Open Letter to Geoff Molson: The Reply

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There is no denying that Montreal Canadiens’ fans are a passionate bunch and they love their team. At least it’s true for most of them as some of the comments being made since the team’s early elimination, combined with loverboy P.K. Subban moving on the the Stanley Cup finals, have all contributed to a real war amongst those who – somewhat – used to pull together cheering for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

One of those venting blog posts was pointed out to me by a couple of Twitter followers who wanted my take about it. The blog post is entitled The Case for Firing Marc Bergevin: An Open Letter to Geoff Molson and was written by a gentleman by the name of Geoff Read who, according to his bio, is an associate professor of History.

In his post, Mr. Read goes on about what he feels are reasons why Canadiens’ owner and President Geoff Molson should fire team General Manager Marc Bergevin. While I will not quote the details of Mr. Read’s reasonings (the link to the full article is posted above), I will break it down the same way he did and you will see why, even if he took the time to read the letter, Mr. Molson will not fire his GM based on what was presented.

For one thing, Bergevin took over as the Canadiens’ General Manager and Executive Vice-President to Mr. Molson on May 2, 2012, a process that the ownership group didn’t take lightly, having hired Molson family long time friend Serge Savard to help narrow the choices. So if one must point the finger, lets ensure that we use the proper timeline when talking about Bergevin’s work. For example, saying that the team hasn’t won a cup since 1993 doesn’t fall on Bergevin’s shoulders, but only the time in which he was at the helm.

“HE TOOK A PROMISING YOUNG TEAM AND TURNED IT INTO A MEDIOCRE AGING ONE.”

Evidence: TRUE or FALSE

This “promising young team” he took over had just finished last in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall in the NHL. Aside from one difficult seasons which saw league MVP Carey Price miss all but 12 games, Bergevin’s team has not missed the playoffs and had seasons of 63 points in 48 games (1st in Northeast), 100 points, 110 points (1st in Atlantic) and 103 points (1st in Atlantic). If that is mediocre, it might be time to get some more realistic expectations or change the definition.

In 2012-2013, the Habs’ average age was 27.353 years old. Last season, the Canadiens ranked 15th in the NHL in age with an average of 26.899 years old. If that’s aging, I am hoping that I do age the same way Bergevin is doing to his team!

“HE HIRED MICHEL THERRIEN.”

Evidence: TRUE or FALSE

Whether fans like it or not, Montreal is a special market in the sense that it is the only truly predominantly francophone market and the organization will hire the best bilingual coach and/or GM available. Now people can chose to have a hissy fit about it, kick, scratch, roll on the floor, cry and behave like a 3 year-old not getting their way at Walmart, it doesn’t change that fact.

Michel Therrien was, along perhaps with Bob Hartley, one of the best bilingual candidates available at the time. Hartley, who was also interviewed by the Calgary Flames for their vacant head coaching positions, decided to go with his good friend Jay Feaster prior to the Habs’ process being done.

Don’t get me wrong, while I wasn’t part of the process and know nothing about how the interviews went, Therrien wasn’t my choice either but his record behind the Canadiens’ bench forced me to admit that he wasn’t as bad as some, including yourself Mr. Read, want to believe.

The teaching of Alex Galchenyuk on the wing was, whether you want to admit it or not, the right thing to do. Five years later, Claude Julien, a very reputable and well respected coach in the NHL who happens to be bilingual, did the same. The fact is that Galchenyuk simply isn’t committed enough to play centre the way it must be played at the NHL level as guess what? Long gone are the days when you put a checking line against the opposition’s top line. Top lines go against each other more often than not and that means that Galchenyuk is/was exposed in his own zone, costing the team. Heck Mr. Read, even Sidney Crosby, in spite of his immense offensive skills, committed himself to become one of the best two-way centres in the league!

“HE STUCK BY THERRIEN FOR FAR TOO LONG.”

Evidence: TRUE* or FALSE

I do lean towards agreeing with that statement. However, even if it were true, allow me to put an asterisk (*) beside that claim for the simple reference of the previous paragraph where you claim that he should have never been hired for the job to start with. While I don’t want to put intentions where there might not be any, it sure looks a bit biased to use as a reason. Fair enough?

“HIS HANDLING OF P.K. SUBBAN WAS A CASE STUDY OF MISMANAGEMENT.”

Evidence: TRUE or FALSE

That is the single biggest misconception that many Habs’ fans believe in when in fact, it’s all made up and unfounded. I will save myself from telling you why I say so, because I have done so in great length in a recent factual article on the topic. As an associate professor of History, you should know that one also needs to look at circumstances and study the reasons for certain behaviours in the course of the said history in order to paint an accurate picture. It obviously wasn’t done prior to writing your original article, Mr. Read, and with time to reflect, I’m sure that you would agree.

“HE HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO IMPROVE THE TEAM’S SCORING.”

Evidence: TRUE or FALSE

The season prior to Bergevin taking over, the Canadiens were 19th in the NHL in goals’ scored per game at 2.52. Since then:

  • 2012-2013: 3.04 G/GP (4th in NHL)
  • 2013-2014: 2.55 G/GP (21st in NHL)
  • 2014-2015: 2.61 G/GP (20th in NHL)
  • 2015-2016: 2.63 G/GP (16th in NHL)
  • 2016:2017: 2.72 G/GP (15th in NHL)

However, as goals’ for is only one small token to determine if a team has improved or not, let’s look if, under Bergevin, he has been able to improve on the team’s goals’ against, shall we? The season prior to taking over, the Canadiens were allowing 2.61 goals against per game. Since then:

  • 2012-2013: 2.58 GA/GP (14th in NHL)
  • 2013-2014: 2.45 GA/GP (8th in NHL)
  • 2014-2015: 2.24 GA/GP (1st in NHL)
  • 2015-2016: 2.84 GA/GP (21st in NHL) – Carey Price played 12 games
  • 2016:2017: 2.41 GA/GP (4th in NHL)

Could he have done more, or would he have liked to add offense? You bet. But he has improved his team. Stating otherwise would be ill intent based on facts alone.

“HIS DRAFT RECORD IS ATROCIOUS.”

Evidence: TRUE or FALSE

You claiming that the Detroit Red Wings were the poster boys until this year has been refuted with facts in many occasions around the NHL, including in an article that I wrote myself.

Charles Hudon, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Jacob De la Rose, and Michael McCarron… you know what these guys all have in common Mr. Read? They were all drafted by Trevor Timmins under Marc Bergevin and they all have NHL experience! You can add Zachary Fucale who was also drafted in those two years and that’s a pretty darn good record, particularly when comparing with others like in the above-mentioned article. Then add Brett Lernout, Nikita Scherbak and Mikhail Sergachev, all drafted since 2014 and who have all had a taste of the NHL already.

Now look at how others drafted more recently are performing at their respective levels and force is to admit that considering where the Canadiens draft most years, they are doing more than just all right. Also don’t forget the fact is that unless a player is drafted early in the first round, rarely will he make the NHL, let alone have an impact at that level for at least 3-5 years.

“CONCLUSION”

So that open letter that’s been going around is factual on one point out of the six total presented. Do you or anyone really think that Molson will act on it by firing his GM? Because a fan or a handful are dissatisfied with the way things have ended this year or worse… because their beloved Subban is gone?

In all due respect Mr. Read, don’t make a career as a historian as using historic facts, studying reasons for human behaviours and putting it all together to paint a clear and precise picture falls along the lines of the few, but loud minority of Habs’ fans who have a sense of entitlement about everything and anything instead of with this country’s good historians.

Bergevin is there to stay as his job is safe. He does, however, have a very important summer ahead of him and no one works harder at his craft than the Canadiens’ GM. Go Habs Go!

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Don’t Hold Your Breath for Habs’ Offer Sheet

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The Canadiens’ season ending rather prematurely certainly has fans and media talking, and with good reasons. The team’s lack of offensive threat has been a problem since the second half of the season and ultimately, cost the team a chance to face the Senators in the division finals and perhaps even to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals.

No one knows that better than better than team GM Marc Bergevin who, in his press conference, acknowledged that his team needs a boost in that department, particularly at the centre position. After all, while Tomas Plekanec was starting to show signs of slowing down, it was difficult to predict that he would be completely MIA on offense and who in their right mind would have predicted that Alex Galchenyuk would hit rock bottom a year after scoring 30 goals?

Fans and media alike are looking at ways that the Habs can improve their offense rather rapidly, based on what’s available out there on the market and they are quick to point out that both Jonathan Drouin and Leon Draisaitl are Restricted Free Agents (RFA) with compensation and could be eligible to offer sheets. While those players are exceptional young talents, many like yours truly question if the offer sheet is even an option.

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Jonathan Drouin is a pending RFA

While legal according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Offer Sheets are seldom used by NHL General Managers and while no one will come out publicly and admit it, the tool is heavily frowned upon by GMs around the league as it is perceived as putting their homologues in dicy situations in a salary cap world, where cheap talent is key to having a competitive team. The fact is that most GMs don’t want to use it, whether is by principle alone, or by fear of retribution by their colleagues in the future.

But instead of going with suppositions, why don’t we look at all of the offer sheets signed since the introduction of the salary cap after the 2005 season. Here’s a chart to help have a clearer picture:

NAME DATE OFFER OWNER SIGNED RESULT
Ryan Kesler Sept 12/06 1 year $1.9M VAN PHI Matched
Thomas Vanek July 6/07 7 years $50M BUF EDM Matched
Dustin Penner July 26/07 5 years $21.5M ANA EDM Accepted
David Backes July 1/08 3 years $7.5M STL VAN Matched
Steve Bernier July 8/08 1 year $2.5M VAN STL Matched
Niklas Hjalmarsson July 9/10 4 years $14M CHI SJS Matched
Shea Weber July 18/12 14 years $110M NAS PHI Matched
Ryan O’Reilly February 28/13 2 years $10M COL CGY Matched

As you notice, only eight players have signed offer sheets as a RFA and all but one was matched by the team. Only Brian Burke‘s Anaheim Ducks backed out and took, instead, the compensation which was the Oilers 1st (12th), 2nd (43rd) and 3rd (73rd) round picks in the 2008 draft.

Everyone else matched the original offer, which is quite telling. If a team is going to brave the rest of the league by signing a player to an offer sheet, they will usually sign players who can have, in their opinion, an impact in the NHL. More interesting though is what happened (or not) to those so-called gutsy GMs who dared to break the unwritten rule.

  1. The first GM out of the gate after the salary cap CBA was Bobby Clarke, who signed Kesler back in September 2006.  He was replaced by Paul Holmgren the following month, on October 22, 2006.
  2. Kevin Lowe is the GM who signed both Vanek and Penner in 2007. He lasted a year before being replaced by Steve Tambellini on July 31, 2008.
  3. Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis was just hired on April 23, 2008 prior to signing Backes to an offer sheet the next summer. St-Louis Blues GM at the time, Larry Pleau, gave him a taste of his own medicine when a week later, he signed Bernier, who was just acquired in a trade four days earlier by Gillis, to an offer sheet of his own. Gillis completed several minor deals after, but had to wait to 2013 before being able to complete a substantial trade, acquiring the 9th pick overall (Bo Horvat) from the Devils for Cory Schneider.
  4. Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks is definitely the exception to the rule. He has completed several trades, including some important ones, after signing Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet in 2010. Wilson has even completed three trades with the Blackhawks since that time!
  5. Faced with the loss of Chris Pronger to injury, Paul Holmgren and the Flyers were in desperation mode and signed Shea Weber to the richest offer sheet in NHL history, hoping that the Predators couldn’t match… but they did. In the two following years at the helm of the team, Holmgren has completed a dozen trades, but none of impact. In the book released for the Flyers’ 50 anniversary, he admitted being unable to find people to trade with because of it. He had to step down and give way to Ron Hextall for that reason.
  6. Brian Burke, then interim GM for the Flames and who was quite verbal against Kevin Lowe’s offer sheet to Dustin Penner six years earlier while GM with the Ducks, signed Ryan O’Reilly to an offer sheet of his own in what is perhaps the most hypocritical offer sheet signing ever. Colorado matched and Burke went back into is President’s role making ways to Brad Treliving just a few months later.

So Habs’ fans and media, unless you want Marc Bergevin out, which clearly some of you do, what do you really think the odds are of him signing one of Drouin or Draisaitl to an offer sheet? Do you honestly think for a minute, based on facts and history, that it would be for the best of the team, of the organization? Oh don’t get me wrong here, if Drouin is available as rumours around the NHL seem to suggest, Bergevin will be all in to get him, but it will be, in my humble opinion at least, through the traditional way of trade. As for Draisaitl, don’t lose too much sleep over that folks, he will be re-signed in Edmonton.