Some people doodle while they’re talking on the phone, Montreal Canadiens president and principal owner Geoff Molson prefers to Google.
Or, more to the point, that’s what he was doing during the initial telephone conversation with the man he would later hire to manage his NHL team, Marc Bergevin.
“Well, I wanted to be able to recognize him,” Molson said with a laugh, adding: “I remembered him from his playing days – barely.”
From meagre shoots grow mighty trees, and it quickly became clear Bergevin, a 46-year-old from Montreal’s working-class Pointe-St.-Charles neighbourhood, was something close to the ideal general manager candidate and Molson would be meeting him in person.
The team owner and Bergevin sealed the deal last Monday, during a six-hour interview at the team’s suburban practice facility – Molson picked him up at his downtown hotel and drove him personally.
When Bergevin was asked whether he had an inkling during his final interview that the GM job would be his, he said: “Actually, I was wondering why they didn’t bring in any food.”
That is a typical observation from a man who may be hockey’s greatest wit.
The former Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM’s first joke came during his introductory remarks – “I played for eight teams, although I may be forgetting a couple – my luggage was always one team late” – and it wasn’t the last.
Bergevin’s irreverence and candour constitute the starkest possible contrast with the taciturn Pierre Gauthier, who the Habs let go six weeks ago.
But launching a culture shift was the point, Molson said, “this is the first step in creating a winning culture.”
Bergevin knows a thing or two about winning. He was part of the ’Hawks front office during the 2010 championship run, and was tutored by luminaries like former Habs coach Scotty Bowman and Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon.
“I’ve played in good organizations and in some not-so-good ones, and I’ve taken on lessons good and bad everywhere I’ve been,” Bergevin said.
Though he admitted to being nervous while waiting for the announcement and had the look of a man slightly overwhelmed by the occasion, Bergevin is clearly enamoured of his new gig.
“The Montreal Canadiens are the Montreal Canadiens. I left here in ’84, but this is me, the Canadiens, I grew up here, I had a little Montreal Canadiens puffy jacket. I’m proud, and I’m deeply moved,” he said.
That Bergevin is a French-speaking native son can’t have hurt his candidacy, but he insisted that “I feel I’m ready” to be a GM and he easily could have ended up elsewhere.
But he hasn’t, and Bergevin outlined a couple of priorities that will endear him to Habs nation.
He said the next head coach of the team will be able to express himself in French, and the days of the Habs employing only one Quebec-based amateur scout are over.
“I’m not saying we’ll be perfect, but we will make every effort to not miss any players from our own backyard,” he said.
He also said several incumbents – assistant GM Larry Carriere and scouting director Trevor Timmins – will remain in the fold.
Bergevin said he plans to secure the services of the team’s two high-profile restricted free agents – goaltender Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban – and the Habs have “a good core to build from.”
Many in the hockey world expect Bergevin to hire his friend and mentor Rick Dudley, who is currently in the Toronto Maple Leafs front office. Whoever is hired will help with the next crucial decision: choosing a new head coach.
The buzz around former Habs great and current Quebec Remparts coach/GM/co-owner Patrick Roy is intensifying, but if Alain Vigneault were suddenly to become available, the Vancouver Canucks coach would likely shoot to the top of the list of candidates.
Not that there might not be a surprise candidate or two, inside Bergevin the jokester lurks a shrewd hockey man.
“He likes to crack jokes, but at the same time, he knows when it’s time to be serious. He has the ability to turn it on or off based on perfect timing. It’s a gift,” said player agent Pat Brisson, who, along with Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, is among Bergevin’s closest friends. “He is smart and very connected. He will know how to surround himself well in order to succeed. He’s a perfect fit for the Habs.”
With a report from James Mirtle