Marc Bergevin's only held the post of Montreal Canadiens general manager for just over two months and he's been off to a great start.
Sure, he hasn't built a cup contender in two months—the amount of time some Habs fans think it takes to build a winner—but he's planted the seeds for the team to grow.
Bergevin's first order of business was building his management staff. He hired Rick Dudley as his assistant GM, retained Larry Carriere, hired Scott Mellanby as Director of Player Personnel, Patrice Brisebois as Player Development Coach, among others.
The amount of hires makes people wonder if the Canadiens were horribly understaffed or maybe he's the opposite of the George Steinbrunner character in Seinfeld. As George Costanza said, "He fires people like it's a bodily function!" Well, maybe Bergevin hires people like it's a bodily function, who knows.
Also, he wisely retained Trevor Timmins as Director of Scouting. While Timmins has come under a lot of scrutiny for missing out on players like Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter or Ryan Getzlaf in past drafts, his batting average in drafting prospects is great and has gotten better as time's gone by.
Timmins drafted Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty and PK Subban all in one year. He can't be faulted for prospects that were traded away way too soon.
Back to Bergevin; about a month after getting the job, he hired Michel Therrien to take over as head coach. Of all Bergevin's moves, this is the one that came under the most scrutiny. Part of it was Therrien having been fired in Montreal a decade ago and partly because the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup months after firing him.
It's pretty foolish, though, to be so narrow-minded when assessing the kind of coach Therrien is.
When you look at the bad teams Therrien had, seeing him help build the Penguins, having success with young players, the move makes sense for a team starting to build around young players. Whereas veterans were given a long leash before, Therrien will reward hard work, whether it's a rookie or a veteran. Therrien's coaching philosophy will establish toughness for the Habs, a quality sorely lacking in recent memory.
Unfortunately for Bergevin, his first draft came in a weak draft year. Fortunately, he had the third overall pick and took the coveted Alex Galchenyuk. You'd be hard-pressed to find Habs fans who didn't like the selection. The Habs continued by drafting Sebastian Collberg, Dalton Thrower, Brady Vail and Tim Bozon.
The biggest weakness of the organization was addressed in taking Galchenyuk. Hopefully, the team found its No.1 center of the future.
While many have hailed the Habs draft as a huge success, you really have to wait and see. No one can measure the success of a draft before a couple of years have passed. We'll see in four or five years if the 2012 draft is what helped turn the Habs around.
July 1 came and Bergevin added some toughness to the team in signing Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong. He also signed Francis Bouillon. Armstrong is coming off a couple of disappointing seasons in Toronto, but now playing for a rival of the Leafs, on a one-year contract, he'll have a chip on his shoulder, which can be a huge help for the Habs.
The Habs now have a legitimate set of third and fourth lines. With Prust, Armstrong, Travis Moen, Ryan White, Louis Leblanc, Petteri Nokelainen and maybe Lars Eller, that's a strong bottom-six.
While having a great top-six is extremely important, depth on the bottom lines can't be overlooked. The Habs' problem in the past few seasons was sticking players on the bottom two lines that don't play the way shutdown lines are supposed to play. The Habs' third and fourth lines consisted of top-six forwards losing ice time or top-six forwards from the Hamilton Bulldogs called up.
Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn, Aaron Palushaj and Yannick Weber don't belong on lines that are supposed to bring toughness and energy to the team.
Even Max Pacioretty was on the fourth line earlier in his career. How does it make sense that a guy who's developing into a scorer is playing on a fourth line with players who won't create offence? Luckily, Pacioretty spent some time in Hamilton after and was ready to be a top-six forward when called up again.
This is what Marc Bergevin has brought to the organization; he's developing an identity. His moves are consistent and each move complements the last one.
The Bob Gainey/Pierre Gauthier era consisted of a series of rash moves trying to scratch and claw to a playoff spot. Bergevin, so far, is taking things slowly, building around young players and building character.
He's re-signed the players who were necessary to keep. Carey Price's contract looks steep to some people, but when you have a young franchise goaltender whose performance has pretty much decided the fate of the team's games, you need to do what it takes to lock him up. Price can also handle the pressure of Montreal, an important asset for a franchise player to have in this city.
It's simple; if Price is the franchise player, he has to be paid accordingly.
PK Subban will surely be next to get a multi-year deal, as he's another cornerstone to the future of the franchise.
One hole on this roster now is the lack of an impactful top-six forward to play alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. The first line will likely be David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty due to the insane chemistry they had last year. Rene Bourque doesn't seem to be the answer, so that means Bergevin will likely give a prospect a chance to shine. Whether that may be Brendan Gallagher or Patrick Holland, who are both coming off great seasons in junior, remains to be seen.
Some Habs fans are upset that the team didn't sign Jarormir Jagr, who signed with Dallas for $4.5 million on a one-year deal. While it would've been very exciting to see a legend like Jagr wear the bleu-blanc-rouge, his price was simply too high for a team already with too many veterans making too much money.
Let me ask you something. Would signing Jagr have made the Habs a cup contender? No. Jagr is 40 and the Habs are a team with a few years to go before they can be contenders. It's just not a fit.
It's all the better for the Habs to build around young players, who come cheap, in a salary cap league.
What fans are anxious about is what Bergevin will do with the brutal contracts the team has. Scott Gomez has two years left on his deal with a $7.3 million cap hit, Tomas Kaberle has two years at $4.25 million a year and Bourque still has four years at $3.3 million. Let's just say that annual $14.85 million would be better spent elsewhere.
Bergevin said he won't buy out Scott Gomez's contract, according to NHL.com's Arpon Basu. This is good news because, if he did, the Habs would be on the hook for half his salary. This means Gomez will either be miraculously traded or sent to the minors.
Some fans are disappointed that the Canadiens didn't make the big splash in free agency, like Minnesota did in signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts. Those are sweepstakes the Habs can afford to lose right now.
While Suter and Parise will help the Wild in the short-term, let's see what people are saying five years from now. How many long-term contracts have worked out well?
Bergevin's not looking for a quick fix to get the Habs back to the playoffs. He's building a team he feels can contend for the Stanley Cup in a few years. That's the right approach and it's the opposite of what the previous regime did, as in its goal was simply to make the playoffs (at least that's what its moves suggested).
Patience, Habs fans. Try to exercise that virtue, as being impatient has been what's plagued the franchise in mediocrity for 20 years. Bergevin's not building a house of popsicle sticks; he's trying to build a Stanley Cup contender. It's going to take time. Have faith in the moves he's made, be patient with the team's prospects and wait for the big splash to happen when the time is right.
It's been a hectic two months for Bergevin as general manager, but he's handled things nicely so far.
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