After taking in the Canadiens and Penguins morning skates at the Bell Centre on Saturday, members of the First Line – the Canadiens’ official adult fan club – got a chance to put general manager Marc Bergevin on the hot seat. Before grilling the Habs GM on everything from his transition from the ice to the front office and his sartorial selections to his most stressful day on the job and his plans for trade deadline day, the First Liners spent some time shooting the breeze with legendary Habs enforcer, Chris Nilan.
While the full content of the 40-minute Q&A sessions is exclusive to First Line members, here’s an example of a few highlights from Nilan’s touching, engaging and honest opening act.
What are your thoughts on the role of enforcers today?
CHRIS NILAN: I still think there’s a place for it in the game. I don’t know if today it’s used quite the way it was a few years ago. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, fighting was used as a tactic with certain teams: Boston and Philadelphia were well-known for having three or four guys that could fight. They used that as a tactic to try and scare guys. I don’t think teams use that as a tactic anymore, which is a good thing. That’s not really in line with how the game should be played. [Fighting] should be a spontaneous thing; it should be an act where you’re either sticking up for a teammate or you’re trying to change the game.
After regaling the crowd of roughly 150 First Line members with stories from the Good Friday Massacre game, his anti-bullying campaign, his emotional experience visiting a longtime Habs fan in hospital and what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, Nilan found the perfect way to hand the mic over to Bergevin.
You played against Marc Bergevin. What do you think of him as an opponent and also, as our new general manager?
CN: Is he listening? Where is he? (laughs) Marc Bergevin was a good, solid defenseman who could move the puck. He was an incredible team player. I was never his teammate, but every person I know who played with him has nothing but good things to say about him as a teammate. He was an effective player on the ice; he wasn’t a pushover. I remember one time in New York he hit Tony Granato who was a rookie with us at the time with the Rangers. I went after Marc and he dropped his gloves with me. I’m not sitting here telling you I was the toughest guy in the league, but I fought guys who were known for fighting and a lot of guys who weren’t fighters didn’t want to fight me. Marc wasn’t known as a fighter but he didn’t have a problem dropping his gloves with me. I was impressed with that. As far as a general manager, I think he’s just what the doctor ordered for Montreal. This organization with his leadership and Mr. Molson’s leadership is once again heading in the direction that made this organization the best organization in the history of, not just hockey, but sports.
|Marc Bergevin fielding questions from First Line members. |
When Bergevin finally took the stage to follow up Nilan’s intro, he made sure to immediately set the record straight regarding his on-ice exploits with the veteran tough guy.
“First of all, I want to point out that I didn’t drop my gloves; they fell off by accident,” he joked. “I always say there were only two of us fighting and I still finished fourth.”
With the crowd warmed up, the charismatic GM began fielding questions from fans, offering unplugged and unfiltered answers for another 40 minutes.
Congratulations on a great start to the season. Part of your job is constantly evaluating the performances of everyone in the organization. How would you on a scale from 1-to-10 rate your own performance so far, and why?
MARC BERGEVIN: From 1-to-10? Two. You can always get better. The day you think you’ve done everything, that’s when you stop learning. When you stop learning, you’re in trouble. I’m a better general manager today than I was six months ago, but I’ll be better six months from now than I am today.
In a tough market like this where everything is analyzed so closely, what do you think is the toughest part of your job as GM?
MB: You’re right when you say they analyze everything here. They even analyze my choice of socks! It comes with the job, especially in a market like Montreal. If you believe in the decisions you’re making and you believe in the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, you can live with the consequences of whatever decisions you make. You have to be confident and work hard; if you’re worried about trying to please everyone, you’re not the right person for the job.
I don’t like your socks. I’m curious who you liked better: the Nordiques or the Expos?
MB: (laughs) I’m more a baseball guy. I used to take the Charlevoix metro to Pie IX to watch the Expos growing up.
It must be harder to be a GM in the league today than it was 20 years ago with the salary cap.
MB: The biggest difference today is that when you’re looking at bringing in a player to help your team, the first thing you have to look at is his salary. You don’t have a choice; we’re all working with the same rules and the same cap. What happens often is you like the player, but you don’t like his contract because it doesn’t work with your cap. The opposite is sometimes true, too: you like the salary; you don’t like the player. In an ideal world you like them both; the worst is when you don’t like either.
In terms of trade deadline day, what preparations do you go through? What do you do in the morning or the day of?
MB: Well, it doesn’t start that day, but I’ll tell you what we do on that day. We’ve been working on the trade deadline already but three days before, we get all the scouts here in Montreal and we have what’s called a “war room”. By then we know exactly what we need and what we’re looking for and we basically talk about players all day long.
First off, I like your shoes and your socks. That’s what you call class. Also, as for you giving yourself a two out of 10 earlier, your team is first in the East right now…my question is about trades. Using the Erik Cole trade as an example, did you call up Joe Nieuwendyk and say, “Joe, I’ll trade you Ryder for Cole” or do you call up five or six other GMs to cast your line out and see what you can get?
MB: In general, the experience I had during my time in Chicago is when you make a trade it’s always good to know what you can get elsewhere. It makes it easier to make a decision. You know what? You mentioned shoes – it’s actually a little like shopping for shoes; you want to get them for a good price and you look around and see what you can get. You know what’s out there and you make a decision. Once you decide to make a deal, it moves very fast. The deal is done within an hour.
Having now experienced the first ever First Line Q&A session, fan club members are already prepping their questions for Geoff Molson’s turn on the hot seat on March 23. To get in on the discussion, register for the First Line at firstline.canadiens.com.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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