Serge Savard Needs a Reality Check

Ah the famous debate that will never end: How many Quebec-born players should the Montreal Canadiens have? The politically correct answer would be to have a team-full of local products. The reality however isn’t that simple. A combination of the NHL having more teams preventing the Canadiens from drafting as often, and the fact that Hockey Quebec simply doesn’t produce as much quality talent are both key contributors to this sad reality.

As we know, Geoff Molson consulted Serge Savard back in 2012 to help him find the team’s next General Manager and their choice was Marc Bergevin. Recently, the former Habs’ alumni and star defenseman was on Tout Le Monde En Parle with Guy A. Lepage and they touched on a very delicate topic: the number of local products on this Habs’ team. Savard said:

I come from this world where there has always been a majority of francophones, or at least half the team were francophones with the Canadiens. As a GM, I had 4-5 scouts in Quebec and I don’t even know if they have one right now. We let all the good talents go, guys like Giroux, all guys we could have had.

Further, the former Habs’ GM stated that when he met with Bergevin for his initial interview, he gave him one piece of advice:

The Quebec people will let you win in English but they won’t let you lose. If you have all anglophones on the team and you win, they’ll let it go. But everything will come out if you don’t have any. I think he heard me but he didn’t listen to me.

Wow! Just wow! With all due respect for Savard (and I had a lot both as a player and as a GM), not only did he overstep his boundaries, but he provided Quebecers with false or tainted information.

1- For one thing, Claude Giroux, in spite of his French Canadian name, hails from Hurst, Ontario, and not from Quebec.

2- Back when Savard played, there were tons of Quebecers in the NHL and that was with a NHL composed of anywhere between 12-21 teams over his career. Today, to start the season, there are 40 Quebec-born players starting the season in the NHL, spread across 31 teams… but we’ll get back to that.

3- According to the team’s website, Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens have Donald Audette and Serge Boisvert as scouts in Quebec. They have two scouts for the entire USA (Trevor Hanson and Bobby Kinsella), three scouts for Europe (Michal Krupa, Hannu Laine and Christer Rockstrom), one scout for Sweden (Tommy Lehman), one for Russia (Artem Telepin) and a goalie scout (Vincent Riendeau). So for a small territory like Quebec, two is huge in comparison to any other region.

So in all due respect, Mr. Savard, before going on big TV shows criticising, at least do your homework. For example, La Presse reporter Alexandre Pratt did some great work when he researched the number of Quebec-born players starting the 2019-2020 season at the NHL level.

That’s right. That’s 40 players across the NHL spread over 31 teams! How many were there “back in your days”, Mr. Savard? No wait, I won’t ask you because you certainly didn’t take the time to research that and therefore, so we wouldn’t want to put you on the spot… again.

According to hockeydb.com, at the peak of Savard’s career in 1973-74, the NHL counted 84 Quebec-born players, spread across 16 teams, or an average of 5.25 Quebec-born player per team. Today, there are 40 spread across 31 teams, so 1.29 per team. In other words, there were more than twice as many Quebec-born players in the NHL in 1973-74 as there are today, with half the number of teams. So do the math…

Further, in the organisation, the Habs have:

  • Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Personnel)
  • Larry Carrière (Senior advisor, Hockey Operations & Director of Player Personnel, Laval Rocket)
  • Claude Julien (Head Coach)
  • Stéphane Waite (Goaltender Coach)
  • Dominique Ducharme (Assistant Coach)
  • Mario Leblanc (Video Coach)
  • Francis Bouillon (Coach, Player Development)
  • and most of the training staff.
  • Joël Bouchard (Head Coach), Alex Burrows and Daniel Jacob (Assistant Coaches) for the Laval Rocket

We’ve touched on that in the past when talking about the Habs and the Quebecois syndrome and no one would like to see more Quebec-born players than yours truly but the biggest part of the blame doesn’t sit on the Montreal Canadiens’ shoulders, but rather on Hockey Quebec for not developing their local players. Because beyond politics is a Habs’ reality… and Mr. Savard forgot to educate himself before making those comments. Thankfully, you did as a faithful reader of this blog. Go Habs Go!

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Habs to Make At Least One More Move

Lower salary cap and the league going with younger players are two of the reasons making this year’s last few days prior to hockey season more interesting than ever. Is it because teams are asking too much for their assets in trades? Or is it that they know that several teams are in a bit of a bind, being either over the cap or having too many players still at camp, having to place some on waivers? One thing is for sure: it’s neither the quantity nor the quality of players on waivers that’s lacking.

As for the Canadiens, there you have it folks! As predicted by many of us, and contrary to what some Habs’ fans believed, both Charles Hudon and Charlie Lindgren have cleared waivers and the team announced that they are sending them back to Laval. It’s a huge personal disappointment for Hudon I’m sure, while the Lindgren situation will be interesting to watch as he seems to be the odd-man out in Laval. That said, Marc Bergevin and his team still have some work to do, some difficult decisions to make. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at the Canadiens’ picture here.

According to Capfriendly.com, Montreal has around $4 million of cap space available, but that’s with a 25 men roster including Noah Juulsen who is injured. Juulsen is waiver exempt so he will likely be sent to Laval when healthy since he didn’t have a chance to earn a spot yet. This leaves the team with 24 players with someone in the neighbourhood of $5 million of cap space. As teams cannot carry more than 23 players, this means the Julien and Bergevin duo will have to cut one more player off the roster before the season starts on Thursday in Carolina.

Charles Hudon

Further, the Canadiens have a total of 48 players with professional contracts. The NHL limit is 50 so they have to tread carefully, particularly with players on waivers. There are a few ways to “unload” contracts, like trading contract for contract (let’s say two players for one) or players for draft picks or prospects yet under contract. So that’s not the end of the world.

When A.J. Greer was placed on waivers by Colorado yesterday, I was thinking that he would be a good pick up on waivers for Bergevin and his team. A former 2nd round pick (39th overall), the Joliette, Quebec native is only 22 years old and stands at 6’3″ and 210 lbs. Greer has great size and strength, and was projected to become a true power forward at the NHL level. He displays both a quality level of skating and a nasty disposition. Can rile up opponents, too, making him a focal point for teams that line up against him (which helps his own teammates). He is not a natural goal-scorer and the jury is still out on his long-range upside but he can and will drop the gloves if or when need be, something few Canadiens’ players can do. But he wasn’t claimed.

One of my Twitter followers, Daniel Labrecque, brings up a good point when it comes to the number of contracts so it remains possible that a Hudon or Lindgren trade for Greer could still be consumed by both teams. In a one for one trade, the Habs would remain at 48 contracts instead of 49 if they claimed him.

Another interesting player who was placed on waivers today by the Anaheim Ducks is Daniel Sprong, a 22 year old right-winger who had 14 goals in 47 games last year with the Ducks. The question is if other teams who finished lower than Montreal will put a claim in, which would kill the Canadiens’ chances of getting Sprong. But then again if he clears, the Ducks might be willing to trade contract for contract. That said, I have a feeling that they would like to keep him as a quality depth player so my gut tells me that if he clears, he will not be traded.

Who stays, who goes?

As it stands at the time of writing this, here’s how I personally see the team composition. Please note that the lines are for the sake of seeing how many players the Canadiens have and who has earned a spot. Claude Julien certainly can and will have different line combinations, and they are going to change from game to game.

Drouin – Domi – Suzuki

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher

Byron – Kotkaniemi – Weal

Lehkonen – Thompson/Poehling – Armia

Extra: Cousins and one of Thompson/Poehling

Mete – Weber

Chiarot – Petry

Kulak – Fleury

Extra: Folin

Price – Kinkaid

This lineup means that the odd-man out would be Mike Reilly… or if the Habs decided to go with eight defensemen and 13 forwards, it’s Cousins that I would remove as in my humble opinion, Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury all earned a spot with the big club. Note that it is possible that they send one or two of them down to Laval temporarily to give Bergevin time to make room for them at the NHL level. But all three have clearly showed that not only they are NHL ready, but they can have an impact. For those reasons, I think that Bergevin is not done and he will complete a trade in the next few hours or days.

As I’m heading out hunting with no internet connection and/or cell service, a lot can and will happen by the time I come back. And that’s exciting folks. Are you ready for Thursday? Go Habs Go!