Geoff Molson performed an exhaustive search for a General Manager after he fired Pierre Gauthier before the 2012 NHL Draft. While a bilingual GM was a requirement, his most sought after quality was someone who lived and breathed hockey, and also, had a passion for the Montreal Canadiens. He found that man in Marc Bergevin.
Due to Bergevin’s reputation, charisma, and overall amiable character, he was able to add quality hockey people to the Canadiens organization, such as Rick Dudley, Scott Mellanby, and Martin Lapointe. Bergevin made sure to expand the hockey operations department, thereby lessening the overall burden of the General Manager. Bergevin had one goal in mind: work as a team from the top down. The Habs management team had to have synergy and chemistry just like the actual players on the ice.
Season 2011-2012 saw a Habs team with much talent, fall into disarray from pre-season, all the way to the final game of the season. It was clear to the whole NHL that Habs lacked team chemistry, toughness, identity and the desire to win. Bergevin observed his inherited team and saw talented pieces such as Markov, Price, Subban, Gorges, Diaz, Pacioretty, Plekanec, Gionta, Desharnais, Cole, Eller, Moen and Emelin. Instead of doing what previous Canadiens management had done, which was acquiring talented, finesse players; Bergevin aimed to acquire team-first, gritty, tough, character players. Lo and behold, the Canadiens did not target enigmatic winger, Alexander Semin, or the all-around Zach Parise; no, Bergevin decided to make his premier target the unheralded Brandon Prust. In similar moves to the Prust signing, the Habs acquired Colby Armstrong, the injury-prone, but highly liked scrappy winger. Lastly, the Habs made amends for a past boo-boo by signing Bouillon himself. The veteran stay-at-home defender chose to leave the competitive Predators just like his teammate, Ryan Suter. While Bouillon does nothing flashy, he does all the “little” things right.
I likened all of these moves to everyday society. A productive and efficient society can’t have 70% of the population working as engineers and the other 30% working as accountants. No — plumbers, electricians, cashiers, secretaries, sandwich-makers, etc, have to have roles as well. Bergevin realized that the Canadiens had too many players thinking themselves as high-class business men and engineers, while the team lacked blue-collar workers such as plumbers, ie: Prust, Armstrong and Bouillon.
The most telling move of Bergevin’s work so far has to be the hiring of the rugged, Michel Therrien. In the press conference announcing that Therrien would be the new Habs bench-boss, Therrien stressed his philosophy was three-fold: 1. team-first 2. hard working and 3. tough to play against.
The drafting of highly touted centre, Alex Galchenyuk, topped off a very successful 2012 NHL Draft, as well as a momentous Habs offseason.
One doubt remained as the lockout became imminent: how come the Habs have not been able to sign their “priority,” P.K. Subban? The reason was simple: no one came before the team, and every player will receive the same treatment as their teammates. Recently, Price, Gorges, and Pacioretty, earned their stripes after their entry-level contracts by signing two-year ‘bridge contracts’.
It is very important to set organizational and cultural standards. If management cuts corners, the players will know that it is O.K. for them to as well. If the coaching staff cuts corners, the players will similarly do it as well. It is the same thing in every business, school or any other hierarchical institution.
Michel Therrien’s scolding of Dr. Mulder for stepping on the CH logo in the Habs dressing room during the first 24CH episode (link here), puts an exclamation point on what the new management has brought back to the Habs; that is: pride, respect, solidarity, passion, hard work and accountability.
The Habs are 4-1-0 on this early lockout shortened season. As long as everyone keeps each other accountable, that record could prove not to be just a microcosm and an anomaly, but instead, a commonality.