Stu Cowan: Former GM Marc Bergevin's fingerprints are all over the Canadiens

“I’d be naive to say when we got here there wasn’t more here than I thought,” Habs’ executive vice-president Jeff Gorton says.

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Monday was team-photo day for the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Only six players in the photo were with the team three years ago when the Canadiens advanced to the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning: Nick Suzuki, Brendan Gallagher, Josh Anderson, Cole Caufield, Joel Armia and Jake Evans.

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That’s why that Cup run probably seems like a very long time ago to Canadiens fans and also to Evans.

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“I guess I’m at the point now where years are somewhat blending together,” Evans, now in his fifth season, said after the Canadiens practised Monday following the team photo. “I’ll have to ask guys: ‘Were you there for that?’ Guys like Savy (David Savard) and Devo (Christian Dvorak).

“I guess it wasn’t expected after that year,” Evans added about all the changes to the team. “But it is a little bit weird now when you see a lot of guys you used to play with on all these different teams.”

Among those in Monday’s team photo who weren’t with the Canadiens in 2021 were Jeff Gorton, the executive vice-president of hockey operations, general manager Kent Hughes and head coach Martin St. Louis.

This Canadiens’ rebuild started on March 28, 2021, when owner/president Geoff Molson decided to fire Marc Bergevin after he had spent 10 seasons as GM and hire Gorton.

A big reason why the Canadiens had to rebuild was because of Bergevin’s dismal record with his first-round draft picks. Between 2012 and 2018, Bergevin’s first round picks (in order) were Alex Galchenyuk, Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

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Sergachev was the best of the bunch, but Bergevin traded the defenceman to the Lightning in exchange for Jonathan Drouin a week before drafting Poehling. Bergevin’s decision to take Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick in 2018 instead of Brady Tkachuk — who went to the Ottawa Senators with the fourth pick — will continue to hurt the Canadiens for years to come. Kotkaniemi, now a fourth-line winger with the Carolina Hurricanes, has 63 career NHL goals, while Tkachuk has 158 goals and is captain of the Senators.

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But Bergevin did make some good draft picks after 2018 and they were in Monday’s team photo and will be part of this rebuilding process. Caufield was Bergevin’s first-round pick in 2019, Jayden Struble was his second-round pick that year and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was a seventh-round pick the same year. Kaiden Guhle was Bergevin’s first-round pick in 2020 and Joshua Roy was a fifth-round pick that year.

It was also Bergevin who acquired Suzuki from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Max Pacioretty. Cody Glass was the player Bergevin really wanted to get from Vegas in exchange for Pacioretty, but getting Suzuki instead has worked out very well. Suzuki leads the Canadiens in scoring this season with 30-39-69 totals in 73 games, while Glass has 5-7-12 totals in 38 games with the Nashville Predators. Vegas selected Glass with the sixth overall pick at the 2017 NHL Draft and took Suzuki seven picks later.

“He’s a very passionate guy,” Evans said about Bergevin, who now works as a senior adviser to Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake. “I think the biggest thing is that he had a lot of belief in his players … in guys like Gally (Brendan Gallagher) and Nick. You just see that passion and it makes you want to do well for him. When I signed my deal (for three years and US$5.1 million in 2021) he came up and gave me a hug and was really happy for me. Just a really passionate general manager. He was a huge part of that Cup run. You could see him celebrating … he was a guy you wanted to play for.”

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Bergevin made a smart decision when he took Guhle with the 16th overall pick in 2020.

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“He was good at his job,” Guhle said about Bergevin. “He was the leader of that Cup run there and building that team. We got new management now and I think they’re doing a great job with the team, kind of rebuilding us and getting us up to a playoff spot, hopefully, at some point soon.”

When told that Bergevin certainly looks good for drafting him, Guhle smiled and said: “Thank you.”

Gorton thanked Bergevin when he was a guest recently on The Sick Podcast with Jimmy Murphy and Pierre McGuire.

“I’d be naive to say when we got here there wasn’t more here than I thought,” Gorton said. “A lot of the guys that are pretty successful, like Cole Caufield. We didn’t draft Cole Caufield, right? Marc Bergevin did. There’s a lot left here for us. I think I’d be selfish and ignorant to think that it’s all us.

“There’s some things here that were left and we’re trying to get the most out of the guys that were here that are going to be really good players and then we’re trying to add to it,” Gorton added. “That’s what we’re doing.”

There will be more new faces in next year’s team photo.

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