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Obfuscation, excuses, or honesty? Marc Bergevin and “attitude”

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Is Marc Bergevin hiding how he really feels, or was Monday’s press conference a public airing of grievances?

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NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, Marc Bergevin stepped in front of the cameras at his year-end press conference and preached the value of stability and the misfortunes of injury. No, there were no answers on that April 11, other than that Bergevin still had full confidence in his coaching staff. Instead, we would have to wait two months to discover what the general manager truly believed had caused his lost season.

The acquisitions of Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw clearly indicated that Bergevin believed that the 2016 collapse was not the result of a lack of depth, nor the consequence of a tactical system which could only succeed under certain conditions. The great calamity of 2016 stemmed from a crisis in leadership, in tenacity, and in fortitude. In acquiring Weber and Shaw, Bergevin clearly thought he had solved the problem.

History would prove him wrong.

And so, we now come to 2018, with Bergevin stepping in front of the cameras for the second early April year-end presser in three years, after another inexplicably disastrous season for a team that was fully expected at the start of the season to contend for the division title. In 2016, Bergevin had been tight-lipped, lamenting circumstance more than anything else. On Monday, the beleaguered general manager let loose with both barrels:

“The overall attitude of our team needs to change.”

“Regardless who we bring in, if the team’s attitude doesn’t change, the results won’t.”

“I believe that with a better or different attitude, we don’t have 40 losses.”

Was Bergevin simply maintaining his poker face, hiding his off-season plans from his rivals? Given past precedent, I find that explanation unsatisfactory. Historically, when Bergevin has had something percolating, he tends to say absolutely nothing. The Thomas Vanek trade came out of nowhere, and the cost of the Jeff Petry trade was surprisingly low.

No, contrary to popular belief (and perhaps the reputation he built early in his tenure), Bergevin now wears his heart on his sleeve quite often.

In 2016, faced with P.K. Subban trade rumours, Bergevin, rather than issuing a flat denial, carefully said that he had no “intention” of trading his core players - at the same time reminding everyone that there were “no untouchables” in sports.

When he acquired Weber and Shaw, he gushed effusively not about Weber’s shot or Shaw’s cycle game, but rather their pedigrees (two Olympic gold medals for Weber, two Stanley Cups for Shaw) and intangibles - describing Weber as “having a presence” and Shaw as a guy who “hates to lose.” In the very same interview, the GM stated that he thought that his Canadiens were too easy to play against, and that these additions went a long way towards rectifying that, thus directly firing a shot across the bow at the members of that squad.

When talks with Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov were going sour last summer, Bergevin broke his own “no public negotiations” rule, declaring at a press conference that the “final offers” were in to the two Russians, there was to be “no negotiation,” and that a spot was available on a “first come, first served” basis. Bergevin also refused to give Markov the extra year that the veteran was requesting, despite holding Markov up (alongside Nicklas Lidstrom) as an example of a player who performed well at an advanced age when faced with questions about the length of Shea Weber’s contract a mere year ago. Markov had certainly done nothing within those 365-odd days to warrant the about-face.

When Markov prioritized the term that Ak Bars Kazan gave him over the money that Montreal could offer, Bergevin was left to snidely grouse that “we didn’t lose a 25-year-old defenceman.”

As such, Bergevin’s outburst on Monday is likely a better indicator of his true feelings than any smokescreen thrown up by the Canadiens’ top man to deflect from the travails of a miserable campaign. If so, what does this mean?

Bergevin has ostensibly already evicted all of the rumoured troublemakers (P.K. Subban, Devante Smith-Pelly, Nathan Beaulieu, and the entire Russian contingent) from his roster over the last two seasons. So how can his team, led by Weber, Shaw, Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, and Max Pacioretty — all of whom at some point were extolled for their character and leadership abilities by Bergevin — still have an “attitude” problem?

Only one man knows the answer to that.