MONTREAL — Marc Bergevin spoke over 2000 words in just under 32 minutes to open Canadiens training camp Sunday, but what he didn’t say was just as relevant as what he did.
“We hope to make the playoffs and see what happens,” was never uttered.
Bergevin’s reliable opening salvo of failed seasons past was replaced by “we have internal expectations that are high, and we can’t hide from that.”
Sounds like a hit!
“Excited,” was a word Bergevin said not once, not twice, but seven times.
“How did you feel driving into work today,” the GM was asked.
“Excited,” Bergevin responded. “I’m excited.”
“Every time you start a new season, you’re always excited, but I’ve watched a little bit of the skate this morning and I like what we’ve done,” Bergevin said.
Ahead of a season that threatens to throw every team more curveballs than Clayton Kershaw would in a calendar year—with the ever-present threat of a COVID-19 outbreak and injuries looming—Bergevin spent the last number of months adding key pieces at every position and rounding the Canadiens into a team that should have greater ambitions than just hopefully making it and seeing what happens.
First came Jake Allen, the goaltender Bergevin traded for back on Sept. 2, the one he hesitated to refer to as a backup on Sunday.
“We have two really good goalies to approach the schedule we’ll have this year,” Bergevin said of the 56-game block that will feature 10 sets of back-to-back games for the Canadiens.
Of Joel Edmundson—the six-foot-four defenceman Bergevin traded for on Sept. 12 and signed four days later to a four-year, $14-million contract—the GM said he’ll bring a “presence” to Montreal’s already-bulky blue line, which will also feature feisty and fierce rookie Alexander Romanov.
Not just for depth, but for this, too:
“It sends a message to the league and to our own players,” Bergevin said about the Stanley Cup winner, noted playoff performer and member of the exclusive ‘Triple Gold Club.’
“We mean business, we’re here to win, and we could play any way you want to play,” Bergevin said.
It sure rings different than the message the Canadiens were sending over the last few seasons as a team firmly entrenched in the early stages of a reset.
That team wasn’t designed for versatility. This one is.
With five Stanley Cup winners added, with more punch and pugnacity featured and with speed still at the core of its composition, this Canadiens team appears ready for more.
“Again, you can put anything on paper, (but) it doesn’t matter until you start playing games and having the results,” Bergevin cautioned.
But that’s about as far as he went to temper expectations.
Bergevin even raised them for now, and for at least a few seasons to follow.
“We have 56 games to play and we’re putting the best team available to us on the ice, and we haven’t sacrificed our short- or long-term future to put this team together,” he said. “People from the NHL who want to say we’ve bet everything on this season as if we were playing poker and we pushed all our chips in, we haven’t done that. We added elements without giving anything away that’s relevant to our future. We’ve kept our prospects and kept our (high) draft picks, so the team is well-placed for this year and for years to come.”
How much does Bergevin like this group? Enough to say that, provided everyone remains healthy between now and the start of the season on Jan. 13, he doesn’t anticipate making any other additions.
There’s no room for any, regardless. Bergevin has gone from habitually spending below the upper limit of the NHL’s salary cap in recent years to surpassing it by over a million dollars this year—a situation he’ll manage on the daily with capologist John Sedgwick and one that will require the Canadiens to begin the season with less than 23 players on the active roster.
There will be paper transactions aplenty—fluid movement between the NHL, the four-to-six man taxi squad the team can carry and the American Hockey League affiliate in Laval—all in the aim of keeping the Canadiens cap compliant and deep.
That part will be essential. Especially with trade dynamics severely affected by coronavirus and North American border restrictions.
“I think it was (Pittsburgh Penguins GM) Jimmy Rutherford that mentioned that trade—there will probably be none this year,” Bergevin said. “Quarantine…it’s going to be difficult to get a player from the States…”
And it’s going to be harder to get one from Canadian rivals who now make up the North Division the Canadiens are competing in.
As Bergevin noted, the competition will be tighter than tight above the 49th parallel.
“We know only four teams will make the playoffs, and so three will miss—and they’ll be good teams, too,” he said.
But Bergevin doesn’t believe the Canadiens will be one of them.
He’s barely even leaving room for that possibility, and that’s a welcome change around these parts.