Moving forward

Monday, 13.05.2013 / 3:34 PM canadiens.com

BROSSARD – With a successful first season as general manager in the books, Marc Bergevin is already looking ahead to Year 2.

After taking over the reins of a team that finished 28th in the NHL in 2011-12, Bergevin promised to right the ship and turn the Montreal Canadiens into a team fans could be proud of. One lockout-shortened season later, and he’s done exactly that, earning a nod as a finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year award in the process.

“I had to be a GM to get an award; I never won one as a player,” joked the Pointe-Saint-Charles native, who racked up 181 points in 1,191 career games with the Blackhawks, Islanders, Whalers, Lightning, Red Wings, Blues, Penguins and Canucks throughout his NHL career. “I wouldn’t be getting this [nomination] if it wasn’t for the job Michel [Therrien] did this year and our players. They named me, but they really named the Montreal Canadiens. I’m flattered because Bob Murray and Ray Shero are bright hockey people.”

Bergevin’s stellar first season on the job saw the Canadiens skyrocket from 15th in the Eastern Conference to second, two players earn nominations for major NHL awards, and five different rookies suit up for their first career NHL games. The team’s season may have just ended on May 9, but Bergevin is already hard at work looking to build on the solid foundation he laid in Year 1.

“There are no vacations. The Memorial Cup is coming up, there’s the combine in Toronto and then there’s the draft. We have meetings with our scouts,” explained Bergevin of his summer To-Do list. “I’m not going to lay my plans out here in public, but balance is important and the key is bringing in young players with talent who have the ability to play here for a long time. We have a small team, but we’re a fast team and a young team. You don’t change the makeup of a team overnight; it takes a long time. There are 29 other teams looking to be big, fast and strong, but that’s easier said than done.

“You can’t win with all big guys and you can’t win with all small guys. Character comes into play,” added the Habs GM. “I don’t care how big you are; if you have no character, you’re not going to succeed. Look at a guy like Brendan Gallagher. He’s one of the smallest guys in the league, but his character is off the charts. Forget about taking a night off; this kid never took a shift off. I’m building for the future and you do that through the draft and through developing young players. We have a lot of young players who took big steps forward this year and we’ll continue along that path.”

He’ll be keeping his options open when the free agent market opens on July 5, but Bergevin has made no secret that the marquee offseason event on the Canadiens’ calendar will always be the NHL Entry Draft. With four picks in the Top 60 and six in the Top 90 this year, Bergevin is looking to stock the cupboards with even more talented prospects this summer.

“You don’t build a championship team through free agency. And no one is going to give you something for nothing. If you want something good, you’re going to have to give up something good in return. That’s why you see less trades now,” shared Bergevin, who made Alex Galchenyuk his first-ever pick as GM last June. “The most important thing to me – and you’ll see it in the playoffs – is depth. That’s what gets you through the playoffs. You don’t bring depth at the deadline; you have to bring depth through the draft and through young prospects.

“The mindset and the game plan stays the same; I’m staying pat,” he stressed. “I’ve made it clear from Day 1 that I want to make this team good for years to come, not just for one year. Depth, character and speed are what you need to reach the ultimate goal. My job moving forward is to bring balance to our club.”

Having brought in former NHLers Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois to help develop the team’s prospects, it’s no secret Bergevin’s focus is on grooming the young talent he already has at his disposal. That strategy is already paying dividends for the first-year GM. He gave Galchenyuk a chance to hit the ice on opening night as an 18-year-old, and the 2012 third-overall pick repaid that decision by finishing fifth in rookie scoring. He made room in the lineup for 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher and the 5-foot-9 winger rode that opportunity all the way to a Calder Trophy nomination as the league’s rookie of the year. Of the 31 players who suited up for the Canadiens this season, 11 were 25 years old or younger.

“The Montreal Canadiens aren’t afraid to give young kids a chance when they deserve it,” he explained. “If they can help the team, I’m open to it. What I tell them is even if there’s no room, I’ll make room. Force me to make a decision. We have seven defensemen on one-way deals. I tell them don’t look at that; make me make a decision and I’ll make room.”

That mentality is part of the culture change Bergevin and Therrien have been instituting in Montreal since they arrived on the scene, rewarding performance and riding a “No Excuses” mantra all the way to finishing fourth in the NHL in the regular season. With the 2012-13 season now in his rearview mirror, Bergevin has his gaze fixed firmly on the road ahead.

“We made progress, but next year will be extremely hard. Teams will be ready for us. I’m not taking anything for granted,” mentioned Bergevin. “It’s going to be hard. That’s the world we live in the NHL now. There are five teams last year that made the playoffs and they’re not in the playoffs this year. New Jersey went to the Finals and this year they’re not in the playoffs. Is New Jersey a bad team? I don’t think so.

“In this line of work, the only guarantee is there are no guarantees. Expectations have been raised,” he concluded. “There’s an expression, ‘Never be satisfied until you reach your goal’. We haven’t reached our goal yet.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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