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Standing together

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – While it certainly wasn’t a season to remember, the Canadiens’ brass firmly believes things will turn around with the staffers already in place – and a healthy lineup, too.

On Monday afternoon, owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin confirmed that head coach Michel Therrien and his assistants would all be returning next season despite the club’s lacklustre play since early December and their inability to secure a playoff berth for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.

Given everything that transpired on the injury front between October and early April – including being deprived of Carey Price’s services since late November, Jeff Petry’s help since early February, and a heart-and-soul player like Brendan Gallagher on two separate occasions for significant periods of time – Bergevin simply wasn’t prepared to move forward with anyone else but Therrien behind the bench come September. In short, it just isn’t the way he does business.

“When I look at our team on the ice, I really put the emphasis on the behavior of the players and their effort, too. Most of the time, the effort was there, even during tough times. In my mind, Michel Therrien is a guy who is firm and strict, but honest, too. To be a good coach, you need to have those three qualities and Michel still has those today. That’s one of the reasons why he’s here. The day will come when I won’t be here anymore, but for Michel that day hasn’t arrived yet because I’m behind him and I know the players are behind him,” said Bergevin, who did, however, elect to part ways with coaching consultant Craig Ramsay after one season with the Canadiens.

“Based on everything that’s happened over the last six months, to just go ahead and panic and change everything because of it, based on the circumstances, isn’t something I’m ready to do today. I’m definitely going to look at all the different areas of the organization to improve things and move things forward, but I’m not going to turn things upside down,” added Bergevin, referencing the 348 man-games the Canadiens lost to injury in 2015-16, its highest total in the last five years.

Drastic player moves weren’t in the cards for Bergevin, either, when things ultimately took a turn for the worst and the Canadiens were battling through one of their toughest periods in recent memory. He explored all of his options – and made “bold” offers along the way – but, in his mind, moving pieces of the puzzle just for the sake of doing it isn’t necessarily a recipe for success.

“If you have Carey Price, you’re already ahead of a lot of teams. Losing him hurt us. But, at the end of the day, you have to look around – and I did look around to improve the team. Geoff brought me here with the mandate of building a winning team. I’m never going to stop trying. But, in the discussions I had with other general managers, there really wasn’t anything out there. I even made some really bold offers that were turned down. Even when I was doing that, I thought it was a little bit risky. I was ready to take that risk, though. I’m always going to make decisions based on my hockey knowledge and with the help of my hockey people for the betterment of the organization,” explained Bergevin, who fully understands the frustration Canadiens fans the world over are feeling right now given the way things played out over the course of the season.

“Making changes because it’s popular or it’s sexy isn’t the way I go about things. Things got derailed a bit this season. That’s true. We were the worst team in the league since December 2. That’s also true. As a fan, though, you have to look a little deeper than that. You have to look at the way the team played. When you look at the last two seasons, are we a 110-point team? Are we an 82-point team? I don’t think so. I think we’re probably somewhere in the middle. With a time like that, you make the playoffs. If you start the playoffs with a healthy team, I think we can do some damage. I want our fans to be positive and to believe in the core of this team. We also have a lot of young players who are ready to play,” continued Bergevin, referencing the likes of Mike Condon, Daniel Carr, Sven Andrighetto and Greg Pateryn, among others, who really seized their opportunities to strut their stuff this past year.

Bergevin, meanwhile, also confirmed that he didn’t intend to trade P.K. Subban over the summer, putting any speculation to the contrary to rest rather quickly. For his part, Therrien indicated that he appreciates what the Canadiens’ No. 76 brings to the table and that he remains a key asset to the organization going forward.

“When it comes to P.K., it’s about getting the maximum out of him and making sure that he plays solid games. You look at the level of his progress over the last four years and he always continues to progress. Don’t forget that the day P.K. got injured, he was also our top point-getter at the time,” said Therrien, referencing Subban’s neck injury that sidelined him for the final 14 games of the year. “We give him a lot of responsibility, both offensively and defensively on the power play and on the penalty kill. I enjoy working with him. He’s a guy who comes to play. He’s a worker. He’s passionate. That’s my perception. It’s fun working with him. That’s all I can say.”

With respect to captain Max Pacioretty, Bergevin believes a season like this one – riddled with adversity – will only make him stronger in the long run and help him better understand the intricacies of leading a team through tough stretches in any given campaign.

“I know Max is a smart man and I know he cares. I also know that he’s going to grow from this experience and he’ll become a better captain. There’s no booklet that exists on captaincy. His teammates chose him for a reason. What we went through this year was new for us, but it was also new for him as a new captain,” said Bergevin, reiterating his faith in Pacioretty in his all-important role. “Yes, there were some periods when he thought it was hard, but I believe in my heart that Max will come out of this a better captain and a better leader.”

Molson, meanwhile, insists that Bergevin is still the right man to oversee things hockey-wise as the Canadiens look to put the past behind them and bounce back next season.

“The decisions I continue to make, and the decision I made four years ago, was to hire Marc Bergevin. He’s who I think is the best person to lead and improve this team. That was my priority [in selecting him]. The other priority I had was to bring long-term stability to this organization. It started with Marc. The decisions that were made after that belong to Marc. In my mind, I have an excellent GM who I think is among the best in the NHL and who continues to improve the team, even through a tough period over the last few months,” said Molson. “We’ve also had a lot of success under Marc’s lead. I don’t forget that when I plan for the future.”

Additional subjects covered during Monday’s press conference:

- In addition to confirming that the Canadiens’ coaching staff would remain intact – with the exception of Craig Ramsay, of course – Bergevin indicated that the personnel in St. John’s would also remain the same in 2016-17. That means that Sylvain Lefebvre will begin his fifth season at the helm of the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in the fall.

- With respect to the transaction involving John Scott and the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the year, Bergevin explained that Scott was included in the deal primarily for financial reasons. The Canadiens’ GM couldn’t divulge this particular piece of information when the trade was completed.

“When you talk to a GM, the first thing you’d like to know is the term of the contract. Often, you know what it is, but sometimes you don’t. A team like Arizona is on a budget. To make the deal, they had to shed some salary,” said Bergevin. “It wasn’t what I was looking for. I don’t have anything against John Scott, but he wasn’t what I needed. In the end, I told myself he could go to St. John’s and help the young guys there.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

SEE ALSO
Management - End-Of-Season Recap - Part I
Management - End-Of-Season Recap - Part II
Management - End-Of-Season Recap - Part III

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