At his news conference Monday, general manager Marc Bergevin spoke highly of the core of his roster and praised the education of his young players. But he also commented on the work that’s still to be done.
Photograph by: John Kenney, The Gazette
For those with a stopwatch, Monday’s post-season media briefing by Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin lasted a few ticks less than 37 minutes.
In French and English, Bergevin shed some interesting light on some of the topics thrown his way, and chose not to pull back the curtain on others.
He was at the microphone 13 fewer minutes than he was on May 2, 2012, introduced in the same Brossard conference room that day as the 17th general manager in Canadiens history.
But 130 regular-season games ago, plus 22 in the playoffs and more than a few players acquired and dispatched, this was very much the same Bergevin on Monday as the one who arrived in this town asked to lead hockey’s most storied franchise out of the wilderness.
And what he offered to the media — and fans — was precisely what attracted him to Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson two-plus years ago.
Nothing flashy, nothing dramatic, nothing to send a fan base into hysterics, one way or another.
As he does whenever he offers a state-of-the-team address, be it in an casual scrum or a formal news conference, Bergevin was a voice of calm reason who clearly has his course charted — even if it’s one he’s not going to lay bare.
“One of the reasons I liked Marc so much when I interviewed him is that his two main platforms are stability and development,” Molson told me during a Bell Centre talk an hour before Game 2 of his Canadiens’ conference final series against the New York Rangers.
“He brought in people who make our fans feel that there’s stability. He’s … a high-quality GM and everyone around him is also high-quality support to him.”
So anyone expecting a nuclear flash of news on Monday, less than four days since the Canadiens’ 100-point season ended in New York, would be gravely disappointed.
Bergevin was conservative in dress and speech, a man whose cutting-edge, almost Subbanesque wardrobe is in contrast to his steady, button-down manner as a hockey executive.
He had no notes on the table in front of him for the post-mortem that was wide-ranging and comprehensive, discussing the specifics of more than a few players while addressing the general scope of team performance.
Bergevin spoke highly of the core of his roster and praised the education of his young players. But he also commented on the work that’s still to be done, a maturation that comes not with one blockbuster trade or an overnight revelation, but rather with experience gained with playing in every situation, deep into the post-season.
Bergevin made it clear back in September, at the team’s annual golf tournament, that making the playoffs wouldn’t be an easy task. The Canadiens achieved that, the only Canadian-based team to do so, and came within two wins of advancing to their first Stanley Cup final in 21 years.
“The fact that we went to the conference finals doesn’t mean that we start ahead of everyone else on Oct. 1,” he said Monday. “Tampa Bay is going to be strong next year. Ottawa will be better, Toronto will be better. Everyone in our division will be better next year.
“The same as the start of this year, the first priority is to make the playoffs. Anything can happen after that.”
Of course, when you go three rounds deep in the post-season, the famous expectations of Canadiens fans spike. Anything less than the conference final next spring surely will classify 2014-15 as abject failure.
Bergevin’s most important work will begin now, his team’s season ending with a six-game series loss to the Rangers. The GM has the dossiers of seven unrestricted free agents on his desk, but he made it clear there is no time frame to get the job done.
It will be up to Bergevin and his hockey operations department this month to consider three UFA forwards: team captain Brian Gionta, as well as trade-deadline-acquired Thomas Vanek and, signed last summer, George Parros.
Habs brass will also have four UFAs on the blue line: Andrei Markov, Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver.
And Bergevin has four restricted free agents with whom to deal: forwards Lars Eller, Dale Weise and Ryan White, and the GM’s most important file, defenceman P.K. Subban.
It was not in public that Bergevin negotiated Subban’s two-year bridge deal for 2012-14. And with Subban having won the 2013 Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman and blossomed into a tremendous talent who’s unfathomably popular with fans, the GM isn’t now about to start throwing around numbers for public consumption.
As he did two years ago when he was hired, Bergevin again Monday spoke of the abstract qualities of his team while being a little more specific in matters of personnel. He is entirely comfortable that this ship is entirely his to sail, and has been recognized this season as a finalist for the NHL’s GM-of-the-year award.
He suggested September training camp will be spirited, with defencemen Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi positioned to battle for a roster spot.
Two years ago, introducing Bergevin as his lead hockey man, owner Molson spoke of his desire to “re-establish a winning culture” in his organization; that was a frank, accurate admission that it had gone missing in recent years.
And Molson explained that the more that he and his counsel, Canadiens Hall of Famer and former GM Serge Savard, spoke with Bergevin, one of 10 candidates considered over a month of intensive search, the more the two were impressed with the man’s qualities of leadership, communication and commitment.
If Bergevin was shorter on details Monday than many would have liked, he was true to himself and the way he has run the Canadiens hockey operations since Day 1.
We’ll learn, when it’s time, what signatures will and will not find the dotted line on contracts, which in turn will help shape the face of Bergevin’s team.
He will do this with trusted lieutenants Larry Carrière and Rick Dudley, his assistants, and Scott Mellanby, his director of player personnel.
“I’m just a piece of the puzzle,” Bergevin said two years ago. “We’re all going to do this together.”
In a rapidly changing hockey landscape, that remains a constant.
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