MONTREAL -- New general manager Marc Bergevin will be taking over a Montreal Canadiens team that finished No. 15 in the Eastern Conference and No. 28 in the League standings, so obviously he will be facing a number of challenges to right the ship.
While that list will be an exhaustive one, here are five of the primary challenges the 17th GM in Canadiens history will need to tackle.
1. Choose a coach -- Bergevin already confirmed that interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth has been downgraded to the rank of assistant coach, and that it will be up to the new man in charge whether or not he stays. In an ideal world, Bergevin would be able to hire a bilingual coach with experience and a winning history. Potential candidates like current TSN analyst Marc Crawford or Bob Hartley, who led the Zurich Lions to the Swiss league championship this season, have already been mentioned in the media. There will be massive public pressure to hire former Canadiens great Patrick Roy, currently the coach, general manager and owner of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but his NHL experience is limited to his playing days.
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2. Lock up his foundation -- Goaltender Carey Price and defenseman P.K. Subban are two of the young cornerstones of the Canadiens moving forward, and both need new contracts for next season. Price will be a restricted free agent who is eligible for salary arbitration and is two years removed from being eligible for unrestricted free agency under the rules currently in place in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Price has made it clear that he wants to stay in Montreal, but locking him up long-term will cost a lot of money and Bergevin will need to determine his value to the organization. Subban will be a restricted free agent but is not eligible for arbitration and is further away from earning UFA status, but it is likely a long-term deal for him would be costly, as well. However, Bergevin could opt to offer a shorter-term contract for Subban and see how things play out.
3. Manage the cap -- The performance of Montreal's top-paid player has left something to be desired the past two seasons. Scott Gomez, who has a cap hit of $7.36 million per season for the next two seasons, has nine goals and 40 assists in 118 games the past two seasons. Bergevin will need to determine whether the Canadiens should cut their losses on Gomez through a buyout -- which would still cost the team $3.5 million in 2012-13 and $4.5 million in 2013-14 against the cap, followed by two more years at $1.67 million -- or if they should send him to the minors or attempt to trade him. With Gomez, the Canadiens already have $45.8 million committed to 15 players for next season, with Price, Subban, Lars Eller and Alexei Emelin among those needing new contracts. That would leave precious little money to pursue unrestricted free agents this summer.
4. Manage the draft -- The Canadiens have the third selection at the 2012 NHL Draft, the franchise's highest pick since selecting first in 1980 and just its third top-five pick in the 32 years since. Montreal's director of amateur scouting is Trevor Timmins, and historically he has been given the latitude to run the Canadiens' draft. However, Bergevin's extensive history as a scout -- albeit largely at the pro level -- may lead him to become more involved considering how important this year's draft will be to the franchise's future.
5. Instill confidence in the fan base -- Bergevin's track record may speak for itself, but he is largely an unknown commodity to a good portion of the Canadiens' fan base. He is following in the footsteps of Pierre Gauthier, who was not comfortable speaking to the media and therefore rarely spoke to the team's fans directly. Owner Geoff Molson also said when he announced Gauthier's firing that the new GM will need to be a strong communicator. In this context, Bergevin's job from a public-relations standpoint will be considerable.