BROSSARD, Que. – “It’s on me,” said Marc Bergevin.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager repeated it over and over again back on that cold January day in 2016, taking the blame for his team’s unprecedented slide through the standings.
The Canadiens had kicked off the 2015-16 season with a franchise-record 9-0-0 start and built on it to maintain their hold on the NHL’s top spot through the month of November. But by the time Bergevin had sat down to address the media, six weeks later on Jan. 21, they had lost 13 of their last 17 games and slipped to the bubble of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
It wasn’t Bergevin’s fault that the Canadiens had lost superstar goaltender Carey Price to a knee injury suffered on the 29th of October — one he (and they) ultimately didn’t recover from before season’s end. Nor was it exclusively on him that Canadiens coach Michel Therrien hadn’t found a way to squeeze a few more wins out of a roster that — on paper — was equipped to, at the very least, do marginally better in Price’s absence.
But it sure was noble of Bergevin to say on that day, “The responsibilities are on my shoulders, nobody else’s.”
“It’s not on [Canadiens owner] Geoff Molson, it’s not on Michel Therrien; it’s on Marc Bergevin,” he said. “That’s clear. If it doesn’t work, it’s my fault.”
We wouldn’t suggest it was a necessity that Bergevin come out in similar fashion on Monday, following a disastrous 1-6-1 start to the season for his Canadiens, and on the heels of an 0-3 run through California that saw them out-scored 16-5 by the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. But we certainly thought it might have been appropriate, and we believe it would’ve helped deflect a bit of the heat coach Claude Julien and the players are taking on in daily interactions with the media. After all, this edition of the Canadiens, in the sixth year of Bergevin’s tenure as GM, is built more in his image than any other that’s come before it. He admitted as much in a pre-season interview with TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
So the request was made on Sunday that Bergevin be made available to the media after Monday’s practice. It was declined Monday morning.
“The decision was made as an organization,” said a senior member of the Canadiens’ administration, who wished to remain anonymous.
The person added that, “It’s possible Bergevin will decide to speak Tuesday, Wednesday, or on some other day in the near future.”
But speaking on Monday would’ve enabled Bergevin to address some of the criticism levied towards him in this scathing Sunday column from the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan. He may have taken a minute or two to address assertions made in this space — one of them being that the team’s defence appears as though it was assembled to compete for the 2003 Stanley Cup rather than the one handed out in 2017’s high-flying NHL — following the team’s 6-2 loss to Anaheim on Friday.
But none of that would’ve been as significant or as impactful as the actual gesture itself of coming out to face the proverbial music, a public display of accountability for the team’s worst start to a season since 1941.
“That’s usually what leaders do; they put it on themselves. That’s what he was doing [in January of 2016],” said Brendan Gallagher before offering up the other side of the coin.
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Gallagher. “We know how [Bergevin] feels. He’s told us time and time again how much he believes in us. But his message, at the same time, is that his belief doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe in ourselves.
“You want to prove him right. You don’t want to let each other down. We are a team in here and we want to treat each other like that and be accountable to each other.”
The thing is, Bergevin isn’t solely accountable to the players or to Molson, who affirmed his belief in the GM at a press briefing for the Canadiens’ condo development project last week, saying, “I have confidence in our team and management to bring us back to victory,” and adding, “the most important thing for me is to have the right people in place, and I believe I do.”
As architect of the team, Bergevin also has a responsibility to the millions of Canadiens fans who are paying top dollar for a product that has (so far) tumbled way below expectations; the people who are trying to understand the decisions that have taken the team down this road; the people who want an explanation from the person in charge on how the team will dig itself out of this hole.
It seemed logical all of that might come on Monday, with a seven-game losing streak stoking the fire around the team to rage hotter and higher.
Bergevin’s comments may not have been able to smother it, but his silence couldn’t possibly have helped.