When the Montreal Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin on Nov.28, 2021, it marked the end of a 10-year tenure, one of the longest in franchise history.
And though he did not leave the city on a high note, it should be noted that despite his lack of foresight, Bergevin did have several strengths.
When it came to trades, or even drafting players like Cole Caufield, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris, Bergevin did enjoy a fair amount of success. He also left the team with all its draft picks, avoiding the classic mistake of mortgaging the future to improve the present.
Not to mention, he brought the team to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in a very long time.
With that in mind, the franchise has taken a lot of steps forward since his dismissal.
Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest moves and decisions over the last year.
Canadiens Hire Jeff Gorton As Vice President Of Hockey Operations
When the Canadiens hired Gorton on the same day they fired Bergevin, several pressing issues needed to be addressed.
The team smartly retained the services of John Sedgwick, their capologist, but they also built a laundry list of necessary improvements to bring the franchise to a standard that would be considered average in the current sports landscape.
That included reworking the development system, investing in data analysis, and re-evaluating their professional scouting.
Gorton marked the first of many significant and crucial changes.
#Habs Jeff Gorton's first few priorities include:
– being around the team to better understand the players and coaching staff
– would also like to spend time with the support staff (scouting)
– hire a GM
– modernize the #Canadiens analytics department
— Priyanta Emrith (@HabsInHighHeels) December 3, 2021
Gorton Hires Kent Hughes As General Manager
When the Canadiens announced they had hired player agent Kent Hughes on Jan.18, as their new general manager, many brows were raised around the league.
Hughes had no experience in the role and was seen as a complete outsider compared to the general managers that populated the old boys club of the NHL.
And that was exactly what the Canadiens needed; a fresh start.
Hughes immediately noted he’d take a steady, logical approach. An approach that put an onus on foresight, as to improve the long-term return.
Hughes Fires Dominique Ducharme, Hires Martin St-Louis
Despite coaching the team that reached the Stanley Cup final the previous season, time was clearly running out for Dominique Ducharme as the bench boss of the Canadiens.
The team was in a complete tailspin, which boded well for the Draft, but it go to the point that every player on the roster was showing clear signs of exhaustion. They were losing often and badly, which wreaked havoc on the team’s morale.
On Feb. 9, 2021, Ducharme was relieved of his duties, and replaced by Martin St-Louis.
Much like Hughes, St-Louis had little to no experience before taking the job, but his fresh approach combined with improved communication skills has put the team back on the right path.
Under Ducharme, the Canadiens had won just 8 games in 45 attempts in 2021-22, resulting in a .256 points percentage.
St-Louis finished the season with a much healthier .432 win percentage, and currently has the Canadiens fighting for a playoff spot.
The Rebuild Begins
A few days after finding their new coach, Hughes and Gorton made a significant trade that would mark the first domino in a true roster rebuild.
They sent fan-favourite Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames in exchange for prospect Emil Heineman and a first-round pick. the first of many trades made to restock the Draft and prospect cupboard.
Following the Toffoli trade, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen, Jeff Petry, Brett Kulak, Shea Weber, and Alex Romanov were exchanged for prospects, picks, or young assets on the cusp of making an impact in the NHL, such as Kirby Dach.
They refuse to officially label it a rebuild, but for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what has taken place.
Expect more moves in that vein in the near future.
Devil In The Details
During the Bergevin tenure, the team invested in analytics, but it provided very little value seeing as the people in charge of making decisions ignored the vast majority of the crucial information at their disposal.
Every legitimate business uses data analysis to come to conclusions, especially billion-dollar companies.
Now that the Canadiens have invested in a proper data analysis department, they’ve shed the shackles of the old-school, gut-driven hockey decisions that have plagued the franchise over the last few decades.
St-Louis often refers to the underlying numbers playing a big part in his everyday decision-making, a very encouraging, if not necessary approach.
They also invested in empowering their hockey-related employees, giving people like Adam Nicholas a lot more leeway to introduce a modern developmental approach.
Finally, they decided to make Nick Suzuki the youngest captain in franchise history, giving the youth movement even more momentum, and putting a stamp on the trust placed on the young players in the organization.
The Montreal Canadiens still have a lot of work to do before they can declare the rebuild over.
They’ve only reached the mid-point of the start of the entire process, but due to a few key changes, the franchise does seem to be back on the right track.