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Rendez-vous CH: One-on-One with Marc Bergevin

The Habs GM sat down for an exclusive interview before the start of the 2017-18 season

by Shauna Denis @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - The preseason is in the books and the official 23-man roster has been submitted. As the Canadiens get set to kick off the 2017-18 season with a road game in Buffalo, general manager Marc Bergevin sat down with to discuss his expectations for the year, which players impressed him during camp, and how moving the AHL affiliate from Newfoundland to Laval will change things in the coming campaign.

The team had a tough start to the preseason going 0-6 off the bat, but turned things around in the final two games. Does the win/loss record in preseason action concern you or are you just using the time to evaluate players individually, especially given the eight-games-in-13-nights schedule you had this year?

Marc Bergevin: We all always want to win, but at the end of the day, your record isn't the most important thing. You're evaluating players and seeing how they compete. This year, we had some guys who really stepped up and we had a few who I wished would have done more. At the end of the day, that's what those games are for. After a game I'm always upset when we don't win, but we all know what it's like. Half the time you play a team that has a full lineup and you don't, and that's true for every team in the League at that time of the year.

Still, finishing with a 9-2 win to close out the preseason against the Senators had to inspire confidence.

MB: Yeah, but again, look at Ottawa. Players are probably thinking, "It's the last game and I don't want to get hurt," or some of them were playing who maybe would have liked to have rested instead, which is normal. On the other hand, we went into it knowing we wanted to finish on a strong note at home. At the end of the day, preseason results mean nothing.

Video: Canadiens' offense erupts in 9-2 rout of Senators
You mention every year around training camp that you want the young guys to make your decisions for you. Victor Mete and Charles Hudon both had strong camps. Did they force your hand with how they played through the preseason?

MB: I wouldn't say "forced my hand" because I always tell players, "I won't lie to you and say there are 23 spots open, but there are some spots open." You want guys to step up, especially young guys, and the ones you mentioned have stepped up. I would put Jacob De La Rose in that category, too. I thought he had a strong camp and got stronger as camp went on, which was great to see.

Mete earned a spot on your 23-man roster with his play through the preseason. As a 19-year-old, Victor would either need to stay in the NHL or go back to the London Knights in the OHL. Does that make your decision about his immediate future more difficult, knowing if he doesn't make the big club he'll spend the season in Junior?

MB: I'm not thinking about him going back to the OHL; I'm thinking about what he can do to help the Montreal Canadiens. Right now, as we all saw, he deserves to be here. With him, we have that nine-game window, so we'll watch him closely. Last year we did the same thing with [Mikhail] Sergachev and three games into the season, we sent him back. It's not set in stone for Victor, but the way he's been playing, he's earned the right to start the season in Montreal.  

Video: OTT@MTL: Mete taps home his own rebound for a PPG

This is the Laval Rocket's inaugural season. That will obviously be helpful logistically for recalls and reassignments given the proximity to Montreal, but what - if anything - will it change in terms of player evaluation? How often do you expect to be in Laval yourself this year?

MB: A lot. I've done my schedule for the month of October and I'll be in Laval pretty often. It's easy - it's a 20 minute drive for us - so it'll be great. It will be nice in terms of the salary cap as well, because you can hold a guy a little longer in Laval given how much easier the logistics of recalling him will be, so you save a bit there. Overall, having the AHL team in Laval will be a big benefit to the organization.

How will it impact development opportunities? Will the players have more access to resources than they've had in the past?

MB: We separate the two teams so the Rocket will have their own dedicated staff, but where you'll see the biggest difference is when guys like Rob Ramage and Francis Bouillon come to Montreal, they'll be able to go to a Rocket game that day and then come to watch the Canadiens at night or the next day. Our staff will be able to spend more time with our prospects. We'll be able to watch them more closely and adapt to things quicker, for sure. Getting to Saint John's wasn't as easy as just driving 20 minutes north.

The Canadiens finished at the top of the Atlantic division with a 103-point season last year, but lost in the first round to the Rangers. After having that kind of regular season success, how does an early playoff exit impact your planning and strategy heading into the offseason? What were you looking for?

MB: My first goal is to make the playoffs. You can't build a team just for the playoffs because then the next thing you know you don't make the playoffs. Last year, we made the playoffs after a really good season, and then obviously losing in the first round hurt. But the thing you see every spring is that when you get in, anything is possible. You could barely get in with a wildcard spot and end up going all the way, or you can win your division and lose in the first round. It's a tough league and the Rangers played us really well. My primary goal is to get into the playoffs - and get in healthy - and then once we get in, we'll see where we're at.

Your biggest offseason acquisition was Jonathan Drouin, who really seems to be embracing Montreal. It's clear fans appreciate what he brings to the lineup. What are realistic expectations for Jonathan this season?

MB: My expectations for him having nothing to do with points; it's all about the team winning for me. I know the skill level he has and what he's capable of doing. Like you said, he's embraced Montreal. He loves this market. He's from here. Pressure won't be a problem for him. In terms of points, I couldn't care less how many points he puts up. Obviously, he has to produce, but what matters to me is how he plays. He's embracing his role as a center right now and his line is clicking. We haven't started the season yet and I'm sure there will be some changes - we have Jonathan playing with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher now, but sometimes a line gets stale and it's part of coaching to move guys around. There's not one team in the NHL right now that will have the exact same lines at the end of the season as they do on opening night. People definitely notice and talk about it more in Montreal when you switch a line than they might in another market, but mixing things up is just part of coaching and managing a hockey team during an 82-game season.

Video: Jonathan Drouin goes undercover in Old Montreal

You mentioned the difference between how people react in Montreal compared to how they do in other markets. Jonathan is coming from Tampa, where he likely received a little less attention than he does now - do you have any advice for him in terms of how to deal with adversity in Montreal? Say, if he goes a few games in a row without a point…

MB: He has the personality for Montreal. He's a very confident guy - he's not cocky or arrogant - but he has a swagger. He wants to succeed and he wants to be good. Sure, at some point he might go five games without a point, but it's how he plays that matters to me. I don't judge a player's performance based on whether he scored a goal or got an assist. It's how he competes and how he plays with and without the puck that I'm looking at. What I've seen so far with Jo is that he's very responsible without the puck and he's embracing his role as a centerman, especially in his own end.
Video: Full press conference: Jonathan Drouin at CHUM

Karl Alzner brings a veteran presence to the lineup, but what else are you looking for out of him?

MB: Stability on the blue line. We lost Emmy [Alexei Emelin] and we lost Marky [Andrei Markov], but Karl Alzner is known around the league as someone who is reliable. I don't think he's missed many games in his career. He's sound defensively, he moves the puck, and he brings stability on our back end, which is what I was looking for from him.

What will Ales Hemsky add up front that you felt you were missing last year?

MB: He brings speed to our lineup. Right now, Claude [Julien] has him playing with Jacob De La Rose and Paul Byron - that's a fast line. I wanted to be a bit faster. In today's NHL you need to bring scoring from all four lines. If that's our fourth line - and again, things change - but if it is, you have a guy in Paul who scored 20 goals last year and Hemsky can make plays, so if we have a fourth line that can roll and score like I think they can, that would be nice to have.

What are your plans for David Schlemko when he's back from his injury?

MB: Well we haven't seen much of David; he got hurt on the second day of camp, I think. He's not going to start the season, but he's a puck moving defenseman and he's mobile. He's not physical, but he's smart. I saw him play quite a bit last year in San Jose. He played the right side with Brenden Dillon. This year, I think Claude might have him play on the left side, but it's tough at this point because we haven't had a chance to see him since he's been hurt.

Joe Morrow is on the 23-man roster you submitted to the League to start the season, while Peter Holland will start off in Laval. Where do you see them fitting in long term this year?

MB: Right now we have Joe as a depth defenseman. You're not going to go 82 games with the same six D. I like his skating. I thought his camp was good at times and not as good at other times. Sometimes when a kid comes in, he tries to make a good impression and tries to do too much. That's when they get in trouble. If he settles down and he plays like he played in the playoffs last year against Ottawa with Boston, that's what I'm looking for. As far as Peter Holland, he just cleared waivers, but I thought his camp got better as it went on. He brings us some depth and like I said, we're not going to go 82 games with the same 23 guys, so you need to have depth in the system.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, how would you define the team's identity?

MB: We have to be a team that competes every night. That's the way the League is today. There are a few powerhouses - you could name the Pittsburgh Penguins, obviously, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups, and the Washington Capitals - but after that, it's wide open. A lot of teams got better over the summer and it's going to be a dogfight to get into the playoffs. The League wanted parity and that's what we have now. In terms of our identity, we'll be a team that competes every night, one that plays with a purpose, and one that is responsible defensively. The days of seeing 6-5 games are long gone. You have to be a good team on both sides of the puck and that's what Claude will bring.

Most of the pool "experts" are predicting that the Habs will finish in the Top 3 in the Atlantic, some have the team in a wild card spot. Fair?

MB: I couldn't care less about the pools.

What are your expectations?

MB: I'm not looking ahead to April. I'm focused on the first 10 games and how we start the season. I'm not looking too far ahead - I never do.

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