Making his 'Marc' in Montreal

Making his 'Marc' in Montreal
March 8, 2013, 12:00 pm
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While we drown, bathe and bask in Blackhawks glory, it's easy to ignore what's going on in the Eastern Conference. After all, there's not a team there to worry about until the Stanley Cup Final.

How about an Original Six matchup? If the season ended right now, Detroit, Toronto, Boston, the New York Rangers and Montreal would all join the Blackhawks in the tournament. But what's happening with the Canadiens is really an eye-opener, and it starts with Marc Bergevin.

The former Hawks defenseman spent the last seven seasons in the front office, most recently as Stan Bowman's assistant general manager. And when Les Habitants finally reached the finish line last spring, the proud franchise was an absolute mess. They finished dead last in the East with 78 points, better than only two teams in the entire league, and there was a growing uproar about having a non-French-speaking head coach.

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The uber-popular 47-year-old interviewed for the GM vacancy with the franchise that owns the sport's richest history, where expectations and pressure to win are at its highest. Some thought Bergevin may not have been quite ready, but he turned out to be perfectly suited (yes, the man does dress well) for the center of that red, white and blue storm.

Look up, and after Thursday night's 4-2 win over Carolina, their 15-5-4 record is holding off Boston by one point and Pittsburgh by two. His coaching hire was Michel Therrien -- who took the Penguins from "point A to point B," as well as a trip to the Cup Final with Pittsburgh five years ago before Dan Bylsma finished the job a year later. Assistant GM Rick held the same position in Chicago for five years. His director of player development also made the move with him, after Martin Lapointe spent the last three years as a professional scout with the Blackhawks.

But it's not like Bergevin made sweeping roster changes. It's more like a much-needed attitude and atmosphere adjustment with the help of a pretty good, hungry coach who feels he never got to finish his job with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company. The only major team category in which they're not in the league's Top 10 is penalty killing. They're second in the NHL to the Hawks in 5-on-5 goal differential. Goaltender Carey Price remains rock-solid in net after signing a new six-year contract. 

But besides adding some sandpaper in Brandon Prust (+13) and Colby Armstrong, the most significant new contributors are his 19-year-old third overall draft pick in Alex Galchenyuk (3-10/13) and 20-year-old ex-5th-round pick (Andrew Shaw, anyone?) Brendan Gallagher (7-6/13, +10). PK Subban missed the first six games in a contract holdout, but has 15 points in his 18 games to become a main player in early Norris Trophy talk.

It still remains to be seen how much the fresh air and youthful exuberance of Bergevin that trickles all the way down to the ice will have staying power through 24 more games. But what he's done in Montreal at least opens the possibility of an unexpected reunion between Bergevin and the Bowmans in a Stanley Cup Final rematch from 1971 and 1973. Just with a different ending.