MONTREAL—Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin felt the time was right to come out and address the media in the wake of his team’s disappointing 2-6-1 start to the 2017-18 season.
On Wednesday, Bergevin took to the podium at the Bell Centre and answered a variety of questions from reporters in a session that lasted just under 23 minutes. He was asked for his evaluation on how the Canadiens stumbled out to their worst start in 76 years, about how they can turn it around, about how having $8.5 million in cap space might help them do it, and about whether or not he’d reconsider making some of the changes he made to the roster during the off-season.
Bergevin was also asked about former Canadiens player and coach Mario Tremblay taking to French radio in Montreal earlier in the week and alleging that beleaguered forward Alex Galchenyuk had twice checked into the NHL’s substance abuse program and that he has "off-ice problems."
"What I can tell you is that the NHL—and it’s been years that it’s been this way, going back to the era I played in—gives a confidential phone number out that you can call if you need help," said Bergevin. "It’s strictly confidential. You could have one guy, 10 guys, I don’t know. It’s confidential. I can’t even talk about it; it’s strictly confidential. So I don’t have any comment to make on that."
The GM did however elaborate on Galchenyuk’s spotty play and all the other issues concerning the team. Here are five takeaways from his comments.
The solution is in the room…because it has to be
Here’s something Bergevin repeated in both languages during his press conference: "For me it’s about confidence. The answer is in the room. Those guys have the answer. There isn’t anybody who’s going to come in to bail us out. We’re all together, and at this moment we’re going through a difficult period where players are squeezing their sticks and it’s become a mental thing. But together we’re going to get out of it with confidence."
The Canadiens don’t really have a choice in the matter, do they? Traditionally, blockbuster trades don’t get made in the opening months of the season. And as Bergevin acknowledged, you don’t win those trades when you’re dealing from a position of weakness.
"You go into a tough stretch and people want to pick your pocket," he said. "You know some guys are better than they’re playing, and what you’re talking about getting in return is not going to help you. So just to make a move just to make a move? That’s not going to make any difference. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to make a move just to panic."
Whether he truly believes the Canadiens have the resources to get themselves back into a position where he can win a trade that comes to his attention is irrelevant. He—and they—have no choice for the time being but to work with what they have.
Galchenyuk is in control of how Galchenyuk plays
There is a considerably large faction of Canadiens fans who believe Galchenyuk has been completely mismanaged by the organization since being drafted third overall in 2012.
Galchenyuk may only be 23 years old, but he’s in his sixth season as an NHLer. The expectation from the organization is that he uses his natural talent to make players around him better and to be a self-starter. Claude Julien said as much on Monday when explaining the decision to demote him to the fourth line ahead of Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
Bergevin said they won’t give up on Galchenyuk, and he also went into detail to explain why he repeatedly said on Wednesday that he’s frustrated with the situation.
"Yes [there is frustration with him] because you see the talent," said Bergevin. "You see what he’s capable of doing, and again, I’m watching Alex and I hope what happened last night [scoring a goal against Florida and playing well] is the beginning. Sometimes I see a young player that’s looking for answers. He’s not coming to us. But he’s looking somewhere else for answers instead of taking it upon himself. When you stop and you talk to kid about it, he understands. So he’s aware of it. But sometimes it’s tougher than just saying. He needs to find the little things that make him score. Not thinking about scoring, but the process: how am I going to score? What do I have to do?
"I’ve said it before, sometimes you think you’re working but you might not be working as hard as you can. The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary. So you have to work and the result will become success."
The Canadiens aren’t an elite team
That’s what Bergevin said Wednesday.
"There’s elite teams in the league and there’s teams that are all fighting," Bergevin said. "That cluster of teams; they’re all good teams. Every night somebody could win, depends how you play, and I believe we’re in that cluster of teams. We’re in a cluster of good teams that wants to get in, wants to make the playoffs and make damage. Yes, I believe that."
We’ll see if the Canadiens can prove him right.
If they do, it’s worth asking if the $8.5 million Bergevin has in cap space can turn them into one of the elite teams he’s referring to.
Low-risk gambles are worth it … aren’t they?
When Bergevin was asked if he’d take a redo on some of the decisions he made over the summer—bringing in defencemen Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Joe Morrow and Mark Streit and forward Ales Hemsky—he was adamant he wouldn’t.
Alzner has struggled considerably out of the gate, Schlemko has been injured since the opening week of training camp, Streit’s contract has already been terminated, and Hemsky had performed poorly up until suffering a concussion against the Anaheim Ducks last Friday.
"Did I know Victor Mete was going to perform this well? No. So Mark Streit was an insurance policy," Bergevin said, as he began to dissect his decisions. "The way the young guy [Mete] performed, it became an easy decision [to cut Streit]. What did it cost the organization? Six days of salary? If I had to redo it, I’d do it again.
"We’re not satisfied with Hemsky. Him neither. But the expectations weren’t so high. We thought he was a player who could help us on the power play. The season’s still young.
"We knew Joe Morrow was a sixth or seventh defenceman.
"These decisions didn’t do long-term damage to the team. You have to do these things even if you know they might not work. I have no issue with that."
An appropriate follow up would’ve been to ask if saving a few million dollars instead of signing fringe players may have enabled Bergevin to retain the services of Alexander Radulov, Andrei Markov, or both. But the press conference was winding down and other subjects needed to be covered.
Bergevin had said in July that he wanted to keep both Radulov and Markov, but only on the organization’s terms. He said he felt he had made competitive offers that he expected would be accepted. Inevitably, he lost Radulov to a competitive offer from the Dallas Stars and lost Markov to the KHL over what likely would’ve amounted to a million-dollar difference in compensation (Bergevin offered a $4-million salary with $1 million in performances bonuses for one season and Markov had been willing to accept one year at a $6-million salary).
"The defence is better than last season’s."
That is the statement Bergevin made at the team’s annual golf tournament back in September, one he has defended on multiple occasions since.
Nathan Beaulieu was traded to Buffalo, Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay, Alexei Emelin was exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, and Markov left after 16 seasons with the Canadiens.
Alzner was signed to a five-year, $23.1-million contract after playing largely as Washington’s sixth defenceman in the Capitals’ (shorter than expected) 2017 playoff run (Alzner did not play over 13:30 in any of the team’s last four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins). Schlemko came over via trade from Vegas, Morrow was brought in for depth purposes, and Jakub Jerabek was signed out of the KHL.
When Bergevin was asked about the team’s defence again on Wednesday, he said: "At this moment, we’re having defensive issues. I see a team that’s playing on its heels and not on its toes. If your players don’t close the gap quickly enough defensively… some of our defencemen are struggling, we’re not denying it. But if you look at the whole, when we play well and with confidence we’re a very good team capable of playing very good hockey defensively. I don’t want to get into the details of this player or that player, but again we know some of the players have had trouble defensively—some of them being the defencemen, but also the forwards. It’s a team game. I still believe we’re a very good team if we play well defensively and are responsible."
Perhaps that will prove true when Alzner shows his best self; when Jordie Benn finds the stable game he showed off after being traded from Dallas to Montreal last February; when Schlemko returns from injury a few weeks from now and dresses for his first game as a Canadien; and when Jerabek gets his chance to play in the NHL after figuring out the North American-sized rink in the AHL.
For now, that statement is far from being the most defensible one Bergevin’s ever made.