It was long coming, the end of the Marc Bergevin Era with the Montreal Canadiens. The axe dropped on Bergevin, as well as assistant GM Trevor Timmins and public relations head honcho Paul Wilson, on Sunday afternoon.
It’s too late for the Canadiens to salvage this regular season, with their abysmal 6-15-2 record an albatross that cannot be removed from their collective neck. Now it’s about team president Geoff Molson and his new management group massaging a PR-friendly message for irate Canadiens fans and media.
On one hand, you have to admit it’s not Molson’s fault team leaders Shea Weber and Carey Price have been sidelined all year with serious injuries. Bergevin’s game plan was centered around the two superstars, and you can’t just go to some store and find adequate replacements for what they bring to the table. The combination of Price and Weber’s absence and the departure of center Phillip Danault via free agency proved to be too much to overcome for this team at this time. No team could lose arguably their three best players and maintain a pace that will get them to the playoffs.
But, as it goes with just about every NHL GM who has been in one position as long as Bergevin did, there are a litany of management missteps to catalogue. Bergevin had the Canadiens job for nine years. That’s an eternity in the hockey world. He enjoyed a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but the NHL is a “what have you done for me lately?” type of business. Their collapse this year feels much worse because of how close the Habs got to a Cup win.
Molson has hired former Rangers GM Jeff Gorton as head of hockey operations, and you’ll find more than a few NHL observers who think Gorton is a good hire. He’s helped build the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers into the teams they are today, and he’ll be an asset in Montreal as he seeks out a new GM with a different vision of what the Habs should be.
Of course, every move Gorton makes will be under a massive microscope in hockey-crazed Montreal. He’s just started this job, and he’s already got to deal with rumors Canadiens icon Patrick Roy will come aboard. Roy has been out of the NHL since he resigned as Colorado Avalanche head coach and vice-president of hockey operations, but he still resonates with Habs fans as a leader and ultra-competitive figure. But Gorton shouldn’t simply hand over the reins to Roy. Gorton needs to address the Canadiens’ roster deficiencies before he chooses a coach or GM. That’s why there’s no sense that this management change will instantly turn around Montreal’s season. Whoever Gorton hires is going to start from scratch in some regards.
Molson is scheduled to speak to media on Monday. You’d best believe he is going to be grilled, in two languages, and asked to defend his latest decisions. It’s going to be a hard sell to Habs fans who are tired of the roller-coaster ride. And the firing of Wilson tells you Molson was not pleased with the optics of many moves Bergevin’s Habs made, including the tone-deaf drafting of Ontario League defLogan Mailloux, who currently is suspended by the OHL due to his conviction in Sweden of sexual misconduct. Bergevin was rightly ripped for selecting Mailloux, who came out before the draft and asked all teams not to draft him. The move cratered throughout Montreal. Molson had to publicly apologize. It was a complete disaster, and Bergevin and Molson have to own it.
Canadiens fans are one of the most demanding in the sport, and that’s a good thing. The game matters in Montreal, and when they see the Habs spinning their wheels and going nowhere fast, they are going to air their grievances wherever and whenever they can. Molson has been around long enough to know how high the bar is set for his team, and he should know the chances of successfully rebuilding on the fly are slim.
This organization desperately needs all-encompassing change, and that is now Gorton’s task. Wish him good luck. He’ll need it.