Will Marc Bergevin lose his job after the garbage fire of a season in Montreal? The jury is still out. Few doubt that this aborted season is Bergevin’s responsibility. However, in the Montreal Canadiens organization, incompetence is not enough to get you fired. In an otherwise results-based business, language politics influence Les Habitants in problematic ways. As I pointed out previously:
…there is no established alternative available given the unique linguistic requirements in Montreal. Indeed, the alternative would amount to rolling the dice on another assistant general manager.
This is the real problem in Montreal. Even a GM whose best effort over six years into his tenure has been an abject failure seems safe. Marc Bergevin’s delusions of grandeur are founded on the reality that Geoff Molson can’t easily replace him.
Much to many fans disgust, Molson may still give Bergevin a chance to fix the mess he made. If he does, Bergevin should be forced to answer for his past actions and decisions. Here are ten questions I would like to see him answer:
Ten Questions for Bergevin
Answers to these questions would help us understand to what extent Bergevin acknowledges his failings and can account for his errors. If Molson is going to give Bergevin another chance, fans need to know he has learned from his mistakes.
- In general, what have you learned from this season’s failures?
- What specific mistakes do you think you made during the offseason?
- What are three things you can do in the short term to better position the team for the future?
- Why have the Canadiens struggled to develop players?
- What changes should be made to improve player development?
- What is the role of the Laval Rocket in the Canadiens organization?
- Is the future of the NHL geared toward speed and offense or goaltending and shut-down defense?
- Is it important for GMs to interact with fans in ways that communicate their long-term plans?
- The Canadiens as an organization believe the team is more important than individuals. Why doesn’t that apply to you?
- Why should fans trust you to continue as GM?
How could Bergevin answer these questions to assuage Molson’s concerns? While an honest accounting of his errors could perhaps result in another chance, little about Bergevin’s public persona suggests this sort of reflection is possible. Here are some thoughtful answers to the questions above and others that, based on past performance, seem more likely. Can you spot the difference?
1. In general, what have you learned from this season’s failures?
Option A: This has been a humbling year for me. I have had to rethink a number of assumptions that have guided this organization. For example, a wise GM would have by now concluded this league is about scoring. Building a team based on elite goaltending and shut-down defense is no longer a viable strategy. In addition, the failure to acquire or develop the center ice position has profoundly handicapped this team. Finally, the days of slow-footed defensemen are over. NHL defensemen have to be about speed, transition, and an ability to play man on man in the defensive zone.
Option B: In answer to your question: nothing.
2. What specific mistakes do you think you made during the offseason?
Option A: First, in retrospect overpaying for Karl Alzner was an error. While he is a great guy, he is a support player at best. We overvalued his contributions based on my affinity for character players and shut-down defense. Second, treating Andrei Markov like garbage was another error. Our defense is much weaker because I failed to properly assess Markov and his continued contribution on the ice. Third, failing to try to acquire a center was another mistake. While I am happy Jonathan Drouin is a Montreal Canadien, we have put him in an impossible situation. While he may yet develop as a top line center, we have asked too much of him this season.
Option B: I do not accept that any mistakes were made. Look, this is hard. It isn’t PlayStation.
3. What are three things you can do in the short term to better position this team for the future?
Option A: Number one is to play the kids. The season is done, but our true fans know we will rise again. They should get a chance to watch this team develop. Number two is to trade for players that fill specific needs. Third and finally, I need help to keep me from my worst tendencies in assessing trade value and positional proficiency. It turns out, hiring friends and sycophants was not the best way to reach the right decisions for this organization.
Option B: Number one, give me even more authority over this team. Number two, cancel any future media appearances. Number three, tell the TSN 690 guys to be nicer to me.
4. Why have the Canadiens struggled to develop players?
Option A: We need to fundamentally rethink our approach. The long-term development of our players must be more important than the short-term needs in Montreal.
Option B: I don’t know and no one on my staff seems to know either. Deal with it.
5. What changes should be made to improve player development?
Option A: Some think we need to look to other leagues specifically in Finland and Sweden to allow our players to become more well rounded. One idea is for our draft picks to start in the ECHL then play overseas for a year with an organization like Frolunda. Finally, they would play one year in the AHL before entering the NHL. A step by step approach would give younger players a chance to experience different leagues and philosophies. We need to support them to establish their own identity before asking them to join the Canadiens.
Option B: Personally, I think we need to help players develop character. Here is one idea I saw recently.
6. What is the role of the Laval Rocket in the Canadiens organization?
Option A: If we were serious about developing our players, the Rocket would become the highest level of the Canadiens’ academy system. Based on the approach taken by European football clubs, development is based on a system-wide approach. Throughout the academy, players would start to understand the Canadiens playbook, experiment with newer approaches, and focus on learning first and winning the Calder Cup second.
Option B: At this point, Laval exists to keep our fourth liners in skating shape and an easy way to remind players the consequences if they step out of line (laughter).
7. Is the future of the NHL based on speed and offense or goaltending and shut down defense?
Option A: The future of the NHL is based on speed and offense. Unfortunately, we have made so many choices based on what appears now to be an outdated paradigm. We are stuck. We need a full rebuild.
Option B: With a quarter of our payroll spent on goaltending and slow shutdown defensemen, the future of the Canadiens is to look to the past. We are calling it a refresh, retool, or a reset. All other R-words have been banned organization-wide.
8. Is it important for GMs to interact with fans in ways that communicate their long-term plans?
Option A: Fans need to be explicitly involved in how we move forward in Montreal. This means accepting a period of transition as this team finds new leadership and a new vision. This also involves a renegotiation of the relationship between Laval and Montreal as discussed above. In broader terms, older fans who grew up with the Canadiens as a dominant hockey franchise need to recognize once and for all that we are just one of what is soon to be a 32 team league. To succeed in the future we need to move beyond the hubris of the past. Montreal does not have some special leg up when it comes to winning in the future. We need a plan and we need to execute it based on a clear vision.
Option B: Fans don’t pay my salary. They whine and complain too much. They refuse to accept that I (and I alone) know what is best for this franchise.
9. The Montreal Canadiens as an organization believe the team is more important than individuals. Why doesn’t that apply to you?
Option A: It does. After careful consideration, I have come to a major decision about my future in Montreal.
Option B: Next question.
10. Why should fans trust you to continue as GM of the Montreal Canadiens?
Option A: They shouldn’t. I love this team and this city. I regret I have not been able to bring a Cup to Montreal. My love for the organization is more important than my personal interests. In Montreal, no individual is above the team. With that in mind, I have offered my resignation to Geoff Molson.
Option B: Because I am Marc-freaking-Bergevin.