The Montreal Canadiens have made another front-office change following Scott Mellanby’s resignation yesterday. Per the team, they’ve fired general manager Marc Bergevin as well as assistant GM Trevor Timmins and senior VP of public affairs Paul Wilson.
Bergevin’s been the GM and executive VP of hockey operations for the Canadiens since 2012-13. Under his term, the team made the playoffs six out of nine seasons.
Timmins was named assistant GM in 2017 but had been with the organization in various capacities since 2002.
Jeff Gorton has been hired as executive vice president of hockey operations. Bergevin is expected to be replaced by another French-speaking general manager, as the release states. Gorton will oversee operations on a day-to-day basis while the search for a new general manager continues.
Gorton, 53, was the GM in New York from 2015-2021 and had previously worked with the Rangers and Boston Bruins in several different roles, including scout, director of scouting, director of player personnel, and assistant general manager. His multiple decades in NHL front offices have now led him to one of the most coveted positions in the NHL, but also one with some of the highest pressures.
The Canadiens, the league’s most historic franchise with 23 Stanley Cup championships, made it all the way back to the finals last season but were unable to capture their first title since 1993. Just months later and the organization has collapsed, losing 17 of its first 23 games and owning the league’s second-worst goal differential. The absences of Phillip Danault, Shea Weber, and Carey Price from last year’s playoff team have been catastrophic, with almost no one playing up to their potential on an already underwhelming roster.
Yet, this move comes a day after the Canadiens won their sixth game of the season, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3. It needed a 47-save performance from Jake Allen to do it though, and three of the goals were of the empty-net variety, meaning the final score was not indicative of how the game played out. Still, Gorton walks into a fan base that has at least been temporarily subdued, despite some season-long failure.
One of the decisions that Gorton will have to make in this newly announced position is on the future of head coach Dominique Ducharme, who signed a three-year contract extension earlier this summer. Ducharme now has a 21-31-9 record in the regular season as head coach of the Canadiens, a dreadful number that is only partially masked by his playoff success. Yes, he is the coach that led Montreal to the Stanley Cup Finals (though even then, he was replaced for a short period by assistant Luke Richardson), but there have been clear signs that Ducharme either does not know how to properly deploy the roster he has or that the roster is unwilling to accept that deployment.
Mellanby, meanwhile, left the organization after initially believing he would be the next general manager of the team. Marc-Antoine Godin of The Athletic examines the way that team president Geoff Molson handled the situation, including “deep talks” with Mellanby to become Bergevin’s successor. When things pivoted to a president of hockey operations and Gorton, Mellanby’s “trust was broken” according to Godin. That means Gorton will not only need to replace Bergevin but also Mellanby’s position of assistant GM.
The focus of incoming front office members will be interesting, as it is unclear whether the Canadiens brass believes the team to still be in a contending window. There are talented youngsters like Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Alexander Romanov, but also too many bloated contracts for players that have not shown an ability to be true difference-makers. The roster should be better than 6-15-2, but it was always going to be a challenge to make the playoffs after some of the key offseason departures.
Poor play from several previously reliable defensive options–including Jeff Petry and newcomer David Savard–may have to be at the top of the list of concerns for the Canadiens. The team got through the playoffs with stingy defense and timely counterattacks, neither of which appear likely on any given night this season. With several long-term deals on the books, including more than $70MM committed to 2023-24 (though that’s counting Shea Weber’s LTIR-bound deal), there is a lot of work to do for a new front office.