Fans and Media Frustration: Is It Justified?

There are many ways to qualify fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Some are great, others well… not so much. The most often used are: relentless, bipolar, knowledgeable (although most times self-proclaimed), fearsed, loud, annoying, caring, loving, loyal, true… unfortunately, two more have popped up in recent years: Subbanistas (referring to fans mad at the organisation for trading fan favourite P.K. Subban) and fanboys (often used by the last group to describe fans supporting the organisation in their actions). Last but not least is passionate and all share that qualificative.

We don’t need to look far for examples, as we can all recognise ourselves in many of those including the last one. We know it and make no excuse about it. And nor should we as if anything, we’re proud of it. It is often said that in Quebec, or amongst the Habs’ fan base, hockey is a religion. Being a Christian myself, I wouldn’t go that far but it does seem like for some, their passion about the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge is just as passionate as when talking about politics or religion. Unfortunately though, with such immense passion comes a bit of nastiness and it’s quite evident when listening, reading or watching some media outlets or reading comments on social media. It often goes too far, in my humble opinion.

The Trades

After he was done trading, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin had his annual press conference, meeting the media to answer questions. But before we get into that, let’s look at what he has done leading up to that from a NHL point of view.

OUTIN
Nick Cousins4th round 2021 (VGK)
Matthew PecaAaron Luchuk
7th round 2020 (OTT)
Nate Thompson5th round 2021 (PHI)
Ilya Kovalchuk3rd round 2020 (WAS)
Marco Scandella2nd round 2020 (STL)
Cond. 4th 2021 (STL)

There were many rumours circling around the Canadiens. Feeding some of those rumours was a trip that Bergevin and his right-hand man Scott Mellanby took to Colorado last week, when they attended two of the Avalanche’s games. You don’t have your top-two hockey men make such a trip for small trades. Where it got out of hand is the names thrown around by media members and rumouroids on the internet. Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar, Artturi Lehkonen and even… Carey Price were all in the rumour mill at one point or another. And in spite of knowing full well that Bergevin and the Canadiens hold their cards tight to their chest, it didn’t keep media and fans from speculating and by the same token, bringing hopes up for many of them.

I can’t help but wonder if the main issue here is not as much the fact that no major trade was made by the Canadiens’ organisation, but rather that fans’ expectations didn’t jive with what the organisation has said they were doing all along: a reset. For example, because some fans believe that the team should do a full rebuild (the Senators now being the example used – it used to be the Leafs if you recall), they overlook that it’s not what the team is doing. On a full rebuild, they would have cashed in on Tatar and Petry, for example. But it’s not a rebuild. Which means that in reality, fans and media are mad at the perceived inactions of the team based on their own beliefs, not on reality. Further, one must know the difference between a rebuild and a reset because there is a difference.

Press Conference

Watching the press conference on RDS.ca, you saw a tired Bergevin, hair sticking up, not quite his usual joking self. He looked tired, even a bit frustrated. We saw a man who has been up for a while and worked all day, all week, to try to improve his team and get the best deals possible to follow a plan: HIS plan, the one he sold to team President Geoff Molson in the summer of 2018 when the organisation changed direction towards a reset. And he did just that by trading pending UFAs, some he didn’t have weeks ago, for picks and the Canadiens now have 14 picks in seven rounds for the upcoming NHL Draft in Montreal in June, including six in the first three rounds.

Armed with their own unrealistic expectations, it’s a more than usual frustrated group of journalists who were waiting for Bergevin at that press conference. Like a pack of hyenas hoping to jump on a tired prey, they tried to corner Bergevin in many occasions by trying to get details of the ins and outs of the days leading up to this, or making him say things that they wanted to hear. But the Canadiens’ GM didn’t take the bait, and was elusive at times, honest most times, but wouldn’t provide them with the information that they wanted. He did say a lot even by not saying much word for word, but they wanted to hear those words… and they were left on their appetite, visuably frustrated by it.

Bergevin touched on wanting to remain competitive next year to justify not trading players like Petry and Tatar (who he didn’t want to single out). He basically was saying that he’s not in for a full rebuild, which he’s been saying for two years now. Yet, reporters (and some fans) wanted him to say that he was, or were hoping that he would. Ultimately, they didn’t want to accept what the organisation is actually doing because they feel it’s not the right thing to do. That’s not on the organisation or Bergevin, it’s on them… but they can’t seem to recognise that it’s the true source of their frustration.

He also touched on the draft. Gave the examples of Jake Evans – who was called up at the time – and Cayden Primeau as two of the organisation’s 7th round picks. He explained that for every organisations, there are hits and misses. Without naming it, he gave the example of a team who picked a guy in the second round who is now an impact player, and their own first round pick was a flop. If the draft is a perfect science, why didn’t they pick him in the first round then, he asked? That made sense to me, but obviously not to many others. He went further by saying that on top of good scouting, teams need some luck as there are many factors influencing the development of 17 year olds, stating that if they drafted them at 20, there would be fewer misses. What did some media and fans retain from those comments? That drafting is all on luck. Yet, it’s clearly not what he said.

He clearly answered a question in French about the “retooling” – when in fact it’s a reset – explaining that they have great prospects coming but that they aren’t ready. In fact, most are still in Junior, NCAA or in Europe, justifying the lack of depth in Laval (for the time being). He gave the example of Joel Bouchard having to go through 43 players in the AHL, and his role. He explained that while making the playoffs in Laval is important, developing those young players is more important, something Bouchard himself has said in several occasions: he will keep playing the young guys in key situations even if or when they make mistakes so they learn from them, something NHL teams can’t afford to do.

Bergevin went on many more topics including his relationship with Ilya Kovalchuk – comments echoed by the player himself – and spoke about the core of his team. He stated that he can’t promise that everyone will still be with the team comes June and that he will try to improve the team. He spoke on this season and what went wrong, the two eight-games winless streaks, their home record, special teams and even coaching staff. But he didn’t give details on many inside discussions and mostly, wouldn’t go for that rebuild some people were hoping he would do.

All in all, it was a good press conference but many media members were said to be confused by. In reality, they were simply left on their appetite by a GM who won’t be intimidated and forced into a corner by them… and that stings in a market used to getting what they want. And because of it, you can expect more and more negativity coming from them which, unfortunately, will feed into the frustration felt by many people in the fan base… instead of explaining what Bergevin was saying. So ultimately, the issue is not as much on what Bergevin did or did not do, but rather on the expectations people had coming in… and that folks, is not the organisation’s fault. But hey, controversy sells, right?

On a side note, while a deal wasn’t concluded between the Avalanche and the Canadiens by trade deadline, something tells me that Joe Sakic and Marc Bergevin have planted the seeds on a potential summer deal, when most big trades occur… and I would predict that if a trade happens, it will likely be after the lottery draft, when we know where Colorado is drafting. And below, here’s what Pierre LeBrun had to say after trade deadline about Marc Bergevin and what his peers are saying. Go Habs Go!

One team to monitor this offseason? Montreal. I’ve talked to a few of his colleagues around the league over the past few weeks who believe GM Marc Bergevin will be swinging for the fences this summer. Stay tuned.
~ Pierre LeBrun

For those who may have missed the press conference, Dan Braverman has a summary on Canadiens.com, with video of it in his article.

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