Bergevin says unsettling net setup led to dismissal of goalkeeper coach
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said he had to be “100% sure” he was ready to make the decision to fire longtime goaltending coach Stéphane Waite.
It turns out he reached that point in the second period of the Canadiens’ 3-1 win over visiting Ottawa on Thursday night.
The Canadiens announced shortly after the game that Waite, who had been with the club since 2013 and helped Carey Price achieve elite goaltending status, would be replaced by Montreal scout and former NHL goalie Sean Burke.
Bergevin, who said the decision was made while the game was underway, said the decision to fire Waite was the result of a multi-year pattern of play by his goalkeepers that he found troubling.
“There wasn’t a single incident that happened,” Bergevin said Wednesday on a video conference. “I thought about it well and 98% is not enough for me. I had to be 100% sure it was the right decision for me and I came to that decision yesterday.
Waite’s abrupt firing was another example of how quickly Bergevin is ready to act in a shortened NHL season with little margin for error.
Waite was sacked a week after Bergevin replaced head coach Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme after a series of disappointing results. The last straw was a pair of losses on the road to the last-place Senators.
After an impressive start to the season that saw the Canadiens briefly lead the North Division standings, Montreal produced just three wins in its last 11 games to slip to fourth place.
Part of the problem has been Price’s play, who has posted a 6-4-3 pedestrian record with a .296 goals against average and ugly .893 save percentage so far this season.
“I’ve seen ups and downs. You saw it, ”said Bergevin. “Again, everyone goes through it, but it was an instinctive feeling I had and sometimes you have to trust your instincts. My gut told me that a change was needed.
Bergevin said Price was not consulted on the change. The goalkeeper said on Wednesday he found the move “surprising”.
“I’m grateful for the time I spent with Steph,” Price said. “He’s been a dedicated and hard-working goaltender coach, and I really appreciate all of the hard work he has done with us.
“Right now it’s a quick turnaround. We don’t have a lot of time to dwell on things, so it’s all about regrouping, getting the job done, and starting to bond quickly.
Price added that he expected to get to know Burke quickly, although Burke had to complete a 14-day quarantine period due to COVID-19 protocols before joining the team. Bergevin said Burke will work with Montreal goaltenders via video conference in quarantine.
Tuesday’s decision ends a largely productive relationship between Price and Waite that peaked in 2014-15, when Price posted a 44-16-6 record with nine shutouts, a 1.96 GAA and a percentage 933 saves. He cleaned up at the 2015 NHL Awards, winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender among other honors.
Although Price has had excellent runs since then, his game has been mercurial in recent seasons. He also struggled during the 2019-20 season before returning to peak form when the league resumed after a months-long hiatus due to COVID-19.
Bergevin said he didn’t notice any issues with the chemistry between Price and Waite.
“There was no fighting or argumentation, none of that,” he said. “I think they had a good relationship. I make decisions for the organization, for the team, for the players. It’s my job. And I take responsibility for making this change. “
Despite Price’s struggles, substitute Jake Allen enjoyed early success in his first season with Montreal with a 4-2-2 record, 2.12 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
When asked why Allen played well and Price poorly under the same goaltending coach this season, Bergevin declined to go into details.
“I’m going back to a pattern that I’ve seen happen in recent years, so I felt there was a need for me to make that change,” he said.
The Canadians return to action Thursday with the first of two home games against the Winnipeg Jets.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 3, 2021.
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