BROSSARD, Que. — Take Marc Bergevin at his word, because he didn’t mince any during Wednesday’s impromptu press conference.
When the Montreal Canadiens general manager was asked why he chose to address the media unsolicited, he explained that he felt it was important, “as the hockey boss,” to express his support for the team and air out his concerns over what he’s witnessed since the season began just over a week ago. He said that he felt it was the thing to do in Montreal, “a special market,” and a city where “tension is higher than it should be” at times, and that was perfectly logical and straightforward.
Bergevin was up front about his own situation, too — in his 10th year as GM and without any assurances there will be an 11th — and much more so than he had been over his last two press conferences. He was asked point blank if, in a perfect world in which he was pulling all the strings and calling all the shots, he’d like to continue in his role with the Canadiens beyond this season, and he responded, “Yes,” and it was refreshing considering he hadn’t been quite as blunt about remaining in Montreal in previously saying he hadn’t lost passion for the job.
But I thought what came out of him next was the most interesting and revealing thing over those 24 minutes at the Canadiens’ south shore practice facility.
“I do still control all the strings,” Bergevin said. “I’m totally in charge. And, like always in the past when I (do) something significant, I always run it by not only the people who work with me — either Scott Mellanby or whoever — but I also run it by (owner) Geoff (Molson), telling him what I do, why I do it. So, nothing has changed that way.”
While it’s possible (and even probable) Bergevin misinterpreted the question, which was cleverly framed by The Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan to finally elicit a straight response about whether or not he still wanted the job in Montreal, I think the GM was also looking for an opportunity to squash any perception that he had one foot out the door and that his unresolved future contract status might have him disengaged from what his team is currently going through in starting the season in such concerning fashion.
In assessing Bergevin’s body language and general demeanour throughout the press conference — he wasn’t just answering questions but welcoming them and, at one point, even asking for more of them — it seemed clear that on top of saying what he said, he wanted to show that he’s committed to honouring his current contract in the same fashion he always has and that he’ll stand in front of his coach and his players to take all same the shots.
Bergevin could have chosen to stay in his office. Aside from sharing that he hadn’t been permitted to be in contact with Carey Price, who, by virtue of entering into the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program two weeks ago, is limited to very little (if any) outside contact, aside from clarifying that Edmundson would be away (indefinitely) in Manitoba to be with his father, who’s struggling in his battle with lung cancer, and aside from confirming once again that Weber would not play this year and was “a longshot” to ever play again, what he said didn’t add all that much to what Dominique Ducharme, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry or Brendan Gallagher said over the prior 24 hours. And all the stuff about Price, Edmundson and Weber really only came up because he was asked about it.
Had Bergevin not been around to answer after his team extended its losing streak to four games with a 5-0 stinker on home ice against the San Jose Sharks — and just days after New York Post columnist Larry Brooks casually dropped into his weekend notes that he was told not to be surprised if Bergevin eventually landed a job with the Los Angeles Kings next season under longtime friend and team president Luc Robitaille — it might have had some people questioning just how present he is at the moment.
Still, the gesture from Bergevin on Wednesday clearly wasn’t just self-serving. While it was mostly to assure the media and the public that he’s right there in the trenches, it must have felt reassuring to coach Ducharme and the players.
Bergevin affirmed his belief in all of them and said that regardless of salary cap limitations and early-season dynamics typically locking the trade market, he wouldn’t “make a move just to make a move.” He offered that “winners find solutions and losers find excuses,” and that he believed his players just needed to look inward, play more to their potential and find solutions.
“They’ve done it before,” Bergevin said, “and they have to find a way to dig deep…”
He didn’t shy away from acknowledging that the void left by Price, Edmundson, Paul Byron and recently departed players via free agency had contributed to the Canadiens’ disastrous start to the season. He didn’t cower from the suggestion that, despite having good leaders in Gallagher, Petry and Chiarot, no one could be expected to replace Weber and his larger-than-life presence both on and off the ice.
Bergevin even added that no one left from the Canadiens’ run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final could instantly change the mood in the room or shift the energy on the ice just by giving off a look the way Weber patently did.
But he said, “I still expect us to find a way.”
Bergevin said he wasn’t completely shocked by the start his team got out to after what he saw in training camp, that the Canadiens appear to have somewhat fallen into the same trap many teams have after long playoff runs and short summers — something he had spent time discussing with rival GMs who had gone through it recently — and he offered this frank opinion on why it was happening:
“I’m trying to be in their head, which is almost impossible,” Bergevin said. “But from my experience, from watching, it’s like taking the easy way out. Meaning it’s going to come easy now. We had success, so we’re just going to go out there and have success.”
He was pointing out what seemed obvious enough to anyone watching.
What seemed more relevant was that Bergevin was there to do it after only four games. He was there because Montreal is indeed “a special market,” and one where “tension is higher than it needs to be,” and that tension has much to do with his future as Canadiens GM being in limbo.