Marc Bergevin by no means questioned his grand plan.
The Montreal Canadiens basic supervisor was, nonetheless, left looking for solutions all through lengthy stretches of an inconceivable, roller-coaster 2021.
Bergevin’s staff, the one he’s constructed over 9 years in his hockey-mad hometown and province, owned the NHL’s finest document by 10 video games of the league’s pandemic-shortened schedule.
Montreal had stunned within the post-season bubble months earlier, and the GM spent the autumn retooling the roster by commerce and free company.
He was able to see his blueprint in motion.
“I’m like, ‘OK that is what I envision,”’ Bergevin mentioned Friday trying again on the winter months lower than 48 hours after the underdog Canadiens fell to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in an sudden Stanley Cup remaining journey that stretched into July. “After which we acquired a dip.
“We simply by no means acquired out of it.”
That led to the firing of head coach Claude Julien and the promotion of assistant Dominique Ducharme into the highest job on an interim foundation in February.
However nonetheless, Montreal couldn’t get any traction due to a mix of recent programs, inconsistent play, a COVID-19 shutdown, key accidents and a condensed calendar.
“Is there some extent the place I doubted? No,” Bergevin continued. “However there was some extent the place I’m like, ‘I don’t perceive why we simply can’t take off once more.”’
It took a while, however one thing finally clicked.
The Canadiens, 18th within the regular-season standings and the final membership to qualify for the playoffs, got here again from a 3-1 deficit within the first spherical towards the closely favoured Toronto Maple Leafs with consecutive time beyond regulation victories earlier than placing in a dominant Sport 7 efficiency to advance.
“I’m like, ‘Wow,”’ Bergevin mentioned. “Now I felt some momentum, some perception in ourselves in our dressing room.”
Montreal adopted that stunning outcome — at the very least for practically everybody exterior its 4 partitions — by sweeping the Winnipeg Jets and getting previous the Vegas Golden Knights, who had the league’s second-best document, had downed the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche and had been hockey’s greatest third-round favorite in additional than 30 years.
And the Canadiens performed the ultimate 4 video games of that 4-2 semifinal sequence victory with out Ducharme due to a constructive COVID-19 check.
However then they ran right into a battle-tested, well-oiled buzz noticed within the remaining as Tampa repeated with ruthless effectivity and disposed of the Canadiens in 5 video games.
Regardless of the gut-wrenching disappointment, Bergevin was happy with his gamers and what they confirmed in a attempting, gruelling six months.
“That’s the closest group I felt as a staff,” he mentioned of his tenure in Montreal. “Once I say ‘staff’ I consider ‘staff’ wins championship, not people. We didn’t have these superstars, however we have now guys that consider in one another and fought for the man subsequent to him. And that’s why we went this far.
“We simply got here up towards a staff that was doing the identical factor.”
Like every low season — and this one will likely be a lot shorter than regular — Montreal should now flip its consideration to the longer term. There’s and enlargement draft with the Seattle Kraken becoming a member of because the NHL’s thirty second franchise, the entry draft and free company.
Bergevin, in the meantime, was requested if he’d prefer to proceed on as GM along with his contract set to expire in lower than 12 months.
“I’ve another yr on my contract,” he mentioned bluntly. “And I’ll honour that.”
It’s additionally clear that Ducharme will nearly actually have the interim tag faraway from his job title quickly.
“It was a loopy journey,” the 48-year-old mentioned of his private journey this season. “However on the identical time, that’s the form of state of affairs or problem that we like.
“When you don’t like these sorts of challenges, I don’t assume you’re in the fitting enterprise.”
The Canadiens have plenty of unrestricted free brokers, together with centre Phillip Danault, who solely scored as soon as within the playoffs, however confirmed his worth in neutralizing the likes of Auston Matthews and different big-name threats.
They possesses a promising younger core at ahead in Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, however star goaltender Carey Worth is 33, whereas captain Shea Weber is 35.
Montreal will even be again within the powerhouse Atlantic Division subsequent season with Tampa, Toronto, the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers after successful the one-off North necessitated by pandemic border restrictions.
However the Canadiens are satisfied they’re heading in the right direction.
“We went by a ton of adversity,” Suzuki mentioned. “We discovered quite a bit about ourselves, what we are able to do as a staff. When we have now the fitting mindset, we are able to play towards anyone and beat anyone.”
Added Caufield: “That is solely simply the beginning. (The followers) deserve a successful staff. We gave a little bit style of it this yr. Our expectation is to be a successful staff.”
Worth and Weber weren’t made out there to the media Friday, however a few of their teammates shared what it was like watching these veterans fall simply brief within the duo’s first remaining.
“You see guys like Shea Weber and Carey Worth, and seeing these guys’ faces … it’s devastating,” winger Josh Anderson mentioned.
“It’s a sickening feeling watching the opposite staff rejoice successful the Cup if you’ve put in that a lot work,” defenceman Ben Chiarot added. “It’s robust to see a pal in that state of affairs.”
The Canadiens fell simply in need of elevating hockey’s holy grail for the primary time since 1993 — additionally the final time a Cup banner was raised north of the border — however Bergevin was shortly again at his desk to start the method anew.
“I’m disillusioned we couldn’t carry again the twenty fifth Cup to Montreal,” he mentioned. “However my work to do it has began once more.’
© 2021 The Canadian Press