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Stu Cowan: Marc Bergevin has failed to assemble a winning team

The Canadiens took down their “No Excuses” sign at the beginning of this season and now there are no excuses left for this team or its general manager.

P.K. Subban is gone. Michel Therrien is gone. Still, this team simply isn’t good enough to go far in the playoffs.

In 2013, after the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round by the Ottawa Senators, GM Marc Bergevin said: “There are players who get you into the playoffs and players who get you through the playoffs.”

The Canadiens still don’t have enough players to get them through the playoffs, losing this year to the New York Rangers in six games in the first round.

Trading Subban to Nashville last summer for Shea Weber and firing Therrien as coach on Valentine’s Day, replacing him with Claude Julien, allowed the Canadiens to play six more games than they did last season when they missed the playoffs. Subban and the Predators, meanwhile, have advanced to the second round.

P.K.Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators after a 4-1 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 20, 2017 in Nashville.

Bergevin has put the Canadiens in the playoffs in four of his five seasons as GM, which is impressive in a salary-capped league, but they still don’t look like legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. A lack of scoring continues to be the team’s downfall year after year.

When the Canadiens were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the second round two years ago, they scored five goals in the four games they lost. This year they scored four goals in the four losses to the Rangers. 

It seemed predictable heading into the playoffs that a lack of offensive depth would be the Canadiens’ downfall, but when Bergevin met the media Monday afternoon in Brossard he disagreed.

Montreal Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin speaks with reporters at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Monday, April 24, 2017.

“I think scoring is at a premium in this league,” the GM said. “You have to find a way. The Rangers finished fourth in the league in scoring and had 12 goals (in the playoff series), one more than us. At the end of the day, I know that the result matters and we fell, but we had our looks, we had our chances, we didn’t bury them. We didn’t have the bounces go our way.

“It’s not what people want to hear, I get it,” the GM added. “Would I like to add some scoring, definitely like to. But at the (NHL trade) deadline there’s nothing out there for me that I felt was worth to make a trade to get some scoring.”

Instead, Bergevin acquired three fourth-liners — Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen — who combined for zero points against the Rangers.

Captain Max Pacioretty, who led the Canadiens with 35 goals during the regular season, failed to score, as did fellow forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw. Weber scored once and added two assists.

The only player who was an offensive force was Alexander Radulov, who had two goals and five assists and could leave Montreal before next season since he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Montreal Canadiens right wing Alexander Radulov laughs with the media as he talks about what it means to play hockey in Montreal at the Bell Sports Complex in Montreal on Monday April 24, 2017.

Bergevin said that moving forward his main priority is to get goalie Carey Price signed to a new contract since he can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. The GM hopes to be able to re-sign Radulov, but said it will depend on the money and term he will be looking for since the forward turns 31 on July 5. Price turns 30 on Aug. 16.

When asked if adding offence will be his top priority this summer, Bergevin said: “I’m going to take a step back. I didn’t think I was going to be sitting here on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that. So I’ll sit with our people, our hockey men, and make decisions based on what happened throughout the season and in the playoffs and we’ll move forward. But I definitely will look to make our team better.”

The Canadiens haven’t been having much luck making the team better with their first-round draft picks. Five seasons after Bergevin took Galchenyuk with the No. 3 pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, the forward is regressing. The 23-year-old, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, was supposed to become the No. 1 centre, but started the playoffs as a fourth-line winger and Bergevin said Monday that wing would be the best spot for Galchenyuk moving forward. Bergevin added there was nobody on the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps ready to help out next season at centre.

Montreal Canadiens’ Alex Galchenyuk listens to a reporter’s question at the Bell Sports Complex in Montreal on Monday April 24, 2017.

Nathan Beaulieu, who was the Canadiens’ first-round draft pick in 2011 (17th overall), was made a healthy scratch for Game 6 against the Rangers and is also regressing. The 24-year-old, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, started the season on the No. 1 defence pair with Weber and ended it in the press box.

Bergevin blamed the players, not his coaching staff, for the lack of development.

“At some point, players have to take ownership,” the GM said. “So I’m not going to start blaming our people. At some point, players have to take ownership, know where their game’s at. You tell players this is what you have to work on … and until young players realize that it is an issue, they need to get better, they never will. So hopefully this year was a message strongly sent on their play and hopefully they can turn around.”

Bergevin has said in the past he doesn’t believe in a “window of opportunity” for a team to win the Stanley Cup, but if the Canadiens have one it’s definitely closing.

“Montreal is a very demanding market,” Bergevin said. “The fans are used to winning for a long, long time. We’re aware of that. And trust me, we have an owner (Geoff Molson) who wants to win. There’s places I can’t say the same. He does and we don’t cut corners. We do our best to win.”

Their best simply hasn’t been good enough.