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Habs Musings: The complicated concept of loyalty in sports

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Bergevin displayed his faith in netminder Carey Price, but his loyalty to Andrei Markov only goes so far.

Marc Bergevin has been loyal to Carey Price but what about Andrei Markov?
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

To describe it as an interesting past few days for Marc Bergevin would be an understatement to say the least.

Ever since the trade of Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Jonathan Drouin, Bergevin has worked tirelessly on shaping the roster for the upcoming season.

Loyalty has come into question in almost every signing and trade.

It took less than a year for Sergachev to learn that there is very little loyalty in sports. Nor should anyone expect any. Sergachev was the price that Bergevin had to pay to acquire an offensively creative forward, an asset the team was sorely lacking.

On the other side of the coin, P.K. Subban, Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu have all been traded away within the span of one year, while Andrei Markov, for the time being, has not signed with the only NHL club he has ever known.

Reports have stated that Markov has been seeking a two-year deal with an average of $6 million per season. That would have been just a $250,000 raise per season. While Bergevin was more forthcoming than usual at Sunday’s press conference regarding contract negotiations, he made it quite clear that he offered what he believed to be a fair final contract offer. He is prepared to go into the coming season newcomers Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Brandon Davidson and Jakub Jerabek on the left side of defence.

What is so curious about Bergevin’s sense of loyalty is that at times he has been so quick to reward players and other times quite hesitant. Travis Moen, Alexei Emelin, David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec were all signed to questionable multi-year contracts. Fortunately he has proven to be adept for the most part in being able to unload said contracts.

One has to wonder what more could Markov have done to prove himself worthy to Bergevin. Could it still be possible that Markov may decide to drop his demands and re-sign with the Canadiens? Bergevin has displayed that he can be loyal to a point. He even thought Markov would have been re-signed by now. Perhaps it is telling that no other team has swept Markov off of his feet yet. As we all know, teams must be extra careful when signing a player over 35 to a multi-year contract.

As Bergevin said, “if you want loyalty, get a dog.” When it comes to the art of negotiating deals, it takes two to tango. He was prepared to bring back Alex Radulov, but only on what he deemed fair conditions. The same applies to Markov. Bergevin isn’t just managing people, he’s managing a salary cap. There are limits to how loyal he can be.

With Radulov gone, the Canadiens still need offence, but with Drouin in the fold, the team is not as desperate. Bergevin is satisfied to give Charles Hudon the opportunity to earn a spot come training camp. He can afford to take a risk on giving Ales Hemsky a one-year, one million dollar contract. The centre position is another story and without Radulov there is suddenly more money available for Bergevin to work with.

Then there’s the extension of Carey Price. By signing him to a 8-year $84 million dollar contract extension, Bergevin had little problem displaying his loyalty to his franchise player.

He had little choice in the matter.

The Canadiens are simply not good enough to compete on a nightly basis without Price between the pipes. And while the $10.5 million AAV seems enormously high for a goaltender, one has to wonder what Price might have fetched on an open market in 2018. Is it possible that he left money on the table? As of now, Price’s salary would take up 14% of the team’s salary in 2018-19. Bergevin will need to continue to work his salary cap magic throughout the course of the contract.

Bergevin’s loyalty to Price was understandable and expected. As it would be with your team’s best player who is still in his prime.

His loyalty to Sylvain Lefebvre, on the other hand, is confounding.

For five years he coached the Canadiens AHL affiliate, and his team made the playoffs just once, losing in the first round in the process. On top of that, development of the Canadiens prospects under his tutelage has been far below par.

The timing to cut ties with Lefebvre was almost too perfect. With his contract expiring, Bergevin would not have to fire his friend. Lefebvre did not even want to come back initially, as he hoped to find an assistant coaching job in the NHL. Bergevin could have hired a QMJHL talented coach to start the new era of the Laval Rocket. Instead, Lefebvre found no other work in the NHL, and Bergevin decided to reward his friend with a two-year contract extension.

Loyalty, as history has shown us, is very dependent on the situation, and rarely applied evenly throughout all levels of the organization. Nor should it be.