffs, and four without them — one of which they BARELY missed out on, while the other three were gas leaks. Though he was adept at winning trades, the team often wasn’t noticeably better for it. He was also never truly able to build a supporting cast that could get his generational goaltender a ring.

Marc Bergevin and Carey Price, Stanley Cup legacy
Bergevin and Carey Price, Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 (The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM)

Bergevin’s time as Habs GM peaked on two occasions: the run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014 before Carey Price went out injured after Chris Kreider crashed into him, and this past summer with the Habs’ thrilling run to the Stanley Cup Final. Not only did we see the Habs upset Toronto, Winnipeg AND Vegas, but we saw how excited their success made Bergevin, the validation he must have felt about his team finally scaling its potential, and how much he treated his players like family.

Our Cup run this summer was Bergevin’s best performance as a GM, and he put the right pieces in place to ensure we could make serious noise last season. Hell, watch his press conference from before that season began—a major pivot from his tired “trades are hard” platitudes. He finally acquired a capable backup for Carey Price, in Jake Allen. He signed Tyler Toffoli in free agency after moving Max Domi for his good friend Josh Anderson. He turned a fifth-rounder into a steady defensive force in Joel Edmundson. He traded for a Cup-winning veteran in Eric Staal.

But this season, much of the goodwill Bergevin built up was undone. He very nearly lost Price to the Seattle Kraken. He drafted a convicted sex offender. He lost Phillip Danault in free agency. He waited too long to sign Jesperi Kotkaniemi, allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to exact some deeply petty revenge for Bergevin’s attempt to poach Sebastian Aho from them two years prior. He flipped the two picks he received as compensation to Arizona for Christian Dvorak, who currently has a team-worst -11 plus/minus.

Marc Bergevin has done plenty of good for the franchise, and has helped them look more competitive than they’d been in eons. But he’s also made some truly frustrating missteps. His roster this season, particularly its D corps, is a badly constructed one. It also lacks a clear plan or identity, two issues that arguably defined his time in charge.

Montreal Canadiens Habs vs. Buffalo Sabres
Habs vs. Sabres Nov. 26, 2021 (The legacy of Marc Bergevin as Habs GM)

Bergevin also couldn’t choose between going all-in for a Cup run, or selling off major assets for a full rebuild. He seemingly wanted his roster to have the best of both worlds: a mix of gritty veterans with some feisty young guns sprinkled in as well. Sadly, the NHL has increasingly become a league where GMs often need to pick one or the other to find success. Bergevin’s failure to clearly commit to either side helped lead to his demise. His record as GM over the past 10 years is 18th in the NHL, which simply isn’t good enough for a hockey club of this stature.

All of this has culminated in the disastrous season the Canadiens are currently having. With only six wins in 23 games, the Habs are in an excellent position to select a highly touted prospect in next year’s draft held at the Bell Centre — the golden goose being Shane Wright of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs.

Marc Bergevin’s legacy as Habs GM is mostly a positive one, and he will no doubt land another job in an NHL front office sooner rather than later. However, his methods are no longer ones that work for the Montreal Canadiens. 

It is high time for new ideas and a modernized philosophy for the game at the top. Here’s hoping Geoff Molson has learned and embraced this, and that both he and Jeff Gorton do their due diligence in finding the candidate — even if they must be French-speaking — who’s best suited to bringing this team its 25th Stanley Cup. ■

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