Habs GM Marc Bergevin 'relieved' from duties
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The Montreal Canadiens have fired general manager Marc Bergevin as the team finds itself mired in on-ice struggles mere months after advancing to the 2021 Stanley Cup final.
The Canadiens announced Bergevin's dismissal Sunday as part of a major housecleaning. Assistant GM Trevor Timmins and Paul Wilson, senior vice president of public affairs and communications, were also fired.
The Canadiens announced that former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton will serve as executive vice president of hockey operations as the team searches for a new general manager.
"On behalf of myself and the organization, I wish to thank Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and Paul Wilson for their passion and engagement towards our club over the last years," Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. "Their relentless work allowed our fans to experience many memorable moments, including last summer's playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup final.
"I think, however, that the time has come for a leadership change within our hockey operations department that will bring a new vision and should allow our fans and partners to continue cheering for a championship team."
Molson is scheduled to address the changes in a press conference Monday at 11 a.m. ET.
Bergevin was in his 10th season as the team's GM.
"Montreal is the city where I took my first skating strides and it's also the city where I learned to lead the NHL's winningest franchise," Bergevin said in a statement. "This city and this organization will always have a special place in my heart.
"That said, and despite the fact that this journey is coming to an end, I am proud of the legacy I'm leaving within the organization. The current team is much better than the results show, and I am convinced that my successors will be able to rise to the challenge."
Montreal has a woeful 6-15-2 record this season and is ahead of only the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference standings.
Bergevin's long-term status with the team had been a question since he entered the season on an expiring contract.
Still, this wasn't the start to the season the Canadiens were expecting as the team went into the campaign fresh off an unexpected run to their first Cup final appearance since winning it all in 1993.
Backed by the stellar goaltending of Carey Price, the Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit to upset the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. They followed with a sweep of Winnipeg in the North Division final and a win over Vegas in the conference final before losing to two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay in the final.
Instead, the Canadiens had an off-season to forget and started the campaign without the talismanic Price and captain and defensive stalwart Shea Weber in the lineup.
Price voluntarily entered the joint NHL and NHL Players' Association's assistance program during training camp. Price's has since revealed he entered a residential treatment facility for substance use. Weber, meanwhile, is on the long-term injury reserve list with a foot/ankle injury and could be out for the entire season.
The challenges started even before that, with Bergevin losing two of his four centres in free agency.
In a surprising off-season development, Bergevin let restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi walk after declining to match the one-year US$6.1-million offer sheet the promising young forward signed with Carolina.
The six-foot-two, 201-pound Kotkaniemi, taken third overall by Montreal in the 2018 NHL draft, had five goals and 15 assists in 56 regular-season games last season. He added five goals and three assists in 19 playoff contests.
"The amount of money on a one-year deal for a player who should be making a lot less, it could affect our future," Bergevin said at the time. "We have a structure, our salary cap that we need to work with. And we have some young players coming through that we want to keep."
The Canadiens also lost Phillip Danault to the Los Angeles Kings in unrestricted free agency. In order to soften the blow, Bergevin acquired 25-year-old forward Christian Dvorak from Arizona in exchange for a conditional 2022 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick.
Montreal locked up at least one of their rising young stars, signing centre Nick Suzuki to an eight-year contract extension worth US$63 million. However, Suzuki has struggled to find the net this season and has just four goals in 28 games.
He is not the only young Canadien who seems to have taken a step back. Cole Caufield, so electric when he joined the Canadiens as a rookie late last season, has a goal and two assists in 15 games and just returned from a stint in the minors with the American Hockey League's Laval Rocket.
Meanwhile, the Habs have had to weather not only Price's absence, but injuries to top backup Jake Allen.
The Canadiens brought Montreal native Bergevin, 56, aboard in May 2012 to replace the fired Pierre Gauthier. The Canadiens were coming off a dismal 2011-12 season in which they finished last in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"We feel we have selected an individual with the potential to lead our organization in the future," Molson said at the time. "We were looking for a candidate with very strong leadership capability, great communication skills at all levels and someone with a clear determination and commitment to winning."
Montreal returned to the playoffs in Bergevin's first season at the helm before losing in the first round to Ottawa. They made a big step forward in 2013-14, advancing to the Eastern Conference final before losing in six games to the Rangers.
In Bergevin's nine-plus years at the helm, Montreal made the post-season six times and won seven series, including a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh during the playoff qualification round of the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season.
He wasn't afraid to make a splash during his time in the Habs' front office. His 2016 trade of popular defenceman P.K. Subban to Nashville in exchange for Weber stunned Montreal's fan base and was harshly criticized by the Canadiens' faithful.
Weber's fine performance as team leader and defensive anchor in the years following the swap went some ways to vindicate Bergevin for making the controversial move.
In the 2018 off-season Bergevin traded top forward Max Pacioretty to Vegas, netting Tomas Tatar, Suzuki, and a 2019 second-round selection in return.
Bergevin entered the front office following a long playing career when he was named a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008.
He was the director of pro personnel with the Blackhawks in 2010, when former player Kyle Beach alleged he was sexually assaulted by assistant coach Brad Aldrich.
Bergevin was not named in a scathing report released last month following an independent investigation commissioned by the Blackhawks in response to lawsuits by Beach and a former high school student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.
The report found senior leaders of the Blackhawks met to discuss Beach's allegation during the team's run to the 2010 Cup title, then failed to act.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and top executive Al MacIsaac and Florida coach Joel Quenneville, who coached the Blackhawks at the time, all resigned in the wake of the investigation.
Bergevin said during the Stanley Cup final media day that he was "not aware" of the sexual assault allegations.
"It came out recently. There was a meeting that I've heard was done in Chicago. I was not part of any meeting and I was not part of any decision based on that. I was not aware of what was going on at the time. You can go on the record with that," Bergevin said at the time. He has not commented on the scandal since.
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2021.