Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Red Flag Over Bergevin

We were giving Marc Bergevin the benfit of the doubt as a new GM in Montreal. We knew little about him.

His first moves seemed like good moves, yet we know little of the people he was bringing in. I did know the Habs beat Rick Dudley's Sabres about two generations ago, and his Thrashers regularly, and his Panthers, and, well you get the point.

Anyway, we wanted to be positiv, so we were. That is until the hammer fell. Michel Therrien.

There are positive things you can find to say about Therrien, sure. He did go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the All-Star team Penguins. But for me, there are just so many reasons that Therrien was bottom of the list of all candidates.

1) He was not a good fit in Montreal before

I know it was a different team in a different time, a different team, but there were reasons he should have done better. He coaxed an 87 point last playoff berth season from a team with Jose Theodore doing the vast majority of the work, but otherwise, he got bad results from a below average team. Furthermore, it was an era of getting to know his junior buddies, and I was glad to see the days of Patrick Travese behind me.

2) He wasn't that good in Pittsburgh

Although he was certainly present for the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Penguins, we're not sure how much he had to do with it. Look, it was bound to happen, and like Paul Bissonnette, Therrien was bound to get a goal if he stuck around in the crease (Pitt coaching job) long enough. In 2006-07, Therrien watched Crosby become the last player to crack 120 points. The next season he watched as three of the best forwards in the game waltzed the team into the final.

Now, it's obviously difficult to distill the contributions of a coach on any team. Darryl Sutter was recently a man out of ideas on the unemployment line too. But Therrien was coaching what might have been the best concentration of emerging talent we've seen in decades and he just did OK. I'm not the only one who thinks this, obviously, as Pittsburgh management thought better of leaving another Cup attempt in his hands, instead selecting a coach with all of 54 games of AHL head coaching experience as the preferred option in 2008.

3) He's a retread

So were all the candidates apparently. All "winners" elsewhere. But let's not forget losers too: Hartley coached Atlanta, Crawford coached in LA and Dallas, etc.

A retread is fin, but recognize that although someone has to win the Cup every year, it's unlikely that someone who got fired in another city has the formula we need in Montreal to deal with the ridiculous mess of politics, media and haphazard player development. If we wanted something special, it was going to have to be a new name, because no one to previously coach in the NHL not named Bowman has shown he has his head and shoulders above the rest.

Overall, I have to say this hiring is troubling. Not because I can't see the team squeaking into the playoffs and being eliminated (as usual) with Therrien. I can. But because I thought this rebuild was meant to be a step into a new direction. A sincere effort to recognize that Montreal is a special mix of elements and that if the team is to ever live up to its heritage, it must start by staffing with a very special mix of managers.

As I said, Bergevin was getting the benefit of being a possible rising star, with his buddy Mellanby. But if his judgment and the advice he's taking led him down a road that ended with Therrien being considered, interviewed and hired, the flag I see is red and it tells me that we are very much on the same course as before and any expectations of a great franchise turnaround might have to wait until the next big clean out.

I am sorry for being negative. But I truly feel this move is disappointing.

Let's be a bit positive

If I try to muster something positive from this, I must stretch. It is possible (though unlikely) that Bergevin is more calculating than we give him credit for. He is currently at the helm of a pretty mediocre group of players, and that can't be changed overnight. With the Montreal hounds the way they are, any coach might be burned by the results this team is likely to put up in the short term.

In that case, it would be a shame to burn a really hot up and comer. Instead, you'd want a sacrificial stop gap. Enter Therrien -- a coach that is competent enough to kee things at bay for a while, but one with a two year countdown.

Maybe this hiring gives Bergevin then the time he needs to cultivate his long-term partnership with that cut-above coach (yet to be found) and rebuild the team into something that resembles a contender as well.

I've stretched my imagination on this one, but that's what it's taking me to see beyond.

In all scenarios, I think Therrien will be fired and added for a second time to that long list of one to two year tenures. At least, if Bergevin turns out to be a Machiavellian genius, it won't hurt in 5 years time.

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