MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin didn't come out and say it Saturday, but he certainly made no effort to hide that coach Michel Therrien can expect a contract extension at the end of this season.
Speaking 90 minutes prior to the Canadiens facing the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Bell Centre, Bergevin showered his coach with praise while Therrien was about 100 feet away in the dressing room preparing his team.
The hiring of Therrien to return behind the Canadiens bench was one of Bergevin's first moves as GM, and it was hardly met with enthusiasm by fans. However, the lukewarm reaction to the move did not faze Bergevin, and he remained convinced Therrien was the right man for the job.
He's being rewarded for that now.
"When you're in my position, you make decisions sometimes that are not going to be popular," Bergevin said. "I'm not about to make decisions to make people happy. I'm making hockey decisions based on what I believe and what I know. Sometimes they won't be popular, but that's just the way it is.
"Michel Therrien is a good coach today, he was six months ago, he was a good coach when he lost five in a row. Michel and I have a good relationship; we talk a lot, share ideas. Am I shocked we are where we are today the way he handles the team? No. He's a really good coach and he's proving it now."
Therrien enters the final year of his contract next season, and Bergevin was asked if he had reached a decision on whether to offer his coach an extension this summer.
"Yes," was all Bergevin would say, with a little grin.
Though Bergevin would not say what that decision was, everything he said about Therrien strongly suggests that extension is coming.
Bergevin was asked about his biggest offseason free-agent signing, forward Daniel Briere, playing on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bergevin took that opportunity to compliment Therrien.
"Things change quickly," Bergevin said. "For sure, when you make a decision like that you make a lineup and you put him in there, but Michel has a flair for seeing where players will be the most successful.
"The goal of a coach is to give players a chance to succeed as much as possible and to put players in a spot in the lineup where they can do that. We can see what Michel has done with Danny, and his performance in the playoffs, the numbers are there to prove it."
The Canadiens have reached the Eastern Conference Final by embracing what Therrien refers to constantly as a team concept in which every role and every decision is made with the team in mind. The Canadiens are hardly the first team to use this, but it's rare to see it so wholeheartedly accepted up and down the lineup.
Bergevin has a role to play in that.
He admits he will sometimes get directly involved and talk to an individual player if the need arises; at other times, he will delegate someone in his management team to do it. For instance, forward Rene Bourque had the worst regular season of his NHL career with nine goals in 63 games. Canadiens director of player personnel Scott Mellanby, who played a similar style to Bourque during his playing career, had a chat with him prior to the playoffs.
Bourque scored his fifth goal in 12 playoff games Saturday, more than half his regular season total.
"My reputation as a player was that I was a team player, and since my retirement I remain a team guy," Bergevin said. "We work as a team, I include everyone. You might want to ask the players how they feel, but I see a special team. A team that when things get difficult, they roll up their sleeves and work. I see a team that's improving more and more the further we get into the playoffs. Honestly, I'm very proud of this group."
Bergevin returned to Montreal two years ago to take his dream job after spending 28 years away from the city where he grew up. From his Bell Centre office he can see the parish church in the rough Pointe St-Charles neighborhood of Montreal where he played hockey as a youngster, and now he runs the team that has captured the hearts and minds of children across the city and province.
To watch his Canadiens make this run has opened Bergevin's eyes to something he didn't realize: His hometown and province are crazier about hockey than even he had ever imagined.
"I didn't know," Bergevin said. "I mean, I shouldn't say I didn't know how big it was, but you could add another layer now. And the passion in this city, in the province of Quebec, is off the charts."