The Curious Tale of Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

129128-simple-red-square-icon-media-loud-speaker1-psNote: This is an All Habs Out Loud enabled article. Jump to the bottom of the post to listen via the player.


By Rick Stephens, Editor-in-Chief, All Habs Hockey Magazine

MONTREAL, QC. — “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain and while there’s little supporting evidence, it does make for a good story.

How appropriate.

The thing is we all like a good rags-to-riches story. So when we are told that two angels came down from the heavens to resurrect the Canadiens and that they can do no wrong, we want to believe. How often this season have we heard the phrase “everything he touches…” when referring to decisions made by the coach and general manager?

It makes for a compelling narrative. And who am I to inject a little truth-telling into the conversation?

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Let’s be clear. Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien have had a major positive impact on the Canadiens. Much has been written about what they have done to restore the glory and culture of winning to the Habs. But must we accept the myth that they have a perfect record since their arrival in Montreal?

There is a strong case to be made that the Habs were more talented than their 28th place finish would indicate last season. Is it that Bergevin and Therrien simply have the luxury of following two of the most incompetent individuals in hockey and look good in their wake?

Is it the sole reason for their success? No. Of course not. But is it a factor? Perhaps.

This piece isn’t constructed to be a comprehensive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our current hockey operations staff. There will be a time for that. Instead can we safely admit that a mistake or two has been made?

In telling the Cinderella story of this season, one of the warts that has been covered up is the Canadiens play in their own zone. Stellar goaltending combined with a potent, balanced attack has masked vulnerabilities on the back end.

The Habs top the league’s list of most 20-point players and 10-goal scorers. Montreal is one of only five teams in the league averaging more than three goals scored per game. Carey Price has been at the top of the league in wins and 5-on-5 goals against / save percentage all season.

Habs players are also found at the top of other category: giveaways by defensemen. Three of the top ten spots in the league are occupied by Canadiens. Does that sound like a statistic that will contribute to a fairy-tale ending this season?

So when the time came to shore up the defense at the trade deadline, Bergevin made his move acquiring Davis Drewiske from the Los Angeles Kings. In the four games played so far for Montreal, it is easy to understand why Drewiske spent 15 games this season as a healthy scratch watching from the press box; he has accumulated a minus-4 rating. In a limited role, Drewiske can be an injury fill-in and can play the penalty-kill but he is a defensive liability and offers no offense nor physical game.

Emelin01It’s no longer a secret that Alexei Emelin is one of the premiere physical defensemen in the league finding himself in the top-5 in hits this season. While Bergevin couldn’t have predicted an injury to Emelin, he should have recognized that the Habs have only one other defenseman in the top-50 in hits; talk about putting all your eggs in one basket.

On Tuesday night, in the first game without Emelin in the lineup, just one of the Canadiens’ 21 hits was delivered by a defenseman. The Capitals were able to move with ease in the Montreal zone and were able to clog the front of the net without fear. Potential Habs playoff opponents were taking notes.

Now, don’t infer that there is any suggestion here that Bergevin should have unloaded prospects and high picks to go for a Cup run.  Far from it.  But was there a player available who could have filled the needs of the team better than Drewiske for a low pick? Absolutely.

Similarly, Michel Therrien is being promoted as a lock for the Jack Adams trophy for transforming the Canadiens from a ‘last to first’ team. While there is a case to be made, it’s also fair to recognize that this year’s success is also confirmation of the ineptness of the previous bench boss.

Let’s not forget that it’s been a handful of years since Therrien directed his last NHL team. During that time, his views of current members of the Canadiens were shaped while sitting on the L’Antichambre sofa. Is it plausible that his objectivity has been affected by marinating in the agenda-driven RDS environment?

At the very least, Therrien’s handling of centre Lars Eller has been curious. Eller is the complete package: a centre with size, good vision and hockey sense, strong on his skates, protects the puck well and very defensively responsible. In short, the type of player that Canadiens fans have been coveting for years.

So why is it that Eller has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Canadiens?

Of the of attributes listed above, the only one that Eller shares with David Desharnais is hockey sense. Something else both do well is dishing the disc, but otherwise Desharnais is easily knocked off the puck, is an average skater at best and is weak in the defensive zone. Despite being paired with the Canadiens top scorers from 2011-’12, Desharnais had a dreadful start to the season totalling just three goals, two assists and a minus-6 rating in 13 games.

Given the limited scope of his game, Desharnais must produce team-leading offensive numbers to maintain his ice-time and top linemates. Or have Michel Therrien as a coach.

Through valleys and rounded-peaks, Desharnais receives top-line minutes, power-play time and the best linemates the team has to offer. Meanwhile, Eller has had to be satisfied with the dregs when it comes to playing with the man advantage and endure a carousel of linemates. A spot on the wing with Eller has become the dumping ground for callups and fourth liners.

“The reason why we put [Gabriel] Dumont with Lars [Eller] and Alex [Galchenyuk] is because we didn’t want to touch the other lines.” — Michel Therrien

And some question Eller’s consistency.

ellerdesharnaisDesharnais has enjoyed continuity and quality when it comes to linemates. Here’s who has flanked him most often during 5-on-5 play this season.

  • Max Pacioretty 78.6 (percent)
  • Brendan Gallagher 55.6
  • Erik Cole 32.8

Here are the corresponding numbers for Eller.

  • Alex Galchenyuk 56.3
  • Brandon Prust 33.6
  • Colby Armstrong 26.6

Before you point to the struggles of Erik Cole this season, look at who occupies the third position on the next list. Colby Armstrong is a player who reminds us of another mistake by the general manager. But let’s continue on.

So with one centre blessed with an abundance of riches and the other having to make ends meet, one would expect a wide disparity in their contributions. Guess again.

Eller is one point behind Desharnais having played two fewer games and significantly less ice-time per game. Against the Capitals, at close to 20 minutes, Desharnais was given 46 percent more time on ice than Eller. Despite having scored two goals in the game, Therrien chose to sit Eller on the bench for the final minute in favor of Desharnais as the Canadiens attempted to tie the game.

Was that a mistake by the head coach?

The power-play statistics are even more startling. My colleague Robert Rice tweeted last night that the two centres each have five power-play points this season but Desharnais has a total of 105:58 in power-play time compared to Eller’s 21:59.

Therrien’s apparent stubborness must have something to do with Desharnais having superior faceoff numbers. Nope. The two have been within a percentage point or so of each other all season long.

If we drill deeper into advanced stats, we’re bound to find a reason. No again. Desharnais has the advantage of starting in the offensive zone 59 percent of the time compared to Eller’s 44 percent. And only Tomas Plekanec faces stronger opposition than Eller.

Through observational analysis and most every metric, Eller is outperforming Desharnais yet Therrien has not rewarded the young centre nor has he done anything — cutting ice-time, swapping linemates, assigning press-box duty — to kick-start No. 51.

All this flies in the face of the emotional tale that a home-grown, undrafted, diminutive player is the premiere centre of the Montreal Canadiens. But no less fictional than the general manager and coach have been walking on water and without blemish since arriving 11-months ago.

Heap praise on the duo for what they have accomplished so far in their tenure but be unafraid to identify their errors. Granted, it will make for a less interesting camp-fire story, but it will be far closer to the truth. And you will be far less likely to be labelled with that nasty “embellishment” tag.

129128-simple-red-square-icon-media-loud-speaker1-psAll Habs Out Loud
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  1. I have to disagree. I don’t think that Desharnais deserves the criticism he receives. He is always making clever plays and working hard, and his line will start producing. Don’t you lose any sleep over it.

    • Thanks for the comment John. I’d like to believe you that Desharnais’ “line will start producing” but the Canadiens have already played 39 games — there’s only nine games left to play. So isn’t it reasonable to ask ‘when?’

      • Playoffs are a different game, perhaps we will see it then.

        I’m a little biased as I have been a fan of DD since his first game, and I really believe he is a core part of this team going forward. I don’t want to see him flourish in another market.

        Great blog though.

        • Thanks John, glad that you enjoy visiting the website. Believe me, we would all like to see DD turn it around in the playoffs. And we simply would like to see decisions made based on merit and applied equally.

  2. Well, that was certainly a good story….but….

    let’s examine some of the “mistakes” MB has made…

    MB’s offseason acquisition of Armstrong was far from a mistake. While not anywhere near the player he was with pitt, for the price he has worked hard and is better than the alternatives.

    It is easy to criticize Drewiske’s acquisition. Due to his limited skill and playing time he wasn’t the flashiest player available, nor the steadiest. You’re implication that better players were available for the same price is misleading. S. Hannan and W. Redden went for 7th rd picks. R. O’byrne went for a 4th rd pick. R. Regehr, J. Leopold, and D. Murray went for multiple picks, the highest for each was a 2nd rd. The player that potentially could have been acquired that fit the Habs needs was M. Fistric, and the oilers gave up a 3rd rd pick in Feb(?) to get him.

    Without giving up a @nd rd pick, the Habs were not likely to get much better than Drewiske.

    I’d much rather MB make small improvements, then mortgage the Habs future.

    The Eller/Desharnais debate can be summed up with a question…Who would you rather see lined up against the opposition’s best players? A role typical suited to third line players….My pick is Eller…Does this mean he get’s shafted a bit…well yeah….To play Eller on the PP when he is such a key player on the PK makes little sense.

    Everyone on the team has a role, and they are playing better. Gone are the J. Martin days when offensive players like Gionta spend a regular shift on the PP and the PK, so that by the third period they have nothing left…not too mention the second half of the season(Plekanec being the exception of course).


    • Thank you for your comment Dom.

      The primary question posed in this piece is: have Therrien and Bergevin made any mistakes? From your response, you would be in the ‘walk on water’ camp. I truly find that surprising.

      Obviously mistakes have been made. I hoped that by citing obvious ones that we could chip away at the myth that is being spread in an evangelical way.

      The Canadiens fourth line has been a weakness all season until recently. It has not generated energy nor had a regular impact on games. Ryan White is close to playing himself out of a spot in the organization. Colby Armstrong has been a dud with no physical play and poor on the penalty-kill. Travis Moen has been somewhat rejuvenated of late with the arrival of Jeff Halpern who has given the team a fourth line presence.

      Not sure what is so misleading. I stated quite clearly that I wasn’t suggesting to trade prospects and high draft picks. So how is that “mortgaging the future?” Also, I did not write that players were available for the same price as Drewiske.

      But let’s look at one name you mentioned. Ryan O’Byrne was obtained by the Leafs for a 4th round pick in 2014. In the two games he’s played for Toronto he has a goal, is plus-2, has 7 hits, 5 blocked shots and has played 15:45 on average. Does O’Byrne fit the Habs short-term need for a physical defenseman who can clear the net, block shots and play the penalty-kill in the absence of Emelin? Of course he does. Nothing misleading there.

      To answer your question, I prefer to see Tomas Plekanec face the opposition’s best players. And he does. Your logic about Eller serving that role best from a third line spot breaks down quickly. Looking at Tuesday’s game, for sake of argument can we agree that Alex Ovechkin is Washington’s best player? Then according to your choice, you would like Eller on the ice against Ovie. Thing is that Ovechkin played 21:54 and Eller only 13:40. That’s a difference of more than eight minutes.

      With Eller getting less icetime, I don’t see fatigue being a problem if a couple of minutes of power-play time was added. In fact, it would allow him to remain in the flow of the game.

  3. Hate to say it but… French connection… perhaps? I would really really really really hate if that’s the case

  4. I’m honestly blown away there are still people coming to the table that Desharnais will turn it around this and that? What more could MTL have possibly done to facilitate his success. If you told me a center on this team would be sheltered this significantly I’d have to expect it to be the 19 year old rookie not the 27 year old, playing with the strongest wingers on the team.

    If we lost Eller to an injury I’d be seriously worried about any kind of success in the playoffs, if we lose Desharnais it’s a lot more manageable. The early extension after a season and a half with the team vs PK’s situation shows there is some bias for the DD camp in MTL.

  5. Great article and no doubt that they have made some mistakes over the course of the year. Everyone makes mistakes its part of being human, none have been big or truly hurt the teams performance though. I have been a big fan of Eller since the day we acquired him, his skill is undeniable and this year he has really shown how good he can be. I would love for him and desharnais to switch places and really think it would help bring Patches to the next level.

    Not sure why Therrien has so much love for Desharnais as he isn’t that special of a player. His stats are terrible considering how well he is supported by his linemates and the amount of ice time he gets. Maybe he is trying to shelter him because Eller is so capable of generating offense on his own and if Desharnais was paired with Galchenyuk and Armstrong it would of been a disaster of a line. Hopefully now with a top 9 that is composed completely of offensive capable players we can see some regular wingers for Eller.

    The only disagreement I have is the acquisition of Drewiske, from what I’ve seen he has been solid defensively and makes smart plays consistently. He battles hard in the corners and although he doesn’t hit he does have a physical edge to his game. The other important factor to consider is what he brings to the room, it is hard to judge that in terms of stats but from former teammates and coaches I have only heard good things about what kind of teammate he is. I find this is one of the more underrated characteristics of players and can make a big difference in a long playoff run. Although O’byrne might be better statistically in terms of hits and size he didn’t handle the montreal spotlight well at all the last time he was here and that could lead to major problems.

    Overall, I think both Bergevin and Therrien stepped into a team that had all the pieces to be where they are now. Gauthier and Gainey didn’t do the best job but still did a lot of great things in terms of developing players. Martin’s defensive system was actually hindering all the talent they had available and the injuries from last year compounded that problem. Let’s hope Bergevin continues to make smart moves and this team continues to grow.

    • Great comment Jay. I agree with you that Eller paired with Pacioretty would help to restore Max’s game to where it should be. Desharnais would then be given the opportunity to prove that he can make a contribution without all the coddling he’s received the past two seasons.

      We are not too far off in terms of Drewiske. He is certainly a smart defenseman capable of making safe plays and, as you mention, is a quality teammate in the room. My criticism is that he is being forced into a role that he is not capable of succeeding at in Montreal as his ceiling is a No. 6-7 defenseman. My preference for a player like O’Byrne is that he is capable of bringing what the Canadiens are in short supply of, and even more-so with the loss of Emelin. You are correct in writing that O’Byrne would face hostility from some fans and media. He was run out of Montreal on a rail with no cover provided by Gauthier and Martin. But as we’ve witnessed with the re-acquisition of Michael Ryder, the current front office is capable of wiping the slate clean.

      You comment about the talent of last year’s team being hindered is spot on.

  6. Rick, the case you make is undeniable and fact-driven. The numbers don’t lie. Desharnais has gotten a season-long free pass because of who he is rather than what he is. Those rushing to his defense talk of what might be and could be and what was instead of what is.

    With all of the line experimentations by Therrien this year, the one untouchable has been DD’s spot on the top line with the team’s best wingers –to their detriment — and overly generous ice time…yet he still does not produce.

    I won’t buy the talk of a “culture change” in Montreal until all players are treated equally, regardless of the language they speak.

  7. Rating Drewiske’s abilities using his plus/minus as your point of argument is pretty weak and opportunistic. If you watched his positioning, his skating, his passing and other skills you come to a much different conclusion. Happy that you aren’t scout and just another armchair critic. You report on him gets an “F” from me.

    • Grading a report without reading/understanding the paper? Let’s hope you aren’t a teacher. Comments about Drewiske’s play were not solely based on plus/minus. My assessment is congruous to Kings hockey operations staff. I’m good.

      Thanks for the comment, Bob.

  8. In my opinion Eller is only playing as well as he is because of who is playing with, or more precisely where he is playing. Throw Eller on the top line and he will look like a scared little kid again. I am not even going to bring DD into this, because I feel like some (But not all) of the criticism is warranted, but Eller is playing as well as he is because he is comfortable, and I don’t think moving him to the top line would help that in the slightest. We are 7 games away from the playoffs with a better than not chance to finish with home ice advantage, I don’t understand for a second why they would want to try to make their first line a little bit better at the risk of compromising all the lines. They have balance right now top to bottom, and swapping DD for Eller would destroy that. I for one am satisfied!! (I should mention Eller is probably my favorite Habs player for what it is worth, I just don’t see it working with him on the first line)

    • There’s no suggestion of blowing up the lines and destroying what is working well. But the margins between wins and losses are quite small and good coaches constantly make adjustments for a competitive advantage. Swapping a player on a line or adding a minute of power-play time per game to a player who is out-performing another are not radical measures.

      Thanks for the comment Tyler.

  9. Do you hate your mother? Si on cherche des crottes on peut toujours en trouver. You are a typical Montreal media pundit. Only in Montreal.

    • You want to talk typical?

      Well, yours is the typical reply of a DD fan: no insight, no logic, no supporting stats. Nothing.

      Nothing, that is, except an immature and irrelevant insult that scarcely deserves a response.

  10. Interesting article with valid points.

    I am in agreement with regards to Desharnais. That line has been the most inconsistent this entire season, and has basically needed the most kickstarting of all lines. For a center that is given the best minutes possible to produce offense (Ozone starts against rel. weak competition and a lot of PP time, and no PK time), he needs to produce more. Also, Max Pac is capable of getting points without DD (so is Gallagher), meaning DD producing certainly helps Max, but the converse isn’t necessarily true as Pacs can create his own chances.

    I’m in disagreement about the Drewiske acquisition being a mistake of sorts. He was acquired as a cheap depth defenseman, and that’s what he is. It’s not Bergevin’s fault that Emelin went down in addition to Diaz, which puts two Top 4 D out of commission (hopefully Diaz can return). Paying for a Top 4 D would have cost a 2nd rounder (or 2 as in the case of Murray and Regehr). I see that you had Ryan O’Byrne in mind. So is the mistake that Bergevin didn’t take this one guy that you thought he should have traded for? I don’t think that argument can be made because it’s not clear cut that O’Byrne would be any more useful as a big and slow player that isn’t known to be good defensively or offensively.

    • Thanks for your comment Jer. I appreciate the points you made. I must correct you on one thing when you stated that I criticized Bergevin for not taking the one guy I preferred. I was responding to an earlier comment from Dom who offered a list of a half dozen defensemen. From Dom’s list of d-men, I made the case that I would be comfortable with the acquisition of Ryan O’Byrne and why he was a better fit than Davis Drewiske. Looking beyond Dom’s list there were a number of defensemen that would have better filled the bill.

  11. Great Article, Rick!

    I would add one more “mistake”. Gallagher,while being arguableour most productive forward at even strength, is a total bust on the power play.

    In 83 minutes of ice time with the man advantage the TEAM has scored a total of 7 goal while Gallagher is on the ice. The fact that he keeps getting 50% of the PP ice time is a huge mistake.

    When Gallagher is on the ice the team scores a PowerPlay goal every 11.85 minutes. The team average is one PP goal every 7.25 minutes.When Gallagher is NOT on the ice the team scores a PP goal every 6.2 minutes.

    The line of Gallagher Desharnais and Pacioretty is significantly less productive than Plekanec’s line. yet I have often seen the Desharnais trio out to start the PP even when the PowerPlay begins at the beginning of a period. As you stated Eller, has been effective on the PowerPlay despite limited action. In 25 minutes of TOI with them man advantage, Lars Eller has been on the ice for 5 PP goals. To repeat GAllagher has been on for 7 PP goals in 83 minutes.

    Intersting that Desharnais and Pacioretty were doing very well on the PP when they played with Cole. In fact they were equal,if not more productive than the Plekanec line. Ryder replaced Bourque and Plek’s line got better. Gallagher replaced Cole and Desharnais line got better at even strength, but worse, much worse, on the PP.

    The fact that none of the coaching staff are aware of this is concerning.

    I would love to see Gallagher get a chance on the penalty kill unit. I have a feeling that he would excel in that role. Not only would he chase the heck out of the puck and get it out of our zone, I think he would get some scoring chances of his own.

    Am I the only who doesn’t think that Gallagher is best suited to be the guy who parks in front of the net and screens the opposing goalie when we are on the PP?

    There is no guarantee that someone else would be more productive than Gallagher, but I can state with utmost certainty that no one will be any LESS productive on the PP than Gallagher has been.


    Steve O.

    • Now this is the type of response I can respect. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but it’s well considered and presented.

      Nicely done.

    • Thank you for the comments Steve O. Let me echo what Uncle Leo wrote. Your comments were well argued and presented respectfully. We may not always agree but please feel free to share your opinions with us frequently.

  12. Regarding Drewis;

    I agree that O’byre would have been a better fit, He is more physical,more experienced, and he shoots right handed. I think Drewiske will pan out to be an okay defenceman at even strength, and good on the Penalty Kill, but in all honesty I don’t think he is much of an upgrade on either Patteryn, Tinordi or even Weber for that matter.

    I certainly hope that when Diaz returns, Drewiske does not stay in the lineup ahead of Beaulieu.

    There is no doubt that Beaulieu is “raw” but in 67 minutes of playing time at even strength so far he is a plus 5, having been on for 7 goals for and only 2 against.


    Steve O.

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