If you listened to the year-end press conferences in Montreal on Monday, you noticed that general manager Marc Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson used the word “attitude” several times throughout their hour-long media availability. For those of you that are familiar with Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, you probably realized that it sounded a lot like the “lack of character” speech he delivered after the 2015-16 season. What happened that summer? The Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. So what’s going to happen this time around?
Bergevin made it abundantly clear that, in his mind, adding all the talent in the world wouldn’t matter much if the players coming into the locker room didn’t have a better attitude than the group that’s in there right now.
“It was a disappointing season from start to finish, and that was unacceptable,” Bergevin said in his opening remarks. “The overall attitude of our team needs to change. We will do a complete assessment of our hockey operations and as the general manager I take my share of responsibilities for the season, but we’re all in this together.
“I believe that an attitude can change a lot of things. Players? of course, players can make things better, but if you have good players that don’t have the right attitude- I could bring anybody here and if the attitude is not better, we’re going to be in the same spot. And it’s my job to address that and it started today.”
With one breath, Bergevin took some of the blame for what happened in Montreal this year, with another breath, he made sure to mention the attitude problem countless times. But let’s be real, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Karl Alzner to a rich five-year contract, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit to replace Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov. Yes, the Hemsky and Streit signings were low-risk, but those two veterans were expected to contribute.
That’s not to say that Bergevin hasn’t made good moves during his tenure as GM (he acquired Jeff Petry via trade, he stole Phillip Danault from Chicago), but he’s had a bit more of a difficult time over the last couple of years. Sure, a better attitude may have helped the Canadiens win a few more games this season, but having better players on their roster would have had more of an impact on the win column in 2017-18.
Since acquiring Shea Weber two years ago, the Canadiens still haven’t found a left-handed defenseman to play with him. Prior to the start of training camp, Bergevin mentioned David Schlemko and Jordie Benn as possible partners for their number one blue liner. As most would’ve expected, that didn’t work out too well.
Then, there’s the hole(s) down the middle that they haven’t been able to fill. Heading into the offseason, there’s a legitimate case to be made that they need a first line center and a second line center to be competitive. Of course, there’s a unique opportunity to land a player like John Tavares should he decide to hit unrestricted free agency. But if that doesn’t work out, where will that leave them?
Does going after 32-year-olds like Paul Stastny or Tyler Bozak make sense? Probably, but landing free agents isn’t easy. They’ll probably have to pay way over market value for older players who play the position, but they have no choice if they want to be competitive again.
That leads us to our last question. Is patching up holes with veterans a better alternative to rebuilding from the ground up? The organization doesn’t seem to think so. We’ll see if the decision proves to be right or wrong over the next few years.