Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Marc Bergevin Era To Begin in Montreal

The headline is that Marc Bergevin of the Chicago Blackhawks has just been named the next GM of the Montreal Canadiens.

The bylines speak of how narrowly we have just avoided subjecting league general manager meetings to countless "monster" references and Canadiens fans to a Pierre McGuire tenure.

I have had little time to digest the news, but I can say that the feeling sitting with me now is not jubilation. I can't say that Bergevin ever enthralled me as a candidate after perusing his actual record. There is a definite sense of relief that it won't be McGuire. And a lot of unease in knowing that the due process threw the TSN man up as the second candidate for the job.

The requirements met

One can only assume that the requirements on that list in front of Geoff Molson have been met in most part by Bergevin.

We know of one for certain that is met, and this will be of some relief to those who heard about the interview and courting of Jim Nill.

Otherwise, what are we getting? Well the titles on his CV read like they should. He has been a pro scout, a head of pro scouting, head of scouting and latterly an assistant GM. He was 20 years a player, and a Stanley Cup winner as an executive. It's a bit better than pundit and one-year coach.

But let's dig deeper. Bergevin was an exec with the Blackhawks when they won, but how responsible was he for any of the on-ice triumph?


The 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks were partly drafted while Bergevin was around, but the only serious pieces to be added were Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. No offense to our new GM, but anyone would have picked those guys. The responsibility for those picks goes to the abysmal play of the players who managed to land their team in great drafting position in the right years.

Other than those two, the core was largely acquired through the draft, but almost entirely before Bergevin's arrival on the scene. A real hard look at the drafting that has taken place since 2006 in Chicago will reveal that the spoils are little beyond Kane and Toews.

After Bergevin moved from his pro scouting duties, the results look especially thin. But he is a man who claims to relinquish control when he feels his expertise is stretched. An amateur scouting guru he is not. Trevor Timmins future in all this should be key.

Pro scouting

A pro scout is an important piece in an organization and has a big contribution to make in personnel decisions at the pro and system level. So what, if anything, can we read on this ability of Bergevin's in his Blackhawk record.

Well, if you talk 2010 Stanley Champs, as the most optimistic will be prone to do, it is important to note the importance of the amateur draft in building that team. Even so, as we well know in Montreal, drafting a player does not ensure he blossoms in the city of his drafting. The retention of the drafted has to be applauded in part.

To me, the big acquisitions that were made under Bergevin's time in Chicago were pretty significant. Patrick Sharp was a key piece added to the mix just after the lockout. Someone on the Blackhawks side of things recognized his special abilities and nabbed him for the rebate price of Matt Ellison and a 3rd rounder. Bergevin's role? Who knows. We know he had a job with the Hawks at the time, that's all. Andrew Ladd was acquired the year Bergevin was in charge of the pro scouts, so I'd expect a say. I think this acquisition was astute also, a young Cup winner (now two time) who provided that unmatched depth for Chicago up front. Kris Versteeg was also acquired for a languishing Brandon Bochenski of recent KHL fame.

To me this shows someone had an eye for underappreciated talent. To me it shows the organization was casting a pretty wide net. It obviously had eyes on the AHL, for example. This is a big point of optimism for me. The Habs have been abysmal at pro scouting by most standards, and having a GM who might have the knack will be a new skill base.

Team restructure

Let's face it, this is a mandatory skill in Montreal.

This will be the second major restructure since Gainey's five year plan lapsed two years ago. The fans are fickle and the organization responds to this. How a team restructures and makes its decision in doing this is vital for future success. We have just recently witnessed how not to do this, I think.

Were the Gainey/Gauthier method the right way about things, they'd still be in employ. But their personnel decisions at the top and next level down have left scars that will be long to heal. I look to Bergevin's experience then of the 2010 dismantling of salary to allay some fear. The Blackhawks played all their cards to win the Cup and it paid off. But to avoid being the Florida Marlins of the NHL, and wasting the careers of young stars like Keith, Kane and Toews in the process, the right decisions had to be made to ensure a new contender could emerge.

Obviously, the verdict is still coming in on what they did, but I for one think that the team did well under the circumstances. Toews, the centrepiece, Keith the backbone and Kane the gamebreaker remain. Hossa was creatively signed despite the odds and Patrick Sharp remains. Somehow, the team managed to break apart the salary largely by offloading the players they would have continued to play in lesser roles.

One can imagine how Gauthier/Gainey would have handled a taxi cab incident with Patrick Kane and somehow resigned Kris Versteeg to far too much money. It's ruthless and pitiless, but the Blackhawks made tough decisions, used the role players for that Cup run and then discarded them when they were required by rules to do something. I can only hope that part of this pragmatism comes with Bergevin to Montreal.

I am so tired of seeing stop gaps touted as solutions and tough decisions being deferred to the free agent market.

Player management

It's not certain, but perhaps one of the reasons Bergevin now reigns in Montreal is due to his personality. A GM who can relate to others, especially his players, especially his trouble players, will be a big plus in Montreal. Marc is no Bob Gainey, but he has the credibility of a 20-year career and the approachability of prankster. Cross our fingers that the end of trading "difficult" players with no plan in place on how to replace the asset is passing.

Overall hopeful

As I was writing, I have to admit that hope began to come over me. It is a hopeful thing that a new guy who seems such a departure from the staid old standards is coming in.

While he likely won due to his longer experience than some, I would hope that Bergevin yet realises that a few years as a pro scout means he has some learning left to do. I hope that he has a good read of the Montreal Canadiens draft record and the excellent blogs that properly tout it and retains many of the personnel responsible for it. I hope he puts an end to the Canadiens astrangement from Sweden. I hope he delegates to their judgment in this and upcoming drafts.

We must also remember that Savard remains, at least for the time being. Savard who helped build the last Canadiens Dynasty group (unrecognized yet by many) and has proven in other areas to be an astute man of talent.

The team is still in decent hands. What remains to be seen is whether decent can be turned into excellent by this new one-two punch.

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