Did the Cup Run Hurt the Habs?

Segue Issue 21-05

December 3, 2021

Wednesday’s segment with Gord Miller on TSN690’s Melnick in the Afternoon show got me thinking.

As you might expect, the conversation revolved around the recent events in Montreal with the change in leadership, and the steps to reshape the organization moving forward.

Miller stated that someone had said to him the Canadiens were victims of their success in the playoffs. Then he said, “To be honest, if they’d lost game 5 to Toronto Bergevin might have been fired in the summer. You know, I don’t know that they were going to go into a lame duck year with Marc Bergevin.” Miller went on to talk about the stresses of managing in Montreal and provided other commentary.

A little later Mitch Gallo reacted to Miller’s comment about a potential summer firing of Marc Bergevin. “Well, if that happens, if he gets let go in the summer, maybe things aren’t as bad, because Marc Bergevin had a disastrous summer.”

What followed was a discussion of the events of the summer, and whether Bergevin’s off-season did more harm than good.

It was an interesting discussion, and I’d recommend you listen to the entire hit.

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/miller-how-deep-will-a-canadiens-rebuild-go-1.1729017

Gallo and Miller debated some interesting pieces worth a little more discussion here.

Did he injure Shea Weber?   

That was Miller’s immediate response to Gallo’s assertion about Bergevin’s disastrous summer. Obviously, Bergevin cannot be blamed for the fact that the Man Mountain was no match for Father Time. He didn’t injure Shea Weber. But that’s not all the story, is it?

Later in the segment Miller made this statement. “Finding out Shea Weber wasn’t going to play anymore was a huge blow.” No doubt that conclusion to the plot was a blow, but Bergevin can hardly deny that it came with some foreshadowing that would rival an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

By all reports, the injury that eventually ended Weber’s career occurred in September of 2017. He had surgery shortly thereafter and, at that time, Weber was reportedly given the heads up that he would eventually require career-ending surgery.

In February of 2020, Nick Kypreos reported that Shea Weber’s season was likely over and his career in jeopardy, and that the current injury was likely connected to the earlier surgery to repair his foot. Contrary to the righteous indignation at the time, and the rush job from Weber to get back on the ice, it seems unlikely now that this information was baseless.

If those two examples of foreshadowing were not enough, Bergevin had 48 regular season games last season to watch Weber. For those who did not suffer through every game, let me summarize it for you – it was not pretty. The Weber observed by playoff-watchers was not the Weber we watched all season. You know all that angst you hear from fans about Jeff Petry this season? Weber looked a lot like that last season, except there was far less angst because pundits were reluctant to call out the Man Mountain.

Early in the off-season, Brendan Gallagher referenced the therapy and hours of preparation to get Weber ready for a playoff game. Did Bergevin miss that? Everyone literally watched the end coming long before it arrived. Losing Weber was a blow, but it was a blow with a 4-year wind-up.

Am I the only one who is hard pressed to point to one thing Bergevin did to replace his aging and injured prized defenceman?

Then Gallo listed the events of the summer that are worth looking at one by one.

He drafted Logan Mailloux…

Miller did not dispute this error.

“The Logan Mailloux draft pick was unquestionably and inexplicably a public relations disaster and a strange move to make. One hundred per cent. And I’ve said before, it dragged the franchise, the player, the victim into a completely unnecessary situation.”

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, it is highly unlikely this player would have been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, and a nasty bit of business could have been avoided.

He lost Kotkaniemi to the offer sheet…

Miller questioned the wisdom of matching the ridiculous offer sheet from Carolina. But that’s not where the Kotkaniemi situation fell apart.

Ironically, it was Miller who publicly disagreed with the Habs decision to keep Kotkaniemi in the NHL in his first season following the draft. Later in the segment, he acknowledged that player development – specifically, rushing players – had been an issue through the Bergevin tenure.

It is without legitimate dispute that the developmental path for KK, along with the frustration he experienced in the playoffs, contributed to his decision to sign the offer sheet. Otherwise, he likely would have been signing a team-friendly bridge deal.

Let’s forget those details. Let’s assume Kotkaniemi is frustrated and wants out, and there is no avoiding it. Since the offer sheet fiasco, it has been reported that the Hurricanes had tried to facilitate a trade for him that would have included the picks, as well as a young asset. Bergevin turned down the trade, and then played chicken with an owner bent on revenge. He lost. He could have traded Kotkaniemi for value and did not. He lost him for less than what he was worth.

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, would Kotkaniemi still be a member of the Montreal Canadiens? Ironically, this whole discussion is based on a Bergevin firing that was delayed, in part, by Kotkaniemi’s role in turning that series around.

He gave up a first round pick for Christian Dvorak…

I disagree with Gallo here. Dvorak is being poorly coached at the moment, like the rest of the team, and is underperforming, like the rest of the team. He’s better than he has looked this year in Montreal, and if that first round pick ends up being a late first, Dvorak is worth that price.

But there is an important factor to consider. Bergevin was looking at Dvorak before the offer sheet. He wanted Dvorak to replace Danault, not Kotkaniemi. One of the tragedies of Bergevin’s tenure was that he was unable to retain Danault for a fair price, after obtaining him for a song. We don’t know everything that factored in to Danault’s decision to leave the Habs, but we know Bergevin has a history of negotiations turning bad.

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, would Phil Danault still be a member of the Montreal Canadiens?

He signed David Savard…

This contract hurts. If Weber was suddenly absent, and Savard was what was available, it would hurt less. But Bergevin had a four-year notice period, and the best he came up with to replace his aging and slowing down stay at home defenceman was another aging and slowing down stay at home defenceman.

If the team hadn’t crumbled as it has, the contract would hurt less. But in the face of some level of rebuild, this contract is another albatross. Here is another irony. One of the reasons the team has crumbled is that Bergevin did not anticipate the need to replace Shea Weber, and his best answer when forced to face facts was David Savard.

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, would Savard have been signed to fill the void, or would a more thorough assessment have occurred?

He signed Mike Hoffman…

As Mitch Melnick pointed out, the Hoffman contract is fair, and Hoffman has performed when healthy. But in the face of a rebuild, it’s another contract to move. In my view, Hoffman is a complementary piece you add when the core is intact, and one thing that was obvious as the summer wore on was that the core was not intact.

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, would another leadership group have miscalculated the stability of the core?

He made a lot of moves that have not worked out.

No kidding. The Habs are 6-16-2 to start the season. We can haggle over specific deals, but the bottom line is that Bergevin had a weak summer and the deals he made are not working out. In fact, they have become the burden of another leadership group.

There is one summer deal that Bergevin made that Gallo didn’t add to his list but is unquestionably a significant factor in how this season is going.

He extended Dom Ducharme.

Ducharme had just taken the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final. We can debate how much of that is on the coach, and how much was led by guys like Weber and Price and Perry who knew they were running out of chances, but the reality is that they went to the Final with Ducharme in the Interim Coach role. He was getting an extension, and that was unavoidable.

Was a three-year extension necessary? Was it sensible for a GM who was entering his last season with no real plan to stay? Ducharme was still a young coach, and there was an argument for a one- or two-year contract. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. But I wonder what it’s like to play for a coach you know is inevitably getting fired.

If Molson had cleaned house following a Round 1 exit, would Ducharme be the current coach of the Montreal Canadiens?  

Gord Miller said that the story of the Montreal Canadiens this year is that three of their most important players aren’t there any more for various reasons. Is that the story? Or is the story one of a General Manager who stayed a touch too long because of a magical run?

It’s all moot now unless you’re the guy who was hired to clean it all up.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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