One of the most common retorts when criticism is laid at the feet of the Montreal Canadiens this year, is that this is a transition year and they're not actually going for a cup. This doesn't come from nowhere, Marc Bergevin himself has mentioned that this is a transition year, with the Canadiens shedding the two biggest pieces of the team's former leadership core in Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges over the summer.
Yet the Canadiens are first in their division, with P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, and Carey Price in their primes. They've finished fourth, ninth, and are tied for first place in the NHL this season, with a run to the conference finals last year. Add in that Price is putting on a performance for the ages in goal, and do you honestly believe that Marc Bergevin is sitting in his office thinking the playoffs don't really matter this year?
When the Canadiens have spoken about this being a transition year, it's all about managing expectations. Bergevin is a master at this. All he ever talks about during the season, no matter how well the team is doing in the standings, is just getting to the playoffs. No greater desire is ever made known.
After the Canadiens' conference finals run last year, Bergevin did a radio appearance with Mitch Melnick, where he asked the radio host if the Habs played that same Boston Bruins team again, who would he bet on. Melnick said the Habs, Bergevin disagreed.
Heading into training camp, Bergevin said in multiple media appearances that the Canadiens were "not an elite team". Yet at the trade deadline, he picked up one of the best players available in Jeff Petry. He got him for a decent price, but he still paid out second round pick, along with at least a fifth.
All this is to say, the idea that there are low expectations of this team in the front office is just naive.
Why does this matter?
Marc Bergevin isn't stupid. You're not going to agree with every move he makes, and neither am I, but it's undeniable that on aggregate, he's pushing the roster in the right direction. The Canadiens have gone from a roster that featured offensive black holes like Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, and Douglas Murray, to Nathan Beaulieu, Tom Gilbert, and Jeff Petry.
Outside of Alexei Emelin, no regular defender on the Canadiens has difficulty moving the puck. What Bergevin has shown that he values seems to be the exact opposite of his coaching staff. It may be in invisible ink for some people, but the writing is on the wall if you shine the light at the right angle, Bergevin knows.
While the team keeps winning, Bergevin is handcuffed insofar as what he can do to direct a change in coaching philosophy, but that winning isn't going to last forever. There are lots of reasons to be pessimistic about the Canadiens, but there's no chance someone as savvy as Bergevin is going to let the prime years of his core rot away under a system that can't win it all.