Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for the Habs’ success this year after an unexpected trip to the Eastern Conference Final, but him being named a finalist for GM of the Year is almost as much of a surprise.
In more ways than one, Bergevin perfectly epitomizes the team he manages. For starters, the deck is definitely stacked against him as he goes up against some top competition in the form of fellow finalists Dean Lombardi of the Los Angeles Kings and Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks.
Of note, Lombardi was able to pry the postseaon's league-leading goal scorer, Marian Gaborik, away from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline for just Matt Frattin, a 2014 second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick.
While Bergevin made a similarly huge splash by acquiring Thomas Vanek (and a fifth-round pick) from the New York Islanders for prospect Sebastien Collberg and a second-round pick, it’s kind of impossible not to give the edge to Lombardi there.
Vanek, who may be playing injured if his recent performance is anything to go by, has largely disappeared when it’s mattered most in these NHL playoffs. That’s obviously not the case with Gaborik.
Admittedly, there’s little downplaying the other moves Bergevin has made this season, dating back to last summer (voting for the award takes place after the second round by all 30 GMs, a panel of team executives and members of the media, making all the moves he made from this point last year able to be taken into consideration).
Defenseman Mike Weaver, whom Bergevin acquired for a fifth-round pick, has solidified Montreal’s bottom pairing. Fourth-line forward Dale Weise has similarly been somewhat of a revelation with three goals, including two game-winners, during the playoffs.
While many questioned Bergevin for trading defenseman Raphael Diaz to the Vancouver Canucks in the deal, Weise has dressed for all 14 of the Habs' playoff games as an invaluable role player. Diaz played just six games with Vancouver before being traded again to the New York Rangers and has appeared in just two postseason contests, neither of which have come against his former team (despite the assumption players take their games to the next level against teams that so easily discard them).
However, it seems for every good trade and signing Bergevin has made, there’s been a questionable one. For example, Daniel Briere may be winning over Habs fans now with his timely scoresheet contributions these playoffs, but his 25 regular-season points left something to be desired, especially at a $4 million-per-year price tag for two seasons.
Even if Bergevin did acquire Briere purely to bolster Montreal’s offense during the playoffs (after the team scored just nine times in five games last spring), one must not forget that Briere is still a fourth-line forward on this team. His seven-point output these playoffs, while impressive for the ice time he’s been getting, simply does not justify his salary, nor does it guarantee he’ll be able to perform better next season when he turns 37.
Additionally, while Montreal did fill a void by signing physical defenseman Douglas Murray, Anaheim’s Bob Murray might have beat Bergevin to the punch by signing Mark Fistric. Just a few days beforehand, he inked the younger and faster (relatively speaking) defender for cheaper ($900,000 versus $1.5 million). It was a largely unheralded signing that helped the Ducks mitigate the loss of Sheldon Souray to injury for the entire season.
While Fistric will never be confused for Scott Stevens, he did just get rewarded with a three-year deal valued at an average of $1.26 million per season after proving his worth. He mustered an impressive 51.5 percent Fenwick-for rating during the regular season in five-on-five, close-score situations (53.0 during the playoffs). Murray had one of 44.1 during the season and has a mind-blowingly low 19.2 during the playoffs.
On a grander scale, Murray did pull the trigger on the Bobby Ryan trade last summer, acquiring a huge haul comprising Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick for the first-line forward.
Of course, Ryan proved to be a game-breaker for the Senators this season. In sharp contrast, the Ducks still seem to be auditioning replacement wingers on the team’s top line—especially after Murray curiously dealt away Dustin Penner at the deadline for just a fourth-round pick. As a result, it’s hard to call that deal a win...at least right now.
In what was a bigger steal, Murray got Mathieu Perreault from the Washington Capitals at the start of the season for minor league forward John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick. Perreault finished fourth in team scoring (18 goals and 43 points in 69 games). Mitchell played just 22 total games in the American Hockey League.
All things considered, one has to believe Bergevin is a huge underdog for this award. While his moves were arguably shrewder than Murray’s, Lombardi’s wheeling and dealing had a greater positive impact on the Kings.
Meanwhile, the Ducks had the better regular season (116 points) by a mile compared to the Kings and Habs (100 points each). Even if one were to take season-over-season performance into consideration, only the Ducks were able to technically improve after finishing with 66 points in 48 games in 2013 (113 over 82 games).
Really, the only way Bergevin wins this award is if it was voted on based solely on preseason expectations. Many did not believe the Habs could make it this far, and, as a result, no one can deny Bergevin has done an excellent job at the helm, at least this season. However, if preseason expectations were low, it’s in part because of how he left the team last year.
It’s important to realize that this is just the fifth year the award has been in existence and of the four previous winners, only two are still employed (Mike Gillis and Ray Shero were both fired). It just goes to show how little this award means in the grand scheme of things.
While it would be nice for Bergevin to be recognized for his efforts come the 2014 NHL Awards, the real accomplishment would be him still being the Habs GM another five years from now. Even if he doesn’t ever win this one award, that would be the real sign Montreal is in good shape and consistently in a position to win it all. Just like the Habs, though, no one should count him out right now just yet.
All possession stats, unless otherwise indicated, were taken from ExtraSkater.com.