SERAVALLI: Marc Bergevin’s road strewn with balls to the Stanley Cup final

TAMPA, Fla .– There was a moment in the press conference of Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on Sunday that may have caught the ears of the Quebec public listening to him.

“It would be the ultimate dream for me, then I could retire afterwards,” Bergevin said in French.

Roughly translated, on his chance to deliver Montreal and Canada’s first Stanley Cup in 28 years, Bergevin said, « It would be the ultimate dream for me, and then I could retire. »

Bergevin, now 55, was known as one of hockey’s brilliant pranksters during his 1,191-game NHL playing career. So, it wouldn’t be alien to a tongue-in-cheek comment or a light-hearted moment.

But there is always usually a kernel of truth somewhere in any joke. And there have been rumors behind the scenes, with a year left on his contract, that Bergevin might be soon for his role in Montreal.

Managing the Montreal Canadiens is a job like no other in professional sport. You must wear armor under your shirt and a tie to go to the rink every day. The almost relentless criticism and questioning must wreak havoc on even the most thick-skinned individual for nine years.

« He’s a different animal, » Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told, a counterpart who got to know Bergevin well, on Monday. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work in two big hockey markets like Dallas and St. Louis and a lot of the pressure is internal. It’s hard to quantify Montreal – and I know that because I’ve worked with Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey and my dad was a longtime scout for the Canadiens – but it’s just different.

“You hear your successes and failures in two different languages. Toronto may have more national pressure in Canada, but there is no doubt that Montreal is under the most provincial pressure. « 

And maybe, just maybe, that’s why we saw Bergevin bursting with joy at the Bell Center last week when the Canadiens qualified for their first Stanley Cup final since 1993.

Bergevin pumped his fists and jumped up and down in a refreshing display of emotion rare for generally button-down hockey executives. Of course, Bergevin was delighted that his team were now on the brink of Lord Stanley’s precipice, but it also had to feel like a justification or validation of his belief and process after a barrage of bullets of nearly a decade.

“I get a little emotional. I guess I’m wearing it on my sleeve, ”Bergevin said on Sunday. “I care about these guys, really. I feel like they’re not my kids, but we’ve made this team. I think there are only two guys left (Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher) since I took over, so it’s a team that we’ve put together, and it’s gratifying to be where we’re at. are today.

Cameras captured Bergevin whispering a personal message to Price at ice level in the middle of the on-ice celebration. Bergevin said he hugged all the players in the lineup.

“I try not to forget anyone because I know how important they are,” Bergevin said. « Either you play seven minutes or you play 27 minutes, you’re part of this team. »

Armstrong has become a close friend and a « huge fan » of Bergevin, he said through a relationship that began with Hockey Canada during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. They haven’t crossed paths before. He said Bergevin showed the emotion he felt internally in 2019 when the Blues advanced to the Cup final for the first time in 49 years.

“It was great to see ‘Berge’ show it. You have to be true to yourself and who you are, and he’s always had it, ”Armstrong said. “He can show it in his clothes. Or he’s one of the few guys our age who still wears long hair. I would definitely show it if I could.

“Look, there’s nothing quite like working in a Canadian market. They expect success in Montreal, they expect to win. These banners at the Bell Center are not hung for division or conference championships. They’re for the Stanley Cup, and their back numbers are the Who’s-Who of hockey. There are definitely more ghosts in Montreal than anywhere else.

As Bergevin did in Chicago in 2010, Armstrong won a Stanley Cup as an assistant general manager in Dallas in 1999 before taking over in St. Louis. Like many other managers in the league, Armstrong admires the Canadiens’ big, heavy full-back and their strength in the middle of the ice. But he underlined Bergevin’s use of “draft equity” which stood out in the construction of this list.

Bergevin has acquired many picks in the trade and used them directly – like selecting Alexander Romanov at 38th overall in 2018 after securing that pick from Chicago with Phillip Danault for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. Or he’s used extra picks in his arsenal, like Washington’s third-round pick, which he sent to Armstrong in St. Louis last September for goaltender Jake Allen – who picked Carey Price this season when the former Hart Trophy winner needed to retool his game.

Bergevin’s business record is almost impeccable, from Shea Weber for PK Subban to Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi for Josh Anderson. The Habs still have 11 picks in the next July draft – and that’s after burning a few to bolster this lineup with Eric Staal and Jon Merrill, both of whom play in the final.

« He racked up a lot of equity in the draft and now he’s reaping the rewards, » said Armstrong.

Armstrong praised Bergevin because, for some reason, fan bases now interpret teams as « a contender or a rebuild, » but the « reality is the league doesn’t work like that. »

“It’s an interesting dynamic, one or the other,” Armstrong said. “It can’t be like this all the time. « 

Bergevin was comfortable retooling the Canadiens on the fly. He took the risk of getting in the middle of the competitive NHL mud, which was unpopular at the time, and now the Habs are on the brink of a 25e Stanley Cup.

Bergevin admitted in French that he was « a little nervous, a little excited ». How could he not be?

« But above all, [I’m] proud to have the opportunity to bring the Stanley Cup back to Montreal.

It would stifle criticism, Armstrong said, but only for a short time in Montreal.

« No matter what happens this series, he will be back in the sights on August 1st.stArmstrong said with a laugh. « That’s the nature of the beast – it’s either going to be rehearsal or how they can get back to it. »

Unless, of course, Bergevin flies into the setting sun – after taming the beast of the Belle Province.

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