What the Puck: Canadiens just getting started on a new five-year plan

What the Puck: Canadiens  just getting started  on a new five-year plan
Canadiens’ Phillip Danault, left, Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher stand for the national anthem ahead of game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal on April 6, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, on the other hand, didn’t look all that upset Tuesday when he met the media to discuss yet another failed Canadiens campaign. He started with a prepared statement in which he mentioned his disappointment about not making the playoffs, but he immediately added “even though we had 96 points — which is 25 more than last year.”

True, but that’s pure spin and I can just picture the all-day meeting Monday in which Bergevin and his public-relations wizards carefully crafted the phrasing of that statement to maximize the positivity. Best of all, they didn’t need to prepare Bergevin for any tough questions because there were remarkably few of them from the local media.

My Gazette colleague, Stu Cowan, was one of the few journalists there to put Bergevin on the spot, when he asked him why fans should believe he will get the team over the hump in Year 8 given he hasn’t been able to do it in the previous seven seasons.

“What’s your definition of over the hump?” replied Bergevin, somewhat disingenuously.

Cowan quite reasonably suggested getting into the playoffs might be one definition. Bergevin’s response was telling, as he reverted to the new Canadiens management mantra that all is well because the team is delivering fast, exciting hockey. That’s how low hockey culture has sunk ici. All fans want is an exciting spectacle, winning be damned.

Even more pathetic is the new Habs slogan: “We’re just getting started.” Never mind Bergevin has been in charge for seven seasons and has precisely nothing to show for it but, hey, we’re on to the second five-year plan!

Meanwhile, the New York Islanders didn’t just get started, they got their turnaround done in one season. They made it into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and it happened in the first season under team president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz. Even better for them, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their series.

So enough with the advertising slogans and excuses. What I want to hear is how Bergevin plans bring the Canadiens back to elite status. Many of us believe they absolutely must go hard after some players this summer, but Bergevin put a damper on those expectations, once again talking about how hard it is to sign free agents. This fits nicely into the entire Bergevin management philosophy, which can be summarized as such: “It’s hard to sign free agents, it’s hard to make big trades, it’s hard to make the playoffs. In short, it’s hard to be an NHL GM.”

As he was desperately spinning the Habs’ failed season into an upbeat narrative, his superstar goalie was telling the truth just down the hallway.

“My window is growing smaller,” Price said, and ain’t that the truth. He’ll be 32 when the season starts and his buddy Shea Weber will be 34. There is a window of opportunity and it’s closing.

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price meets the media at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on April 9, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Of course, Bergevin has said he doesn’t believe in a window of opportunity. This is the Orwellian world of the Canadiens organization. Failure is success, just like the powers-that-be in George Orwell’s 1984 used to proclaim war is peace. This is the same GM who prefers the word “reset” to “rebuild,” but never explains exactly what a reset is.

Since he won’t explain it, I will. Reset means you don’t really make a plan. You try to make the playoffs, but you don’t make any bold moves at the trade deadline that would actually get you there. Reset means you provide a fun and exciting show, but still end up in what can be described as the worst position in hockey — in ninth place, out of the playoffs and right into a middle-of-the-pack draft pick.

But, hey, he’s just getting started!
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