Hughes and Bergevin – Differences and Similarities

By JD Lagrange – Reading social media, there is no doubt that many fans had grown tired of Marc Bergevin, for multiple reasons. Most of it started back on June 29, 2016, when the former Canadiens’ GM showed more guts than an antilope being devoured by a pride of lions in Africa, daring trading fan favourite P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. And the disgruntled grew from there, to the point that after just over nine years, they finally got their wish and he was let go.

The goal here is not to determine Bergevin’s legacy as we’ve touched on that in the past, and in more than one occasion. No, today, I want to talk about the man who replaced him, in one of his duties at least, the GM position. That’s right, let’s talk about some comparatives between the former GM and the new one. And before jumping to the conclusion that there are no similarities between Bergevin and Kent Hughes, let’s look at what we’ve learned from the former players’ agent first.

But before we get into the meat and potatoes, let’s just remember one important thing. We saw two versions of Bergevin over the years. We saw the inexperienced GM who inherited a team and tried to “win now”. Then, since the summer of 2018, we saw a GM who followed a “reset” plan, accumulating draft picks and trading for young assets. Also, it is a fact that Hughes is starting with a huge advantage over Bergevin, if only by looking at the depth chart of the team today in comparison to what Bergevin inherited.

Differences

For the differences, we might have to include the implication of VP of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton, as that was also part of Bergevin’s job. It’s difficult to draw the line between what is a Hockey Ops or GM decision at times.

Media relationship

There is no doubt that the biggest difference sits in the hiring of Chantal MaChabée as the new VP of Communications. Although the finger should be pointed to the other Geoff (Molson) for that hiring, it is a stunning difference. Bergevin was a no nonsense type of guy and the members of the media on a witch hunt were put in their place in a hurry. Personally, I loved that but obviously, the media didn’t and Chantal coming from that side of the business is making sure that even the bad ones are treated like the good ones.

But her role goes beyond that. She is making players, coaches, even the GM available and fans like that. She is also preparing the players, coaching them a bit about the media, encouraging a more positive relationship. That’s a plus.

Player development

The second biggest difference is in the player development. Although from reading social media, the honeymoon stage seems to be fading out with the controversy raised by the decision of keeping Juraj Slafkovsky in Montreal, which fans claim resembles decisions made in the Bergevin era. We’ve read the words “ruining first round picks” more than a few times since then.

But the Canadiens are definitely committed to focus on better developing their own. The hiring of Adam Nicholas and Marie-Phillip Poulin are only two examples of that. Even head coach Martin St-Louis is taking a patient approach with the young players on the ice. Older folks like yours truly, who have seen others before, will warn you that this is easily done when there is no pressure to win, and that will definitely change when the expectations change too. But so far, so good.

Focus on skills

Well, yes and no. I truly feel this is a misconception, as every team, every GM, is looking for skills. But I’m putting it here because it seems like many fans think that it’s a difference between the two management styles. Those who hated Bergevin’s gut will point out to the focus on size and grit, or character as Bergevin pointed out in the past, to claim that he was putting that ahead of skills. It wasn’t the case and we will touch on that further in the similarities.

Some will even point out to the selection of 5-foot 8-inches defenseman Lane Hutson to support their claim, but conveniently forget that Bergevin (and Timmins) selected Cole Caufield (how can anyone forget?). And there are other examples, such as Xavier Simoneau (5’6”), Rhett Pitlick (5’9”), Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (5’9”), Sean Farrell (5’9”)…

Similarities

If we remain unbiased, we will notice a lot more similarities between the two regimes than some may want to admit.

Size matters
Juraj Slafkovsky

The first thing we noticed with Bergevin is that he didn’t like to see his players being pushed around, or intimidated. He attempted bringing grittier, bigger players throughout the years. Many didn’t pan out, but others like Weber, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson certainly did.

Hughes drafted Juraj Slafkovsky first overall and you have seen the behind the scene videos, it became clear that his size was one of the determining factors. But it goes beyond that. If you look at the size of the players he has brought in through trades so far, most have size. Hughes has admitted that while he has nothing against smaller skilled players, he wouldn’t want “a small team”. That’s Bergevin-like.

Trades for youth

Admittedly, Hughes has had it easy so far in that department. Any GM will tell you that it’s much easier to blow things up for picks and prospects than it is to trade for established, proven players and adding to a roster to win. That will come soon enough for the new GM.

But since 2018, that’s what Bergevin has been doing, although while trying to remain competitive. In what perhaps was his worse big trade, he did get a young Jonathan Drouin. He also manage to get a young Max Domi, then a somewhat young Josh Anderson. Hughes got Kirby Dach and Justin Barron so far, in the same line of thinking.

Accumulating picks

Much like his predecessor (since 2018), Hughes understands the importance of building through the draft and he has been trading for more picks, or assets like Sean Monahan and Evgenii Dadonov, which could bring more picks at trade deadline. As mentioned above though, he has yet to go through the cycle, where the team is in a playoffs’ position or in a position to compete for the Cup. We shall see how that goes.

Bergevin somewhat managed to replenish the prospects and picks cupboards while building a team made for playoffs, with a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals where they ran out of gas against a team $18 million over the cap. Pundits will point to last season’s misery but the toll and devastation that playoffs’ run took on the Habs was unmeasurable.

Key waivers pick up

Bergevin picked up a few players on waivers, none more important than Paul Byron. Prior to Hughes being hired, Jeff Gorton picked up what appears to be a similarly important players off waivers in Rem Pitlick. We shall see how the claim of Johnathan Kovacevic will turn out to be.

Remains to be seen

There are a few traits that still remain to be determine, things that will come over time, when it comes to compare similarities or differences between Hughes and Bergevin.

Trades
Nick Suzuki and Shea Weber

Hughes will have his work cut out to match his predecessor’s success when it comes to getting the most out of his trades, particularly the big trades. While pundits will be quick to point to the Drouin trade, other GMs were starting to fear trading with the Canadiens because of Bergevin’s knack for winning those. The Subban, Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Domi, Weise and Fleischmann, and the list goes on and on…

As mentioned above, Hughes has done well so far with a team that’s nowhere close to contention, trading away assets at trade deadline. That’s the easy part of the trades’ job. He’s a smart man and he has displayed some patience, a good quality for a GM when it comes to trading. We can be optimistic. If he comes anywhere close to Bergevin’s track record, it would be amazing.

Contract extensions

Many are feeling that due to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher’s contract extensions, Bergevin wasn’t good at negotiating contracts, or that he was “too attached to his players”. Yet, every single GM is close to his core of players and those who aren’t don’t last long. Bergevin also had negotiated the previous contract extensions of the team’s last two 30-goals scorers, Max Pacioretty ($4.5 million, 6 years) and Gallagher ($3.6 million, 6 years). He also re-signed Jake Allen, in his prime, to take a pay cut from $4.35 million to $2.875 million. But that’s easily forgotten.

Being a former players’ agent, having his clients’ backs trying to get them the most money possible, it will be interesting to watch Hughes negotiate contracts from the other side of the fence now. So far, he has re-signed Allen, giving him a million dollars more per season than Bergevin had given the goaltender. Not bad.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot more similarities than differences so far between the two management styles. Only time will tell how effective this current management will be but the emphasis on player development, in particular, has the potential to yield some great results.

Bergevin’s was nominated for GM of the Year, finishing in the top-3, three times. He won three division titles and his team made the playoffs in six of the nine seasons he’s been the GM. They have won a total of seven playoffs’ rounds. To put that into perspective, it is the most amongst Canadian teams. In the same time span, the powerhouse Leafs have won… 0. 

Still, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic and hopeful if you’re a Habs’ fan. But remember… many of the prospects we’ve been drooling all over so far at camp, and many of those coming in the next couple of seasons, were picks by the Bergevin and Trevor Timmins combo. It seems like the duo of Gorton and Hughes are simply continuing in a similar path, which is good.

More reading…

Hughes: Good, Gutsy And Opportunistic

By JD Lagrange – Since being named General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Kent Hughes has been in the limelight. More than what he’s used to. He probably feels like he’s living the lyrics of an old song from The Police: “Every breath you take, and every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you!”

Right now, Hughes is still at the honeymoon stage of his relationship with Habs’ fans. Everything he does is applauded and praised, particularly by a portion of the fanbase who simply couldn’t wait to see the previous management gone. But here’s the reality: he has made some great decisions, yes, but he also has greatly benefited from that same previous management and their decisions… and getting credit for it.

He is able to focus on the GM duties only, since Geoff Molson made the correct decision by separating the V-P of Hockey Operations (giving it to Jeff Gorton) and the GM job into two distinct positions.

Good

Here are some of the good moves that he’s make, on his own (or with the help of Jeff Gorton). These moves have nothing to do with Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins and he should get all of the credit, or shared with his V-P of Hockey Operations.

  • Hiring Martin St-Louis came out of left field. A coach without any professional coaching experience would normally be frowned upon, but the fact and the matter remains that it seems to have paid off. He commends respect with what he has done on the ice. Time will tell but St-Louis appears to have the necessary qualities to be a successful bench boss at the NHL level.
  • While the hiring of Chantal MaChabée as the V-P of Communications was Geoff Molson’s decision, Hughes (and Gorton) seems to be involving her in hockey decisions to a certain level. Chantal is well respected not only by fans, but by players who have had their dealings with the sometimes good, often bad Montreal media members.
  • When it comes to on-ice trades or signings, trading Jeff Petry is Hughes’ biggest and most difficult move thus far. With half a season playing his worst hockey of his career, Petry bounced back under St-Louis, which helped his value. But seeing teams having to pay a hefty price to unload salary cap, Hughes did very well in getting Mike Matheson in return, a very suitable NHL defenseman. Further, he did not keep any of Petry’s salary in the trade. Job well done!

Opportunistic

Then, there are some opportunistic moves. Those are decisions based on the situation that he has walked into, things that he knew about when taking the job. The fact that the Canadiens were amongst the worst teams in the NHL was a huge contributing factor, opening the door to some rare opportunities.

Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins
  • We have known that Shea Weber’s career was all but over. Bergevin informed everyone after the Cinderella playoffs’ run. So trading his contract for cap space is likely something that any management would have done. Timing was such that the Vegas Golden Knights were desperate to find ways to get around their horrible cap situation and Hughes had to take Evgenii Dadonov and his $5 million contract. Still, although opportunistic, good job overall.
  • Trading the pending UFAs at trade deadline and the value in return is directly related to the position of the team at trade deadline. A record-breaking amount of man-games lost to injuries and COVID, unhappy players, too little rest, were all factors making the decision to trade away the pending free agents a slam dunk.
  • We’ve touched on this in the past, but if you compare the prospect pool that Bergevin inherited to the one Hughes got when he took the job, it’s night and day. The picks and prospects he inherited, due to the 2018 Reset, is as deep in both quality and quantity as I remember seeing in five decades as a fan. This speeds up the re-whatever-you-call-it process by adding instead of building a new prospect pool.
  • He was handed the first overall pick. I’m not going to debate if choosing Juraj Slafkovsky was the right choice or not, as I was one hoping that he would pick the big Slovak. But it’s not only the first overall. It also means the first pick in each round. Fingers crossed that it wasn’t a lost opportunity but as a glass-full type of person, I’m hopeful.

Gutsy

Canadiens’ fans are lucky, particularly after a long time of conservative GMs. For a second time in a row, they have a General Manager who is not afraid of making moves, and taking hard decisions. Hughes has made a few decisions that we can qualify as “gutsy”.

  • Trading Toffoli and Lehkonen were decisions that took a bit of nerve. Toffoli had great chemistry not only in the dressing room, but with young star Nick Suzuki. He was one of the team’s best offensive producer. Further, he has one year left to a very affordable contract. Lehkonen had been a fixture on the Canadiens, a defensive specimen, a leader who was loved by his teammates. He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent. But Hughes knew that it would have been difficult to pay him his worth.
Kirby Dach
  • Another very bold time for the Canadiens’ GM was at the Draft. In Montreal, with a vast majority of fans wanting Shane Wright (some were sporting Wright t-shirts), he wasn’t phased by it and selected his guy, Juraj Slafkovsky. That in itself took a lot of nerves.
  • But he wasn’t done… He then proceeded to trade Alexander Romanov, who was well liked by Canadiens’ fans. He added some draft picks and when the dust settled after two trades, he landed 21 year-old Kirby Dach, whose development has been slowed down by serious injuries. Basically, Hughes stole the show at the Draft in Montreal, at least in the first round.
  • Other bold move was taking on Sean Monahan and his contract, just to get a first round draft pick. Even with the news of Carey Price being unable to start the season and the possibility of him not returning all year, the acquisition of Monahan, who had not one, but two hip surgeries and hasn’t been the shadow of himself, put the Canadiens right back against the cap, after being able to unload Petry. Time will tell how good that was.

True test coming

Those who thought that Hughes was coming in as Gorton’s puppet better think again. He is an excellent hockey mind who isn’t afraid of thinking outside the box. The hiring of St-Louis is a prime example, as is trading for Monahan. But the true test is coming.

For one thing, Hughes took a gamble at center by acquiring salary and not one, but two injury riddled players. Then, he has a few more hurdles ahead of him. What will happen to Brendan Gallagher and Mike Hoffman? There is a huge gaping hole on the right side of the defense, a crater created by Weber’s situation but also by Petry’s departure. The goaltending situation with Price out of commission is a big question mark. And then, Cole Caufield’s contract will need to be renewed. No time to rest Kent. You have your work cut-out.

More reading…