Long-time NHL defenseman Marc Bergevin was one of the great pranksters and quipsters in the sport. He added color to every dressing room he joined.
But now he faces a grimly serious challenge. As the new general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, he must rebuild one of the world’s most storied professional franchises from scratch.
The public relations portion of the job will come easily for Bergevin. After replacing the media-shy Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier as GM, he charmed reporters during his introductory news conference.
“I played for eight teams, although I may be forgetting a couple,” Bergevin joked. “My luggage was always one team late.”
His immediate tasks include:
Hiring a new head coach. Candidates must be bilingual, as Bergevin is, to deal with the Montreal media and fans. Patrick Roy has campaigned for the job, but reporters are wondering if Alain Vigneault may depart Vancouver after the first-round demise of his Canucks.
Securing his key restricted free agents, goaltender Carey Price and defenseman P.K. Subban, to new long-term contracts.
Beefing up the front office. The Globe and Mail wonders if Bergevin will hire mentor, long-time NHL executive Rick Dudley, from the crowded Toronto front office.
Beefing up the franchise’s scouting of Quebec. Montreal has done a miserable job of drafting and developing players from its own province.
Cleaning up the roster mess. Step One appears to be buying out useless center Scott Gomez, who counts $7.4 million against the salary cap in each of the next two seasons.
General manager Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier has moved on down the trail, as expected. Apparently he jumped before getting pushed.
Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth will play out the string while pondering his own future. He didn’t deliever results after tagging in for coach Jacques Martin.
This storied franchise sunk to dead last in the Eastern Conference. It has richly earned his spot in the coming NHL Draft lottery.
The Canadiens need to start over with strong new leadership. The formula of committing huge dollars to marginal players somehow didn’t work.
Bob Gainey shares in the responsibility for this franchise’s demise. So it was not surprising to see Canadiens principal owner Geoff Molson force him out of the front office as well. Habs legend Serge Savard moved into the fold as an advisor.
Former Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy is a front office option, despite his attempts to chill such chatter. A more sensible GM choice would be Lightning assistant GM Julien BrisBois, a long-time member of the Montreal organization.
Before becoming Steve Yzerman’s right-hand man in Tampa, BriseBois was GM of Montreal's AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The next GM will have to score big with the high first-round draft pick, secure goaltender Carey Price with a new long-term deal and shed some of the franchise’s burdensome salaries.
Patrick Roy has announced that he is ready to consider NHL jobs after this junior hockey season. That news has Canadiens fans on red alert.
Roy, a Montreal legend, has forged a tough-guy coaching reputation while working with younger players. He is one of the potential Canadiens coaching candidates that excites the public.
Nobody gives interim coach Randy Cunneyworth much of a chance to get that job on a more permanent basis. He doesn’t speak French and he hasn’t inspired a turnaround to this point.
As the Ottawa Sun notes, this creates a lot of speculation. Canadiens owner Geoff Moulson is not a happy man right now.
Could Roy move behind the Canadiens bench next season? Or could he become general manager in place of Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier, with the well-traveled Bob Hartley moving in as coach?
Might assistant Lightning GM Julian Brisebois be a worthy replacement for Gauthier? What about player agent Pat Brisson or Senators executive Pierre Dorion?
And what about former NHL player, coach and GM Bob Gainey – a man with impeccable Canadiens ties? Could he have a hand in all of this?
The Montreal Gazette nominated Guy Carbonneau for a return to that coaching post. He would be up for the challenge.
“I got fired by Bob (Gainey), and Pierre Gauthier was there, so I don’t know what Geoff would do,” Carbonneau told the Gazette. “I loved what I did when I was in Montreal, I enjoyed everything that was around it, even if it was hard … I think there’s nothing that’s ever easy. But I definitely want to go back behind a (NHL) bench, and I think Montreal is a great place for that.
“I would say what Patrick (Roy) said … I would definitely listen.”
Meanwhile cashiered Canadiens coach Jacques Martin is available to other NHL teams, which might be of interest to the floundering Blue Jackets. The defensive-minded Martin has a track record restoring order to undermanned teams.
It’s never too early for NHL general managers and coaches to feel the heat. A topsy-turvy October raised the angst level in several cities.
These individuals are sweating more than most:
Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson: His big money plays for center Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski didn’t pay off, in part because Carter got hurt (cracked foot) and Wisniewski opened the year with an eight-game suspension. Columbus has the NHL's fifth-highest payroll and the 28th-best attendance. The Ottawa Sun notes that he is trying to make another deal to shake up his team. Kris Russell and Derick Brassard are two players mentioned as possible trade chips. The Columbus Dispatch wondered if team president Mike Priest was already feeling out potential GM candidates.
Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel: Many experts are surprised he is still on the job, given his horrific start. He didn’t get to play with a full deck to start the season, but the disastrous start in Columbus left the team in a giant hole. The Columbus Dispatch suggested the team was already pondering potential head coaches to pursue.
There is no shortage of head coaching candidates to choose from, including former NHL coaches like Marc Crawford and minor league coaches like Kirk Muller.
Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier: Montreal’s slow start prompted “The Ghost” to can assistant coach Perry Pearn in a strange move. Wrote Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun: “Many believe he’ll be next out the door and that’s the whisper among NHL types as well. So, who will be his replacement? Here are two names to listen for: Former Habs GM Bob Gainey . . . (and) Tampa assistant GM Julien Brisebois. He left the Habs to take work with Bolts GM Steve Yzerman and was a key figure in the hiring of coach Guy Boucher.”
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin: If Gauthier gets capped, then the mild-mannered Martin could be next. Failure is not an option with the Habs.
Flames GM Jay Feaster: Edmonton’s hot start is pressuring him to speed up his roster overhaul in Calgary. Trouble is he inherited a bunch of players that other teams simply do not want. A slow start by Jarome Iginla (four points in nine October games) hasn't helped.
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