Grant’s Rant – It is Time to Develop, not Deter
January 12, 2018
By Grant McCagg
Anyone who has followed me on Twitter in recent years knows that I have been patient with the Habs.
I’ve defended the GM, the drafting, and development against an onslaught of criticism as there has not been a pile of high-end talent coming into the system due mainly to a lack of high draft picks.
I’ve never sung the praises of Laval coach Sylvain Lefebvre as it’s hard to fawn over a coach that has never won a playoff series, but I haven’t called for his head either because I know as well as anyone that the talent pipeline to his AHL team up until now has not exactly been flowing with riches.
There comes a time however when you reach a breaking point if it becomes apparent that self-preservation becomes the more important duty, and it is hard to argue that Lefebvre is coaching with regard to the best interests of the Montreal Canadiens organization. Rather…it appears he is simply coaching to try to save his job, and that’s never a healthy thing for an organization.
It didn’t matter in previous seasons that his teams weren’t successful as it was clear they lacked high-end prospects. What mattered was that players who were good enough to develop into NHLers were given the opportunity to do so.
Players like Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Sven Andrighetto were put into top-six roles in the AHL and Lefebvre lived with the growing pains regardless of his team’s record.
This year, however, and the past two months or so in particular, there appears to have been a change in Lefebvre’s philosophy, and I can’t help but think it is because he sees his AHL coaching career coming to a close unless he can somehow eke into the playoffs.
A team that gets shredded for its lack of development shows no signs of altering their philosophy in that regard.
Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak started the season on fire on the most dominant line in the AHL with Chris Terry. They had numerous shifts where the puck never left the offensive zone as they buzzed around the opponent’s net, and the chemistry between McCarron and Scherbak was palpable.
There was strong hope after the injury to Ales Hemsky that the organization was finally catching on to the whole idea of giving high draft picks NHL opportunity when both McCarron and Scherbak were called up.
This was especially exciting because from the first exhibition game on it had been obvious to all that the power play in Montreal was sputtering on one cylinder, and the terrific play of Scherbak in Laval made one hope that he’d be replacing Hemsky on the first unit and making the same great passes he was making in the AHL as the Habs power play actually started to show some creativity and puck movement.
Well…for three games Scherbak and McCarron were put on the fourth line and played five to seven minutes per game without a single shift on the power play. Scherbak then injured his knee, and McCarron continued to get zero offensive opportunities or quality ice time before being sent back to Laval.
The message to McCarron appeared to be “we know you always produce in the AHL but when you are called up we will bury you because we have no interest in seeing you produce at the NHL level.”
To further emphasize this message, when McCarron was sent back to the AHL he found himself replaced on the top line by…the organization’s favourite…a veteran fringe NHLer in Adam Cracknell. Apparently, the goal is to develop players in their 30’s; that is what is finally going to get this organization over the hump.
The organization’s emphasis appears to have been put on developing veteran fringe NHLers for bottom-line positions in the NHL as first Byron Froese was promoted to the top line in Laval and then promoted to Montreal where he quickly became a Julien pet while de la Rose languished in the stands for ten straight games.
It didn’t matter that Froese was 26, a mid-round pick and had two career NHL goals…Julien decided after de la Rose finally broke through offensively with a three-point game on the first line with Galchenyuk that two games later that line had lost some puck battles, so he was banished to the press box for having the temerity to show offensive upside that Froese will never show.
Daniel Carr was on fire in the AHL and got recalled to Montreal. Despite continuing to produce as he scored 10 points in his first nine games (more points than any other Hab in that span)…Carr never found himself promoted from the second line even though the Habs were among the worst offensive teams in the league. His offensive production has predictably dipped the past few weeks…so …”mission accomplished”? Is Bergevin high fiving Julien in his office this week after five pointless games from Carr and saying “Whew…that was a close one. Almost had a point producer on our hands”?
You wonder whether the coaching philosophy in both Laval and Montreal is in line with that of management’s. Sad to say that one hopes not, but there has been a disturbing pattern through the years of players with little upside being given NHL roles while prospects that at least have some offensive upside are benched, put in the press box, or kept at the AHL levels, quite often on bottom lines.
It made more sense when there was a lack of higher picks coming through the system, but that has been changing…so it behooves management to change their outlook. It’s time to develop first-round picks instead of picking them apart, limiting their opportunities to produce, and destroying their confidence.
And what is with these decisions to banish prospects to bottom-line roles after they return from the NHL? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that because they had been playing at the higher level that their games would excel at the lower level when they first return?
Instead…McCarron has been saddled with Yannick Veilleux and Kyle Baun while Cracknell gets McCarron’s old linemates Scherbak and Terry on the first line.
Could McCarron not play as well as Cracknell? He certainly did earlier in the season with Scherbak. I’d argue that they were even more dominant, but no, it has evidently become the organization’s decision to give up on McCarron and hold out hope that Cracknell will be the center that comes to Montreal in the future and shows something he has yet to show in his 32 years on this planet…NHL offensive upside. We are supposed to hope I suppose that Cracknell is the eventual answer at first-line center in Montreal.
Lernout is the other prime example. He played a regular role on Montreal’s blueline for a few games and had shown to be getting more comfortable as time went on. When he got sent back to Laval, however, much like McCarron, he found himself demoted. He was no longer on the first pairing, he was on the third pairing with Simon Bourque and has been there ever since while Eric Gelinas, a defenceman no other team had interest in for several reasons, is suddenly the organization’s offensive hope in terms of development in the AHL.
Taormina and Gelinas get loads of ice time even though neither is going to be a regular NHL defenceman at any point and NHL longshot Tom Parisi (undrafted) is played on the second pairing…while Lernout now toils on the third unit, his reward for playing in the NHL.
What is further aggravating is that Noah Juulsen, a defenceman with very good passing skills in the offensive zone and a laser slapshot from the point that gets on net quite often is getting no ice time on the power play while Gelinas..a defenceman with poor vision and passing skills who has a bomb that rarely hits the net because of a lack of accuracy and an inability to find shooting lanes, gets trotted out with the man advantage. Juulsen, a defenceman who put up plenty of points in the WHL, is not getting that opportunity in Laval.
Much like McCarron; it appears that the organizational philosophy is to quell his offensive opportunities. No power-play time for McCarron in the NHL where his ability to get in the crease and actually screen a goalie due to his height would have been quite welcome earlier in the season…now no power play time for Juulsen in the AHL.
Why would Juulsen not be on the power play in Laval? Is the club that “safe” and conservative that they are afraid he might be on the ice for a shorthanded goal against? I wondered the same thing with Scherbak in Montreal; are they actually that paranoid about a shorthanded goal against? You’d swear it was considered the most egregious thing that could ever happen to an NHL club.
Let’s, for the hell of it, presume that Juulsen might make a mistake and be burned for a shorthanded goal against at some point. Would the five-to-ten goals he creates/scores before it happens again not cancel out that one goal against?
Presumably, the coaches in Montreal’s organization can’t afford to take that chance…better to quell the offensive development of first-round picks than to allow a shorthanded or even-strength goal against. Better to try to prevent goal against than to develop a first-round pick. Would it not make sense for the scouts, management and coaches to be on the same page? Trust that the scouts have picked good players and give them every opportunity to succeed..is that not how winning organizations approach getting better?
Are the Habs already deciding that they want to develop Juulsen into a defensive defenceman who only plays a third-pairing NHL role? They made that evaluation while he was injured? Did they figure it out in his first pro training camp?
Sometimes I swear they live in a bizarro world – “Oh…he’s a first-round pick? Make sure he’s developed like a fifth-round pick while an undrafted free agent gets developed like a top-ten selection.”
Charles Hudon’s offensive total dropped each season he was in the AHL..was it not supposed to go up? The same is happening with McCarron. He averaged 0.7 ppg as an AHL rookie and hope was high that he could develop into, at the very least, a productive NHL third line player. Last season in St. John’s he had 0.6 ppg, and now…saddled with offensively challenged AHLers, McCarron is scoring 0.5 ppg. That’s development?
It’s almost as if the development policy is to try to turn every legitimate NHL prospect into a checker. Hudon gets no opportunity with Drouin in Montreal, a player he excelled with when given the chance in the WJC and QMJHL Super Series games. No…he plays with Plekanec every game, a player who simply doesn’t create offence any more. “You want to play in Montreal? You will be a checker!” (Late note: Hudon practised with Drouin today on the top line)
Carr is being turned into a checker They tried to turn Sven Andrighetto into a checker but he showed some offensive glimpses so he was dealt for a …checker.
Galchenyuk won’t get first-line ice time until he’s a checker. Better for him to be a 15-goal checker than a 35-goal scorer with occasional defensive blips…that is the way of the Canadiens.
“Come on out to the games…spend $300 and enjoy….checking!”
Gallagher is leading the Habs in goals? Julien is trying his best to “fix” that…give him the ninth most ice time among Habs’ forwards. Smarten up Brendan with this goal-scoring fancy…you need to be a checker!
Who is the coach teaching/developing offence in Laval, Nick Carriere? What is his experience with developing offensive prospects? It is nil. You know damn well Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne can’t teach offence. Simply put – there is no one…and it shows. Better to have two pals and the AHL GM’s son coaching players in the AHL than have one who, at the very least, has bonafide offensive development skills. Well..that needs to change…and it needs to change now.
Bergevin has stressed that he is trying to build a winner through the draft, yet time after time players who are picked high get stifled in their offensive development. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and if Bergevin won’t step in and make this clear to his old buddy Lefebvre, then the big boss needs to do something about it.
Mr. Molson…it’s time for you act like the president of a hockey team and do something about this; whether it’s forcing Bergevin to get Lefebvre to change his approach, firing Lefebvre, stepping down as president, or…yes…firing Bergevin.
Julien also needs to get the memo. Once the Habs are more officially out of the race and the selloff of vets happens, let Julien know in no uncertain terms that when McCarron and Scherbak are recalled that both of them…and de la Rose…aren’t playing five minutes per game, and that ALL three receive looks on the power play, perhaps even on a unit together. Imagine – three prospects with offensive skills who were high picks and all 6-2 or taller playing on a Habs’ power play…what a concept!
Mr. Molson – The only thing that is going to get people coming to the games down the stretch (otherwise there will be a pile of empty seats), is hope. So bring up the young prospects…play them..develop them. Show the fans that this team CAN indeed develop some young players and that some of the top 40 picks from the past six years have potential. Little else will matter to a lot of fans…trust me on this.
It’s not Rocket science.
There’s a Habs discussion website I frequent, where we once had a 27 page thread about this very point of kids being punished and not being developed properly while ‘veterans’ are given mulligan after mulligan. If you remember the name Chris Dyment, he was the example the thread was named after. Poor Chris never made it, but he inspired the longest discussion we ever had on one topic.
Little has changed. This same issue is still a hot topic and a point of frustration with many Hab fans. Sylvain Lefebvre has no achievements of any type as a coach. Until last year, in 10 years as an assistant and as a head coach, his teams have made the playoffs twice. As an assistant in Colorado they were bounced in the first round the first time Lefebvre actually took part in a playoff series. And last year, the IceDogs only made the playoffs because the AHL changed the format. Under the previous year’s format, Lefebvre would have missed the playoffs, yet again. He is the best example of ‘loser’ and while one can make excuses for him, much of the failure to produce has to fall on him. There have been other coaches, like Jon Cooper, whose AHL clubs had little talent, yet they made the playoffs. Lefebvre doesn’t. I’m glad you pointed out that Lefebvre’s own assistants have little to recommend them as coaches. You mentioned Nic Carriere, who is Larry Carriere’s son. What qualities did he have to earn the assistant coaching job with the Habs farm team? He coached SUNY Buffalo State, a Division III college. How did he do you ask? In 10 years as a head coach, he had 3 years over .500 and 7 years of .500 or less. The reason the Habs can’t develop players, whether they have high potential or not, is directly related to the people hired by Marc Bergevin…simply not good enough.
It doesn’t stop at Levebvre. Outside of Stephan Waite and Trevor Timmins, I can’t think of people in the organization who have some record of success in their past. Their qualities usually include being a former teammate or a friend of someone else in the company. It doesn’t help to just have experience at the job. There are a few guys who have tons of experience, it just isn’t experience that included success. That hiring policy isn’t new. It started in 2012. You get what you pay for.
Good article, Grant. Thanks.