Habs’ fans can be finicky at times… or often, depending on who you ask and who you’re talking about. Particularly when the team is struggling for consistency and the results on the ice simply aren’t there and haven’t been there for close to 30 years now. So there is ground to be frustrated and we all are. An organisation often accused of a lack of transparency, Geoff Molson and his staff have ensured to tell the media and the fans more than before. That doesn’t mean that they’ll tell us everything – it’s a company after all – but they have been more proactive with their information, the one that they could share.
You want transparency, you got transparency. That’s what found out La Presse senior reporter Mathias Brunet in an exclusive interview with Canadiens’ General manager Marc Bergevin. They touched on many different topics, some of them delicate, and he opened up on pretty much all of them. If you understand French, I encourage you to read the integral original article in La Presse but since many Habs’ fans don’t speak La Langue de Molière, I felt compelled to allow those who prefer Shakespeare to be able to appreciate it as well.
“I hope that Nick Suzuki doesn’t go through the second year jinx. I would like for Jesperi Kotkaniemi to get to the next level. We are hoping that Romanov comes over. We are considering sacrificing an element on offense tor help at the back end, if something becomes available of course. But one thing is for sure: if we play with the same lack of consistency, we won’t get into the playoffs. There’s not one player who can come in this summer who will guarantee a place in the playoffs.”
“Why have the Blue Jackets, with all their injuries, with the loss of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, are surprising? They decided to play as a team and pay attention to details. Players much by what the coach is selling and play a more structured way, be ready to sacrifice their personal statistics for the good of the team. Good teams do that. And I strongly believe in that.”
“Rebuilds don’t guarantee anything either. I will not make a decision short term to look good and make the team look back long term. Maybe it will cost me my job, but I have too much respect for the organisation to do that.”
“Yes, I would like for the public to see the line in 2018 between two phases. When I arrived in 2012, the team had finished 27th overall. From the beginning, I was thinking that the team wasn’t that bad. P.K. Subban was young, Max Pacioretty was young, Carey Price was young, Andrei Markov was still playing some good hockey. Internally, there was some conflict. The environment wasn’t sain. It was all crooked between them. Erik Cole was fighting with so and so. I thought making adjustments to to give this core group a chance to win.”
“We made the playoffs the first year and lost to Ottawa. We reached the Eastern finals the second year. The third year, we were second overall when Pricer got injured on November 25th in New York. We missed the playoffs. You lose your franchise player, it hurts. Nothing was telling me that this group wasn’t capable of performing. We didn’t make changes and got 103 points the next season. We lost in the first round to the Rangers.”
The team finally hit a wall in 2017-18.
“It was time to make changes, to move on to something else. We traded Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and for me, it was my second mandate. But when I look at the first phase, we had some good sequences, even if we didn’t reach the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”
“Cole Caufield is having a good season. But in our eyes, he’s not ready. We’ll make a decision at the end of the season. If he really wants to quit college, we won’t force him but we’ll recommend he stays in Wisconsin. It doesn’t mean that he’s a disappointment. We aim for the best for his long term development. We’re still having discussions about it. It’s possible that we send him to Laval next year. But Laval will be tough too. It’s a men’s league.”
“He’s struggling a bit in his zone. He’ll score when he has the puck and he will be able to score here, but in a hockey game, the player doesn’t have the puck for very long. He still has work to do without the puck. He needs mileage.”
“What’s scary in Montreal, it’s the expectations. We are trying to minimize expectations as much as possible. It’s not to be negative, it’s reality. It’s hard for Jack Hughes this season; it doesn’t mean he’s a bad player.”
When asked if he regrets letting Jesperi Kotkaniemi play in Montreal at 18 last year?
“No. I based it on training camp. He deserved to be here. No one would have said otherwise. Up until January, everything went well. We thought that it might be fatigue. It was okay for him to slow down. What disappointed me most was his training camp this year. He had a very underwhelming camp from the start. Injuries after didn’t help him.”
Habs are happy with the work ethics since he was sent down to Laval. It hasn’t always been the case.
“We had discussions with him. We thought that sometimes, there was a bit of resistance. It’s one of the reasons why he didn’t reach the next level. We work to help him and we don’t want him to think that we’re against him. When I saw him play recently, I noticed that his tempo had picked up.”
“He needs to get more strength in his legs. His gravity centre is low when he skates, but he stands up when getting into a battle for the puck. He must stay low. We also want him to be stronger on his stick when fighting for the puck. We’re not talking big bodychecks here. The best example is Patrice Bergeron. He doesn’t hit much but he wins his battles. Nick Suzuki has it. KK does it, but he must do it more consistently. He still has the same habits he had here but Joël Bouchard sees them and he works with him to fix them. And it’s improving. Junior habits, it takes time to break them. KK, it’s a bit like that.”
Bergevin had this to say about his most recent trip to Moscow to see prospect Alexander Romanov:
“We wanted to see him again, his family and him. Maintaining a relationship, tell them that we want him in Montreal as soon as possible.”
When asked which pick he’s the proudest off in 2012, he says Romanov without hesitation.
“I went to Sweden at our European combine a few weeks before Draft because my guys were telling me to keep an eye on him. I like the way he behaved, worked out, looking at you in the eye. I liked the kid. Sometimes, it’s not a good thing but he had something about him.”
“Internally, they were telling us to wait longer – before picking him at 38) but with Trevor Timmins, we decided to pick him early. I spoke to two GMs after the Draft who told me that he wouldn’t have been available had we waited to pick 56, our next pick.”
“We will be careful by saying that he’ll start on the third pairing: then we’ll see how he adjusts. He plays against men in Russia but the NHL is the best league in the world. He’ll eventually move up but we don’t know how long it will take him. He’s a very alert defenseman. The word “alert” is key. He sees what’s happening on the ice. He breaks a lot of plays.”
“He will be a young defenseman who, at 23-24 years old, will give us 24-25 minutes against the opposition’s top line. We see him as a defenseman you send to protect a lead, play short handed and possibly the last 30 seconds of a power play when you know that the other team will come back with their top line. But we must give him time. A defenseman like that, I consider as important as a 60 points defenseman, but at high risk.”
Bergevin seems to want to bring Ilya Kovalchuk back next season.
“He would be good for Romanov. It’s the Russian culture. We’re not only looking at what Kovy will do on the ice. He’s a real pro and brings many other things too.”
“The worst thing that happened with Ryan Poehling for fans and media is his famous 3-goals game. It raised expectations. For us that night, we looked at each other and while we were happy for the kid, we thought that next year, he might score three all year.”
“In my mind, Poehling will become, in a few years, your third line centre who will win you faceoffs, play short handed and face the opposition’s top line on a really good team.”
About July 1st
“More and more, July first is a waste of time. Teams have already retained the players they want to keep. You can always add some small pieces. Last year, it turned out great for us with Ben Chiarot. Many teams are probably thinking that they should have tried to get him. Otherwise, every GM will tell you: put your phone aside that day so you don’t do anything stupid.”
His trip to Colorado the week before trade deadline
“It didn’t come close. I would have liked it, but no. We didn’t get far enough, but everything can change.”
The Habs’ young Left Defensemen
“Our intention for Mattias Norlinder is to let him play one more season in Sweden and then, bring him with us. Jordan Harris, we’re happy of his progression and we will make a decision at the end of the season. It’s possible that we make him go pro, it will up to him. We’re having internal discussions about him. What helps him a lot is his skating. But he will likely have to put some mileage in Laval.”
Alex Galchenyuk vs Morgan Rielly
“At the 2012 Draft, I really liked Morgan Rielly. But I was just hired and my new staff really liked Alex Galchenyuk. I was with Chicago that year and we were drafting later We didn’t waste our time on Galchenyuk, who would be picked much sooner; further, he barely played that year. I was looking at our situation at centre and we had David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, and Chucky was considered a centre. When you get in position and you haven’t watched Galchenyuk play and you will force them to pick another player? That would be starting a relationship on the right foot. I let them pick. In addition, a agreed, I know that we needed centres. But I really liked Morgan Rielly.”
“If you look today, maybe it’s hurting a defense a bit. But since the trade, Jo has yet to reach his maximum potential. As long as that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to compare the two. At the time, we had just lost Alexander Radulov and we brought in a Quebecer and that was important. We asked ourselves an important question: if both players were available at the same Draft, which one would we pick? The answer was Drouin. In every decision, there are risks. But in our eyes, it was worth the risk.”
“We wanted to sign him in 2017. We offered him more than what he got in Russia. He didn’t have an agent. Even his former agent said that he would have advised him to accept our offer. I had to negotiate with him. It didn’t work. Not long after, he even told someone close to the organisation that he regretted not having accepted our offer. Do I regret that he didn’t accept the offer? Yes, but I wouldn’t have done anything different.”
There you have it folks. Lots of juicy information in that great interview by Mr. Brunet. You know when Claude Julien got mad at a reporter earlier this week because of the questions asked? Rest assured that it wasn’t from Mathias. While there are some rotten apples in the media in Montreal, there are also many good ones. Go Habs Go!