Marc Bergevin was the assistant GM in Chicago since June of 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The refurbishing of the Canadiens’ storied-but-battered reputation got a big boost Wednesday with the hiring of former NHLer and Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin as the 17th GM in Montreal history.
In two decades as a journeyman blueliner, Bergevin was known around the NHL as one of the game’s best-humored people. As former THN writer Mark Brender chronicled in a 2003 Yearbook feature, the 46-year-old was a master prankster and crucial glue guy who kept his fellow players loose and laughing with his affection for the lighter side of life.
As a member of the Blues in 1999, Bergevin thought nothing of donning an air-filled sumo wrestler suit after a playoff game in Phoenix and leaving his teammates in stitches when he fell over and couldn’t get up. When his team’s flights took off from the runway, he would put on a hat with earflaps and goggles and lean forward the way a ski jumper does. When he was a Penguin – playing alongside Mario Lemieux, with whom he played peewee hockey when both were growing up in Montreal – Bergevin once told a security guard at Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center that late Pens head coach Ivan Hlinka (who spoke little English) was not part of Pittsburgh’s team and had the guard attempt to eject Hlinka from the building.
Bergevin’s teammates and friends loved him for his humor and often returned the favor. In 2002, his neighbor in St. Louis, who knew what a massive fan of the Bee Gees Bergevin is, used his computer skills to create concert posters of the singing group with (a) Bergevin’s face photoshopped over each of the three Bee Gees; (b) the concert date scheduled for Bergevin’s Aug. 11 birthday; and (c) his cell phone number in place of a Ticketmaster line. The neighbor stuck the posters all over the Blues’ practice facility and Bergevin bought into the prank fully and completely before realizing he had been messed with. Of course, he took it well.
In short, Bergevin is someone who understood the value of keeping things light. And given Pierre Gauthier, his predecessor as Canadiens GM, was the polar opposite – the dating equivalent would be going from Snooki to Kate Upton – Bergevin’s hiring makes sense. No, he doesn’t have any GM experience on which to draw, but the reason he beat out other candidates for the job (including broadcaster Pierre McGuire and Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois) was because he has established himself as a hard-working management member, someone who has toiled in many capacities (including assistant coach and scout) – and most importantly, a Francophone who understands the nuances of playing in arguably hockey’s biggest fishbowl.
Given the humorlessness, misery and frustration that marked Gauthier’s tenure, the change in tone Bergevin brings is the starting point for all other areas that need to be addressed. If the tension throughout the organization hadn’t been made to dissipate and dissipate in a hurry, it would be nearly impossible for owner Geoff Molson and the team to bring in quality hockey people and players. With Bergevin – who played for nine NHL teams and has countless connections across the league – they’ll be back in the hunt for the best and brightest. And don’t be surprised to see him surround himself with veteran hockey men to help him focus on the team’s problems.
And make no mistake, Bergevin has a lot of trouble spots to deal with. He first has to hire a French-speaking head coach to replace the beleaguered Randy Cunneyworth. Then he has to address a roster that has just 15 players signed for 2012-13, 11 restricted free agents and more than $45 million in committed salary cap space.
(Side note in that regard: at the time news of Bergevin’s hiring leaked into the public domain, another media report suggested the Canadiens would buy out the final two years of underperforming forward Scott Gomez’s contract. This is highly unlikely for a number of reasons – most notably because, with a new collective bargaining agreement needed to play next season, the organization would be a laughing stock and undo whatever good was done with Bergevin’s hiring by tying up more unusable cap space in Gomez’s buyout numbers.)
With the pressures of his new duties, it certainly won’t be easy for Bergevin to maintain that famous positivity and good humor. However, he will be a bright ray of sunshine for a franchise bathed in gloom and grey. For now, that’s as good of a boost to the Canadiens’ sagging fortunes as any.
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