The Montreal Canadiens‘ encore to their Stanley Cup Final appearance last season has been an abject disaster, as they have a 6-15-2 record. With general manager Marc Bergevin in the last year of his contract having not signed an extension, it felt like a regime change was coming.
Did it ever arrive on Sunday.
Owner Geoff Molson announced that Bergevin, assistant general manager Trevor Timmins and senior VP of communications Paul Wilson were all “relieved of their respective functions” with the franchise. That’s after assistant GM Scott Mellanby resigned after he didn’t get either Bergevin’s job or a higher office. Former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton has been hired as executive vice president of hockey operations and tasked with finding the next (bilingual) general manager of the Habs.
Here’s a look at the decision and the fallout for the Original Six franchise, including who could take over for Bergevin.
Why did the Canadiens hire Jeff Gorton?
Gorton is viewed by many as the best available option for teams seeking a new general manager.
He learned under Harry Sinden in Boston and Glen Sather with the New York Rangers. After working as assistant general manager for several seasons with the Bruins, he was the interim general manager from March to July in 2006. During that stretch, the team drafted Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand; traded for Tuukka Rask; and signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard as free agents.
He became general manager of the Rangers in July 2015 and was credited for their quick rebuild during his tenure, which ended in May 2021. He traded away veteran players like Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello for future assets. He also experienced some unparalleled luck in securing forwards Alexis Lafreniere (No. 1, 2020) and Kaapo Kakko (No. 2, 2019) in the draft lottery, star winger Artemi Panarin as a free agent and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox via trade, as the Rangers were his preferred destination.
That the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens, a franchise adrift in mediocrity, would hire Gorton isn’t all that surprising … except for the fact that he doesn’t fit the bilingual prerequisite for a general manager. Instead, they got creative: Gorton was given the role of executive vice president of hockey operations to “ensure the continuity of the day-to-day operations of the hockey sector” while the team searches for a general manager who can “communicate with fans in French and in English.”
Speculation around the league is that Gorton will be the head of the table when it comes to personnel decisions, with a bilingual general manager working under him. That makes this an interesting hire: If language restrictions were off the table for this new role, might former Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford have been worth a hard look as the head of hockey operations? He’s been angling for a role that’s higher up the food chain from general manager, and his track record is unmatched by available candidates.
But the Habs moved quickly on Gorton. He was their guy.
Who are the possible bilingual general manager targets for Montreal?
Mathieu Darche: The director of hockey operations with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Darche played three seasons with the Canadiens from 2009-10 to 2011-12 before retiring. The 45-year-old assists general manager Julien BriseBois “in all aspects of player personnel decisions, analytics, player development, contract preparation and negotiation, budgeting, scheduling and cap tracking.” And since they’re not getting BriseBois to leave the cushy confines of Tampa Bay, perhaps Darche is the next best thing. Multiple sources have indicated that Darche is an early favorite to land the gig.
Martin Madden: Madden is in his 14th season with the Anaheim Ducks, and his second as assistant general manager. He’s a native of Quebec City, and his father Martin Madden, Sr., was the general manager of the Quebec Nordiques from 1988-1990. The younger Madden was an amateur scout with the Carolina Hurricanes when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, and was running the Ducks’ drafts when they found diamonds in the rough like defenseman Sami Vatanen (106th overall, 2009), defenseman Josh Manson (160th overall, 2011), goalie Frederik Andersen (87th overall, 2012) and forward Ondrej Kase (205th overall, 2014). When Bob Murray recently resigned to seek treatment for alcohol abuse, the Ducks promoted assistant general manager Jeff Solomon to interim GM. Where does Madden fit into the Ducks’ search for Murray’s replacement?
Daniel Briere: Like Darche, Briere is a former Canadiens player, albeit for one season (2013-14). Unlike Darche, Briere has yet to earn substantial experience at the NHL level as an executive. That’s not to say he isn’t experienced: Briere, 44, was named vice president of operations for the ECHL’s Maine Mariners in 2017 and became president and general manager for that franchise in 2021. Since NHL hiring seemingly always boils down to previous relationships, it’s worth noting that Briere’s Mariners were a New York Rangers affiliate when Gorton was the general manager at MSG.
Roberto Luongo: Could the 42-year-old former NHLer make the leap from heading up the Florida Panthers‘ “goaltender excellence department” to running the Canadiens? Luongo’s been a special adviser to the Panthers’ general manager since 2019. He’s earned executive experience as the general manager of Team Canada at the 2021 world championships. He’s also an assistant general manager for Canada’s 2022 Olympic men’s hockey team.
Patrick Roy: Speaking of former goaltending greats, there’s always fan support for the notion of Saint Patrick blessing the franchise with his presence. He’s managed and coached the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL on and off for the last 16 years, spending three seasons behind the bench with the Colorado Avalanche as their head coach. He had player personnel aspirations with the Avs, and left the team when it was clear they weren’t going to be fulfilled. Does he want to be a general manager or a coach? He’d probably take either gig in Montreal. But if it’s the GM role, then there’s only one question to answer: Can Roy allow Gorton to have ultimate control over the Habs?
Martin Lapointe: If the Canadiens were humoring internal solutions, one assumes the 48-year-old Lapointe would be in the mix. He’s been director of player development with Montreal since Bergevin brought him aboard in 2012. He added director of amateur scouting duties to his plate earlier this year. He’s signed through 2023-24, but it’s hard to imagine Gorton staying in-house with his hire — especially since a lack of player development is what has helped get the Canadiens into this pickle.
Vincent Damphousse: A former Canadiens great whose name gets circulated by fans and media for a managerial role on the team. The 53-year-old has been an analyst for RDS. He was rumored to be up for a president of hockey operations gig above Bergevin’s role, rumors that ran so hot that Molson himself had to quash them. But he’s worked more in the Scandinavian spa business than he has in hockey operations in the last several years.
Pierre McGuire: McGuire was a runner-up to Bergevin for the Canadiens general manager hire in 2012. At the time, he was an analyst for NBC Sports. Since July, he’s been senior vice president of player development for the Ottawa Senators. He was previously an assistant general manager with the Hartford Whalers. If the Habs want a bilingual front-facing executive, they’d have a vocal one in the 60-year-old McGuire. But even as Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion has been extended through 2024-25, there’s the perception that McGuire is next in the succession line with a franchise that may not have the prestige of the Canadiens, but might have a clearer path to contention.
What’s next for Marc Bergevin?
It’s not every deposed general manager that gets to release a statement on the team’s official website on the way out. “It is with my head held high and with lasting memories that I am leaving my position as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. I wish this organization and my successor the best possible success for the future,” wrote Bergevin.
His teams made the playoffs in six of his 10 seasons there, including a trip to the conference final in 2014 and the Stanley Cup Final last season. The Canadiens had the 10th most postseason wins of any team during his tenure. His weaknesses as an executive were glaring: Some specious contracts to veteran players, odd decisions on his coaches, and a draft and development history that frankly could be disqualifying for future endeavors. The best player the Canadiens drafted and developed under Bergevin plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning — defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (who was traded for Jonathan Drouin).
That said, the 56-year-old will undoubtedly get another crack at being an NHL general manager. As for his immediate future, the New York Post reported in October that Bergevin “just might wind up in Los Angeles next season working with Kings president Luc Robitaille.”
There’s another interesting option: The Chicago Blackhawks‘ general manager job that was vacated when Stan Bowman stepped aside. Bergevin claimed he was unaware of the sexual assault accusations made by Kyle Beach against video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010, when Bergevin was director of player personnel for the Blackhawks. Would they hire anyone from that era, though?
If nothing else, Bergevin will be remembered as someone who zealously cared about the success or failure of the Montreal Canadiens. He didn’t have a poker face when it came to on-ice results. And when they were good, like the way they were last season, Bergevin’s buoyant reactions were like watching an executive morph back into an excited player.
“Despite the pitfalls, the organization that I led, with a lot of passion, has always recovered,” he wrote. But it’ll take some heavy lifting.
What’s next for the Canadiens’ new regime?
Head coach Dominique Ducharme was given a three-year contract extension after the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final while he was interim coach. That deal, reportedly worth $1.7 million annually, runs through 2023-24. It’s tradition in the NHL for new executives to bring in their own coach. Ducharme is currently 21-31-9 in the regular season.
Bergevin leaves behind a significant salary cap commitment. It starts with 34-year-old Carey Price, who makes $10.5 million against the salary cap through 2025-26 with a full no-movement clause. He’s one of 17 players under contract for next season, and 13 players the Canadiens have under contract through the 2023-24 season.
There are some pieces to build around here: promising young players like Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Alexander Romanov; veterans like Brendan Gallagher, who should be wearing the captain’s “C” for this team. The player that last wore the “C” was Shea Weber, and his loss from the lineup due to multiple injuries — likely ending his career — left a hole it’s going to take a while for this team to fill.
Whoever steps in to help Gorton will have to figure out what parts stay and what parts go. But hey, it’s only the Montreal Canadiens — no pressure.