The Habs and The Quebecois Syndrome

HabsQuebec

On this St. Jean Baptiste day of 2018, while residents in Quebec and Quebec-born Canadian citizen celebrate our birth province’s holiday, the dust is settling on what was a very uneventful NHL Draft. Aside from a few trades picks for picks, this year’s Draft was abnormally quiet on the trade front, with only one major trade having been completed between the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes. Like everyone else, Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin sat there and let his Draft experts, led by Trevor Timmins, work their magic in hope that it pays off in the long run.

Now before anyone thinks that since moving to beautiful British Columbia, I have become an anti-Québécois, let me remind you of a piece I wrote a few years ago, one of my most satisfying article, one that I point out to anglophones who downplay the need to have Quebec-born players on the Canadiens.

The outrage on Twitter was, however, palpable with many residents in Quebec, particularly French speaking, being outraged with the fact that their beloved Habs only managed to select one player from the QMJHL.

True that with all the picks that they had, the Canadiens only managed to select one local player, by calling Samuel Houde‘s name at number 133. But I was curious to find out why it was the case. Were the Canadiens really spitting on players from their own backyard and selecting others at similar talent? If that were the case, those Quebec-born players would have been selected soon after the Habs’ picks, I figured… right?

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Well I did the research and here’s what I discovered:

  • 217 players were selected at the 2018 NHL Draft
  • 22 of them (10%) came from the QMJHL
  • Half of them were born in Quebec
  • Of those 11 selected, 4 were goalies, a position the Habs don’t need
  • And of the 7 remaining, the Habs were able to select one.

So what does that tell you folks? It is telling me that overall, the QMJHL is doing extremely poorly at developing players attracting interest not just for the Montreal Canadiens, but for the other 30 teams! It tells us even more, as off those playing in the Q, more than half (55%) of them are not even Quebec-born players! Yes folks, it means that 0.05% of the players drafted in 2018 (11 out of 217) were born in Quebec. And that’s Bergevin and Timmins’ fault for not selecting them?!?

Oh really? Is that really how fans feel in Quebec? What are Jonathan Drouin, Phillip Danault, Nicolas Deslauriers and Charles Hudon? Chopped liver? That’s four local products, more than we’ve seen on the Habs in a long, long time and considering that the number of them is dropping like flies in the NHL, that’s actually very remarkable. Further, someone tweeted this to me…

It seems like it’s not because the Habs aren’t trying. Under Bergevin, they even invested more in scouting in Quebec and in the QMJHL. The team is building outdoor ice rinks to allow young people to skate and play hockey! To borrow an expression from François Gagnon, “Simonak”, what more do you want them to do?

So for those who can differentiate the forest from the trees, let’s take a bit of a break, and hope that Bergevin can pull the trigger on a trade or two to solidify his formation, mostly at the centre position and even find a defense partner for Shea Weber. We’re less than a week away from free agency. Go Habs Go!

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Back to the Future: Habs Marc Bergevin on a tough mission

When in 1909, Ambrose O’Brien and Jimmy Gardner came out with the idea to create a powerful team of French-speaking hockey players and name it Les Canadiens, little did they know that for years to come, the debate would still be raging strong in the hearts of its immense fan base.

We will not get into the language debate at this time, but for those interested, we did look at the impact of local players on the Canadiens in this article back in August 2011.

When Serge Savard was asked by Geoff Molson to help him find the new General Manager to bring the pride back to an organisation in dire need, the underlying issue of local products on the team was evident. When he was GM in Montreal, Savard believed in having French Canadians form a core of his teams and while today’s landscape is different today, it looks as though Bergevin shares a similar understanding of the Montreal market place. During his press conference, he was clear about wanting a bilingual head coach and he also mentioned that one amateur scout was not enough for the QMJHL. This news promises to be unpopular for many, but is reassuring for many others.

But how exactly, in a time when few local talents are being drafted and making it to the NHL, could Bergevin turn the Habs’ prospect pool into one that would give the team a chance to have some of the few with a chance to make it? There is definitely no easy solution, but Bergevin comes across as the type of person who is not afraid to do what he feels is right.

Of course, better scouting and putting a conscious effort into looking long and hard in the team’s own backyard is one way, but that only works for the long term. Few local products are even on the last list of North American prospects released by Central Scouting, none of which is listed in the top 30. We are left with two other options: acquiring some through trades and/or free agency.

Looking through this year’s free agents’ list, only one name jumped out as a possibility and that is Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau , a late bloomer 29 year old right winger who stands at 6’0” and 193 lbs and who is coming out of a career high 67 points season, including 18 goals.

For the purpose of this column, I went through all other 29 NHL teams and looked at most potential targets for Marc Bergevin. It goes without saying that not all of those players would be available and that the asking price would vary greatly amongst them. Have a look for yourself:

While the top end talent is somewhat sparse, there are some players on that list which could definitely contribute something to this team. In some cases, Bergevin would have to part with equally valuable talent but in most cases, those players would come fairly cheap. For example, there is no reason why a guy like Maxim Lapierre couldn’t do what Jeff Halpern and Petteri Nokelainen provided during their stay in Montreal.

This research wouldn’t be complete without looking at the prospect pool of each one of those teams as well. Here are some of the most interesting prospects. Again, the asking price would vary greatly:

Could Bergevin find a package that would entice Dale Tallon in Florida to accept parting with Jonathan Huberdeau? Would the Habs take a flyer on Angelo Esposito or Patrice Cormier? There is no doubt in my mind that a trade talent for talent could be worked out for some of those players. Granted, there are no certainties that they would make it to the NHL, let alone contribute at that level, but the same can be said about some of the prospects in the Habs’ organisation.

Not an easy task ahead for Marc Bergevin and this is likely not his number one priority at this point, but heading into this draft, with the Canadiens selecting where they are, this off-season might just be the best time to start the process of bringing back some of the local pride, building on what is already an exciting and promising time for the organisation and its fans.

PS: Some might be from the Ottawa region, Ontario and/or the Maritimes. As far as I know, they are bilingual.

En français: Retour vers le futur: Marc Bergevin a une mission difficile