Marc Bergevin’s interview: Breaking down what was said, and what wasn’t

Digging deeper into Bergevin's recent comments on the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade, Carey Price's injury, and the shared foxhole.

Yesterday, published two articles based on an interview between Dave Stubbs and Marc Bergevin conducted on Thursday, July 7. Below are some of the key comments with some thoughts on what was said, and also what wasn’t.

Canadiens GM won't carry burden of P.K. Subban trade

Bergevin: [Nashville Predators General Manager] David [Poile] first called me on [June 24, the first day of the NHL Draft in Buffalo]. ... We chatted briefly, he mentioned [Weber for Subban] and he said, "I'm not sure," and I said, "I'm not sure either."

When David and I made contact again (on June 29), it was early afternoon, I knew in my mind that if he agreed, I was going to do it.

There were other parts that we tried to get involved to make it a little bigger, but at the end of the day, it didn't work out.

David Poile called Bergevin on June 24, interested in a deal of Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. Bergevin says that attempts were made to add more pieces, but essentially he ended up accepting the original offer made.

Poile called Bergevin, suggesting a trade that he was convinced would make the Predators better — he wouldn’t have initiated the conversation if he believed otherwise — and Bergevin ultimately accepted that proposal. He didn’t force Poile to throw in a young defence prospect to make up for the age gap in the players, nor even acquire a single draft pick in return for his best skater.

It sounds like Bergevin believed that Weber was at least of equal value to Subban, and therefore accepted the deal. Poile obviously wasn’t as convinced that his player was as good as the one held by Bergevin’s team, and failing to get additional assets in that case is a poor business move, especially considering the age of both assets. This trade has impact beyond the ice -- marketing, the time and energy and effort the team has invested in P.K., the engagement in Subban of fans and the community. Did that factor into the thought process?

Bergevin: I always say, "You don't want 23 robots." I have no issues with personality. Everybody's different, everybody brings different things to the table. But at some point I had to make a hard decision where I thought I could make the team better. That's when we pulled the trigger. And those who insist the trade was made to please [coach] Michel Therrien? That's [nonsense]. Mike didn't know anything -- anything -- about the trade until after it was made.

It’s possible that the question published in the article wasn’t worded exactly as the verbal conversation actually went, but the answer given by Bergevin doesn’t match the inquiry.

With a question of the value of Subban, both in terms of to the team and to the community, Bergevin automatically mentions Subban’s personality, and once again chooses to highlight the fact that Subban is "different," as he did in his media availability after the trade occurred. Shea Weber arrives in Montreal with a very good toolbox of skills, among them leadership, a heavy shot and his power-play presence. Chicago's Jonathan Toews said he's happy Weber has gone to the Eastern Conference. What's the most important thing that he brings to your team?

Bergevin: Instant credibility, as far as his credentials. He's won two Olympic gold medals and he's a guy who, like Carey Price, has a presence that right away brings credibility to your team. He'll be a great complement to our captain, Max Pacioretty, and to our leadership group. Shea's a big man and he's hard to play against. If you're lined up against Shea Weber, nothing's going to come easy. To me, that's something that we missed last season.

Bergevin was asked about the most important thing that Weber brings to Montreal, and chose the two Olympic gold medals that will arrive in one of his moving boxes. It’s not the first time Bergevin has mentioned ranking a winning pedigree very highly in his player evaluation.

The suggestion seems to be that Weber will be more respected in the room because of his status as a winner on the international stage, something that he believes helps Carey Price be a leader on the team.

Interestingly, not once does Bergevin mention that Subban also won a gold medal as part of the 2014 Olympic team, nor that he had the credibility of a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman. Andrew Shaw, who was acquired from Chicago during the draft by trade, brings some grit to your lineup -- two Stanley Cup titles and a knowledge of what it takes to win. What appealed to you about him?

Bergevin: Two Stanley Cups in five years. I like guys who don't like to lose [emphasis mine]. Everybody likes to win, everybody's happy when you win. I want guys, when you lose, it gets them inside. It hurts. And then you go back to work the next day.

I don't want a guy who walks out of the rink thinking, "Everything is cute, everything is fine even though we lost the game, life goes on." Yeah, life goes on, but I want guys who feel hurt by a loss. It's the culture that I want. It's the Chicago culture, that's what I want.

Andrew Shaw has it. I was in Chicago long enough to know they don't take losing with a grain of salt. I want guys who don't like to lose.

Once again Bergevin’s first praise for one his acquisitions was his championship credentials.

Bergevin also implies the reason for wanting to swap out Subban for Weber: Subban didn’t get upset enough when the team lost a game.

We can reasonably infer that Bergevin felt that Subban was indifferent about the team’s success — or overwhelming lack thereof last season — and saw it as a major flaw in his personality. Subban’s commitment to the Canadiens was just one part of his life, with personal engagements all over the city and, indeed, the world, throughout the year, and that was a mark against the team-first approach that Bergevin believes all of his players should have at all times during the season.

Photo credit: Getty Images

By disregarding the performance of the players in a win and focusing so much of your player evaluation on how they respond to a loss, you’re creating an environment in which players have their best chance to impress the management staff after failure. Subban wasn’t as good (or bad, depending on how you view the situation) of a loser as Bergevin would like, and the utter failure that was the 2015-16 exposed that aspect of his star player.

The issue with that type of mentality is that Subban much more often than not gave the team everything he had while on the ice. Down the stretch, when all the other players were impressing Bergevin with how much the constant losing was affecting them, Subban was usually the only one playing to his top level. From the All-Star Game to the time when Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty were finally reunited to help solve the team’s scoring woes, there was no one who played better overall than Subban.

Despite missing the final 14 games of the regular season after being stretchered off with a neck injury (his final on-ice action in his career with the Canadiens, by the way), he still finished fourth in team scoring, and first in assists.

Even though he was one of the better players on the ice, he wasn’t living up to the GM’s ideal off of it, and that was the more important factor. With your team's development camp behind you, and as you now head into the summer with every player signed and your coaching staff set, do you have a final reflection about last season?

Bergevin: What is sometimes forgotten, and I strongly believe this, is that we were missing Carey Price, our No. 1 goaltender, for pretty much the whole year except for 12 games. That was a big, big blow to our team. We needed to play about .500 after about Dec. 5. If we had, we'd have been around 100 points, which gets you in [the Stanley Cup Playoffs]. We weren't able to do that.

(Backup goalie) Mike Condon did the best he could for a rookie. I'm not taking anything away from him. But we still should have been able to hang in there and we didn't.

Asked to reflect upon the 2015-16 season, the GM immediately blames the loss of Carey Price for the team’s collapse, then doubles down by bringing up Mike Condon’s inferior play as his replacement. While it was a major loss, it was just one of many issues plaguing the Canadiens last season.

Also, I don’t believe that the injury to Price was forgotten by the fans or media, as his return was dangled in front of those third parties on a week-to-week basis throughout the entire second half of the year until it was announced — with just days to go in the regular season — that he would not be back. This despite Price knowing that the injury would keep him out of the lineup for a significantly longer period than the six-to-eight weeks the team originally announced in November:

The loss of Gallagher hurt too. (Gallagher missed 17 games between Nov. 25 and Dec. 29 with broken fingers). Missing Pricer and Gally really hurt, and we weren't able to right the ship. There was something missing in that room, and it affected us.

But I knew I had to straighten our room and bring in some good players. We lost Manny Malhotra toward the end of his career (unsigned last summer), and Gio (former captain Brian Gionta, who signed with the Buffalo Sabres as an unrestricted free agent in July 2014). Pricer, even though he's not a vocal leader, he's a leader. He has a presence in that room. And when a player is injured, he's not in the room …

Bergevin: Carey's not on the road either, and especially with his injury, his recovery took longer than we thought. By bringing in Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw, I feel that we addressed that. Also, having Pricer healthy. And the last thing is, what this group went through last year -- it's OK to fall down, but you have to get up. I like to believe that those guys won't let that happen again.

After also including Gallagher’s absence as a significant reason for their plummet in the standings, the comment is that their loss was felt more in the room than on the ice. Losing two of the team’s top-five players seems like reason enough to struggle to win games, but the implication is that a better mentality off the ice could have compensated.

Bergevin says he needed to "straighten our room" after after not having enough leadership, enough of a "presence" to overcome adversity last season. It’s interesting that his solution was to ship out one of the team’s part-time alternate captains in that case; a player who wasn’t voted by his peers to be the team’s official voice.

I’m not saying that Bergevin should have traded captain Max Pacioretty, but by condemning the leadership group as the reason for the team’s inability to turn the season around, you’d have to believe that that’s a major reprehension toward the captain, and Pacioretty must feel that way, as well.

Personally, I think the effect that one player can have on a team’s fortunes with pre-game speeches and intermission outbursts is quite low, and I lay little of the blame for the season on Pacioretty, but that does not appear to be the opinion of the man in charge of the contracts.

Canadiens GM weighs in on offseason

On fan reaction to the trade of Subban: I've been really busy with July 1 free agency and, until today, our development camp. Since I was hired, I've been staying away from reading [media reports about the team]. Even when we went to the Eastern Conference Final [in 2014], I didn't read. I try to stay focused.

Is it worth it to get upset at somebody because he writes something? They don't know what they don't know [emphasis mine]. You can't blame people for doing their job and writing what they believe, but ….

For me, I like football. I like to watch it. But I'm not an expert and I don't know what's going on behind the scenes. If they trade a player on a team I like, there must be a reason why they did it and I don't know the reason why. If I know, then I could have an opinion. Otherwise, I'm guessing.

Bergevin offers a pretty major hint that there’s more to this story. It’s not clear when this particular question was asked, and perhaps it was the indifference to losing that was expanded upon above, at a later point in the interview process, or it could be something completely different.

On comparisons about the Subban trade being equal to the Canadians' 1995 trade of goalie Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche: What did Patrick win in Montreal, two Stanley Cups? I've always believed that winning a Stanley Cup changes everything.

Yet another mention of team championships being a massive boost to a player’s value.

On referring to coach Michel Therrien as "a foxhole guy": What I meant by that is this: I've seen it before, as a former player, where a coach would throw his GM under a bus to his players so he would look good to his players.

With "foxhole guy," I meant a coach who's going to stand by his GM. A coach has to believe what the GM believes. The GM gives him the players and sometimes, the coach gets players he doesn't like, even if you're always talking to him, asking, 'What do you think we need?'

A coach and GM sticking together, that's what I meant by "foxhole guys."

The problem is that Therrien doesn’t believe what Bergevin believes, and that lack of awareness is one of the greatest failings of Bergevin’s tenure.

The vast majority of Bergevin’s acquisitions for defencemen — Jeff Petry at last year’s trade deadline; Mark Barberio in the 2015 off-season; just weeks ago when the team drafted Mikhail Sergachev, Victor Mete, and Casey Staum within the first five rounds, and; yes, even with the eight-year contract that was begrudgingly offered to Subban — have been to bring in good skaters, and great puck-movers.

Yet, Therrien stubbornly sticks to a archaic philosophy of throwing the puck out of the defensive zone and hoping a forward can catch up to it; a tactic that even the most flat-footed defencemen in the league could execute.

There is seemingly little attention paid to coming up with a transition strategy that uses those puck-movers to greatest effect, and, in fact, players are often publicly criticized for attempting to make a passing play instead of chipping it off the boards.

The GM has given the coach several players who should have helped their offensive game. Bergevin brought in P.-A. Parenteau for the 2014-15 season, and right from the start of the campaign it was clear that Parenteau was not a favourite of the coach. The refusal to use him in the lineup eventually led to a buyout, and last season the Canadiens paid Parenteau $1.333 million to score 20 goals and 40 points (which would have been third- and fourth-best, respectively, among Canadiens forwards) for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs will pay the same amount this upcoming season for him to try to do the same in Brooklyn.

Photo credit: Martin Rose/Getty Images

A similar attempt was made at the start of last year, with the signing of Alex Semin. Despite an impressive possession game, he and his line dealt with some bad luck to start the year, and couldn’t get the offence going they’d shown in the pre-season. After just 15 games and a lengthy stint in the press box, he headed off to the KHL. There, he scored 14 points in 20 regular season games, and 15 more in 23 playoff games on the way to a league championship.

For 2016-17, Bergevin has made a bigger splash, committing $5.75 million of precious cap space to one of the Russian league’s top scorers: Alexander Radulov. There’s no question that he is the most skilled of those three options, but will the opinion of the head coach be any different this time around? That remains to be seen.

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