An assessment of Marc Bergevin and whether he should remain at the post of General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens can not be made without making an assessment of all the other GMs of the National Hockey League. You can’t assess Bergevin in a vacuum. You can only assess by comparing him to 30 other GMs doing the same job. That complicated job is an assessment of the talents of players not only now, but also their tomorrows. The job of GM is not math. Thirty-one GMs don’t get to say the answer to two plus two is four; instead, 31 GMs fight amongst themselves in evaluating, not math, but art.
So what sets up one GM as successful and another as a failure? The answer is in the severity of his mistakes and the repetition of his mistakes compared to his peers. Does Marc Bergevin stand out as horrible amongst his peers? If you answer yes, you have your justification for a Bergevin pink slip.
So where are we on that? Let’s evaluate these artists and see, among them, where Bergevin stands.
Every single GM has his own Alexander Radulov. An assessment of the Radulov situation can not be made without considering his freedom. You know the story… Radulov was given the same contract offer as the Dallas Stars by Bergevin. Radulov had told everyone that he loved Montreal and he wanted to stay, but in the end, he chose lower taxes, a chance to live in anonymity, and better weather. You see what Bergevin couldn’t control here is a man’s free will. Radulov was an unrestricted free agent. What happened to Bergevin happened twice this off-season. Andrei Markov also exercised his free will. Every single year this happens to every GM because it is actually written in the CBA. You can’t keep a player who wishes to move on. Shall the Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff be fired for not signing Andrew Ladd? Why not? Ladd left Winnipeg after a trade and the GM did nothing about it. Shall the New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton be fired for not signing Kevin Shattenkirk at the end of the season? Why not? He didn’t sign his UFA. Around the league, every GM has players not sign to weaken his team. That’s the way it works. It’s called free agency. Bergevin doesn’t stand apart. He stands exactly in the same place as his peers. How in heaven’s name is a UFA exercising his free will which happens 70 times each July 1st a fireable offence? If Bergevin should be fired for not signing his unrestricted free agents, then no GM should remain at his post in any city. Fire them all!
You also can’t claim that Bergevin’s penchant for trying out fourth liners or third pair defencemen to see if someone elevates their game is a fireable offence. It costs nothing. You see if they work. When they don’t, they cost you nothing. They’re not grave errors. Mark Streit? Bad decision, but what did he cost you? Next to nothing. This is his thing. He loves doing this. Sometimes it works and he gets Paul Byron and sometimes it doesn’t and Bryan Flynn is free to go. Low risk. High reward. Not a fireable offence. Not even an offence at all really with such little down side to all of these win-one-lose-one moves.
What then is a fireable offence? It is when a GM signs an albatross contract or commits a lopsided trade and he keeps making that big mistake. A GM worth firing has to stand out as poor being beaten continually by his peers signing poor contracts and getting beaten at trades. To see where Marc Bergevin stands in the history of GMs, one must look at what has historically defined failure.
The greatest failure in league history at GM is Mike Milbury of the New York Islanders who signed Alexei Yashin for 10 years and he signed Rick Dipietro for 15 years. These contracts were and are fireable offences. The players were quickly gone, and the money had to be paid out.
Let’s keep going.
As GM of the Habs Bob Gainey traded for Scott Gomez who was in a 7 year contract paying him 7.3 million per season and he was already sharply in decline. Just taking this contract off Glenn Sather’s hands was already a win for the Rangers, but Gainey also gave New York Ryan McDonagh who was a first round draft pick with a great career budding in front of him. This trade was so bad and cost so much that it is a fireable offence.
Let’s keep going.
David Poile acquired Paul Gaustad for a first round draft choice at the trading deadline. Gaustad did little and the Predators made a quick exit from the playoffs. Poile doubled down on his clear error by signing Gaustad to a long term contract. Gaustad had no hockey left in him but remained a terrible player for five years in Nashville because the money was spent and the courage to eat the contract wasn’t there. That for Poile was a fireable offence.
Hold it though. Put the breaks on. Poile didn’t get fired. Not all fireable offences lead to firings. Poile is now the genius who took 35 years to get to his first Stanley Cup final and was forgiven for that gaffe and the gaffe of bringing back a failing Mike Ribeiro who insiders already knew was also having trouble with the law in Dallas for a long standing penchant for poor behaviour. Big fireable gaffes by Poile, but now he stands amongst his peers as a genius by foreseeing the budding importance of the mobile defenceman. The calls were out there to fire Poile when the Predators were a failure over and over again in the playoffs culminating in the Gaustad and Ribeiro fireable offences. Nashville fans are very happy today for the patience shown then.
Let’s keep going.
George McPhee in Washington with a fireable offence as he traded his first round draft choice Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat who was clearly already slowing down for the Predators. Erat’s numbers were horrible. Forsberg was one of the top players at the World Junior Championship while Erat was just about done. McPhee who was yesterday’s idiot is now today’s genius as the Vegas Golden Knights are writing the greatest expansion team story in NHL history. Vegas has lost only two games at home this season and sits in first place in the Pacific Division. The architect of this amazing story is the GM who seemed to be an absolute hockey moron not assessing correctly Erat or Forsberg.
Four examples given. In two, Milbury and Gainey made mistakes and now are out of the GM chair. Two others made mistakes and are believed to be incompetent at the time but recover to be today’s geniuses at their job – Poile and McPhee.
Huge blunders by GMs can not be counted there are so many. Some GMs recovered to fight another day. Some lost their jobs. Look up the names Andrew MacDonald, Jeff Finger, Matt Moulson, Ilya Bryzgalov, David Clarkson, Ville Leino, Chris Drury, Mike Komisarek.
These and many more are massive blunders by GMs who didn’t see the future correctly, because this is not a math equation. This job is art. Art has mistakes in it. Art is drawn with a pencil. And at the end of that pencil is an eraser.
Marc Bergevin has made only one significantly bad move in his entire six year tenure. This is the first contract that he has given that could haunt him severely. This could be his albatross. This may be his Clarkson, or his Komisarek. We can’t say yet, but this contract to Karl Alzner is at least in the realm.
Five years isn’t the worst amount of years given to a player who we are seeing on the decline, but it’s pretty bad. Five million dollars isn’t the worst amount of money given to a player who we are seeing on the decline, but it’s pretty bad. If Bergevin can’t extricate himself from this contract and Alzner continues to decline, and then Bergevin repeats this type of error, then, yes, Bergevin would be committing fireable offences.
So with this Alzner contract, Bergevin has entered the same room that all of his other peers are sitting in. He is now in the same room of David Poile who has his Paul Gaustad, in the same room of George McPhee who has his Martin Erat. Bergevin is now like every GM in the NHL who now has to correct a big mistake.
Welcome to the club, Marc. Here’s your pencil.