MONTREAL - His team may not be where he'd like it to be, but don't believe for a second that Marc Bergevin is giving up.
That's the takeaway from the press conference the Canadiens' general manager held on Sunday to mark the halfway point of the season.
"We haven't thrown in the towel, but we for sure have a lot of work to do," he said.
A multitude of reasons are behind the team's position in the standings, which would put the Habs out of playoff contention if the post-season were to start today. That said, Bergevin refused to point the finger at any one individual, instead highlighting a general lack of consistency.
"There isn't one factor in particular that has led us to where we are today. In general, it's about consistency. We've been lacking consistency in our play. We've had some good moments, some bad starts, some good moments and then we go back to some bad habits which have cost us games," outlined Bergevin. "We're in a tough situation today, but we haven't lost hope."
Yes, Carey Price had a difficult start to the season; yes, Jonathan Drouin is still in the learning stages at the center position; yes, Shea Weber's absence due to injury has hurt; and yes, Max Pacioretty's travails in the goal-scoring department have had an impact. But the G.M. isn't looking for excuses. He believes in his team, because he's seen them do some great things.
"I believe [making the playoffs] is possible, but a lot of things have to change," affirmed the Habs' G.M. "There are times where I've seen them capable of doing it."
One thing is certain: the team's architect has not reached the point where he wants to tear everything apart and rebuild; far from it. Rather, Bergevin prefers using the word "reset" to describe changes that may need to be made. But neither a rebuild nor a reset are on the table for the time being.
"I'm a fighter, I'm going to fight until the very end," he declared. "And I've heard the same thing from my coaches and players."
To do so, the players will have to live up to the expectations set for them by the club, which the G.M. admitted hasn't been the case for some. He added that those players haven't been living up to their own expectations, either.
"In a perfect world, would I love to add a piece to help them? Of course. But to sacrifice the future and to take major risks with the organization's long-term [plan], I'm not ready to do that," outlined Bergevin, who also pointed out that seven teams - including Las Vegas - who currently sit in playoff position were not there last year, a sign of how tight things are in the present-day NHL. "[As for a] short-term solution, there is nobody out there I'm aware of that's going to come and turn this thing around."
Bergevin didn't have to look very far to find some teams who managed a quick turnaround from one season to the next, while keeping their cores mostly intact.
"I'm looking at Tampa Bay right now, compared to last year. They were missing Steven Stamkos most of the year. They didn't do a whole lot this summer, but [Stamkos] came back and they're first in the League. It doesn't take much to change a team one way or the other," he explained. "We have some young players who are coming up and who are improving, despite our first half of the season. I see many parts of [Artturi] Lehkonen's game which are helping the team. Charles Hudon has had some highs and lows, but he's been showing some good things, and he's still young. [Nikita] Scherbak, since he's been back from his injury, I think he's headed in the right direction. [...] We have a lot of young players coming up who can make the difference for the organization. But with the parity in the League, it's hard for me to make promises."
On another note, Bergevin had a chance to go see defenseman Victor Mete at work at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo recently and liked what he saw.
"The experience he got at the World Junior Championship will stay with him forever, and will help with his progression as a young defenseman," he said. "He can help us, and we're looking at both the short term and the long term with him. Let's not forget the start of the season he had. We're going to be patient with him, and we'll try and give him as much ice time we can to help him keep developing."
Bergevin mentioned that the 19-year-old defenseman will "probably" stay in Montreal until the end of the season.