Brian Burke: Attacks on Bergevin Absurd

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In a hyper-sensitive society where political correctness is the only acceptable way, or so it seems, they are few and far between in the NHL who dare speak their mind no matter what the effect could be. Many players, coaches and general managers are being accused of having “canned answers” when meeting with the press and that upsets more than a few people. But one guy who never was afraid of speaking his mind is the current Calgary Flames’ President of hockey operations, Brian Burke.

Having served most prestigious positions in hockey, from players’ agent, GM to President of NHL teams, GM of the US national Olympic team and Executive Vice-President and Director of Hockey Operations in the league’s front office under Gary Bettman, few are more qualified than him. And yes, he has won a Stanley Cup as GM of the Anaheim Ducks, for those who would be tempted to downplay Burke’s achievements.

Vancouver Canucks’ fans will remember some of his most iconic quotes:

Even TSN made a Top-10 quotes from Brian Burke:

Burke calls out Habs’ fans and media

In his most recent rant, Burke didn’t shy away from stepping on people’s toes, even if it happens to be in Montreal. A (loud) minority of fans and media are very vocal about the fact that the Nashville predators are still playing hockey, competing for the NHL’s Holy Grail against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Canadiens’ players are posting pictures of themselves vacationing. Whether it be Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber golfing together, Nathan Beaulieu on a beach with his beautiful girlfriend or Carey Price with a muddy ATV, some fans and media personalities, particularly those who have had to hold back all season talking about THE trade, are out in force.

The flavour of the month is now Predators’ GM David Poile, who for the first time in his 34 year career as a GM (15 in Washington, 19 in Nashville), has managed to bring a team he managed to the Stanley Cup finals. Prior to him, the “model” to follow was Dallas Stars’ GM Jim Nill, but that cooled off rather quickly. But here’s what Burke had to tell the disgruntled Bergevin bashers this past Thursday while being interviewed on TSN690 radio by former Canadiens Chris Nilan:

“Montreal is a different market. In Montreal, you’re stupid twice. In Toronto, you’re only stupid in English. In Montreal, you’re stupid twice, there’s two languages.”

“Marc Bergevin has done a great job in Montreal. He’s a great person and it’s ridiculous the attacks that he’s undergoing right now. It’s absurd.”

“Bergevin is one of the great judges of talent in the modern era. There’s a handful of guys that can really watch games and pick players out. He’s one of them, Rick Dudley’s one of them, Bob Murray’s one of them.”

“What’s haunting him here is the progression of Nashville through the playoffs. Nashville is not winning because of P.K. Subban alone. They’ve had the best goaltender in the league in Pekka Rinne, they’ve been the hardest working team in the playoffs, and that’s what’s enabled them to succeed. The notion Shea Weber for P.K. wasn’t a good deal because P.K. is still playing, how does that work? How does that work?”

“They give you a blindfold and a cigarette, any last words and they shoot you in the head. And they hire a new GM. And that day will come for Marc Bergevin like it comes for all of us, that’s how this business works. But to suggest right now that the things he’s done, that it’s warranted, just doesn’t make any sense. It just proves that some people need hobbies.”

I know, I know… those people will come back accusing Bergevin of excelling at getting bottom-six players. They will sarcastically call the Canadiens’ GM “Bargain Bin”, and they will throw everything in sight towards him or anyone who dares standing up for him or his work. The fact of the matter is that those people don’t know anything about what’s going on behind the scene when running a NHL team. They only see the tip of the iceberg and yet, make judgements based on that.

Sometimes, don’t you wish that team GMs had the guts to do what Burke himself did, at the request of the NHL, and published a diary of the talks that they’ve had with other teams’ GMs, which I highly recommend you read? Let me give you a few examples:

  • Remember when then GM Bob Gainey traded young defenseman prospect Ryan McDonaugh to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez, in hope to plug a hole at centre? What if Bergevin published such a diary and we found out that, in order to get Matt Duchene, the asking price from Joe Sakic was Mikhail Sergachev?
  • What if Bergevin published, in a diary, that he had contacted the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen but was told no, they weren’t interested in any of the team’s defensemen, that in their opinion, they didn’t have an equivalent to Seth Jones?
  • Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, when talking about the trade he made for Martin Hanzal, who was also rumoured in Montreal, said: “In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that.” You see, those picks could have really come in handy right now. They could’ve used them to strike a deal with Vegas to make sure a player like Niederreiter or Dumba doesn’t get taken in the expansion draft, or they could have used them to entice another team to take an expensive contract with a no-move clause off their hands, like Pominville.

Sometimes, the deals you don’t make are the best deals out there. But don’t you wish we would know what’s being offered and demanded in trades that don’t happen? Something tells me that fewer disgruntled fans and media in Montreal would have the audacity to criticize publicly, particularly that they would be judged by everyone if they did. Go Habs Go!

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!