ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA — Marc Bergevin began his tenure as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens with much fanfare and optimism. His first few years provided some solid success in the regular season and modest success in the playoffs. Then injuries and poor performances caused serious downfalls for the team, leading to Bergevin deciding to revamp the core to become relevant in the new, speed first, NHL.
To the credit of management and the coaching staff, the team actually did go younger and faster last season, which Bergevin has said is his new goal. In the past, Bergevin repeated that the Habs had to build through the draft. Despite the criticism of his deals to trade away picks, he has added more than he’s moved out. As well, he has never traded away a first round pick prior to the draft.
However, building is more than just allowing Trevor Timmins and his staff to make good selections at the draft. Those players must be developed into NHL ready players in order to meet their full potential and become impactful players for the team. Unfortunately, this must be done in a certain timeframe so that they won’t lose players prematurely due to waiver eligibility.
Competition for ice time in the minors will only get stiffer as the influx of young prospects arrive into the pro system in need of ice time to develop their skills. This development can’t be provided when players are competing for ice time with 42 others, as seen in Laval last season. If the Habs hope to become a playoff contender, they will need a steady influx of young, talented and inexpensive players who can be graduated from the minor league system.
This is where adopting a baseball-style development system would be helpful. By adding a AA tier team in the ECHL under team ownership with complete control over coaching personnel and player management, the Habs would give incoming talent the chance to develop without having to compete for ice time.
The Habs had an affiliation with the Brampton Beast until the end of the 2017 season that was shared with Ottawa. However, Brampton was independently owned, so their main goal was not development. These are two reasons why this partnership was, unfortunately, doomed to fail.
“It’s important to have a stock of talent to choose from in the ECHL.”
“Organizational management should ideally contain development not only through the AHL but also through the ECHL,” said Amy Johnson, lead correspondent for the AHL Report.
“When AHL rosters are inevitably depleted due to NHL call-ups, injuries, etc., it’s important to have a stock of talent to choose from in the ECHL who have been trained with the same type of system and development ideals in mind,” said Johnson. “It also gives the organization the opportunity to more closely monitor their own players in the ECHL to make more educated decisions when a quick call-up is needed.”
Fans only have to look at the Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes to see a well-executed development system at play, boasting strong affiliates that are developing several young players who will soon be NHL ready and could be called up as soon as next season.
The Toronto Marlies and Charlotte Checkers are currently competing in the Eastern Conference finals. The newly-formed ECHL Newfoundland Growlers are competing in the Kelly Cup finals, while the Florida Everblades recently lost to the Growlers in their Eastern Conference finals. Successes such as these come from players and coaching staff who are properly prepared and who are familiar with farm team systems.
The Habs will need to modernize and retain full ownership and control of their farm system to keep pace with these franchises if they hope to compete as playoff contenders in the long term as they have hoped. Adding a lower tier for development can have an added bonus for the Canadiens beyond development in the form of public relations. This tier could provide the opportunity to sign local, undrafted Quebec-born players to satisfy the demand for this type of player in the system similar to the path of Jonathan Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights.
If language truly is a top issue for the Canadiens, then having a plan to develop francophone coaches would also be helpful in the long term as the team limits itself in its choice of suitable candidates. Having more NHL-ready options would be worth the investment.
In the salary cap era, there are few areas of hockey-related spending where a franchise as profitable as the Canadiens can take advantage of their ample resources. So far, the Habs have begun to spend on added scouting staff and running their own combine, something that provides more in depth exposure to players that may fall through the cracks.
Currently, Trois-Rivières is building a new 4300-seat arena to help revitalize their city that is set to open in 2020. This is an ideal location for a Habs affiliate team, as it is close to both Montreal and Laval. If the Canadiens went this route, they could find an affiliate to buy now and then move the franchise to the new rink once it is ready.
If the organization can maximize the impact of that additional path by investing in player and coaching development using top-quality facilities, they would be taking full advantage of the uncapped areas using their financial might. While building a tiered development system isn’t likely to build a championship dynasty in the salary cap era, the absence of a better farm system will be detrimental to long-term success.
History tells us that building a self-sustaining farm system with a foundation of solid drafting and development has always been the backbone of great NHL teams. One only has to look at the extensive farm system created by Frank Selke and further built by Sam Pollock, which spawned numerous Stanley Cup wins and breathed life back into the Canadiens, to see the benefits of building a more modern development system.
Many hockey players dream of playing for the NHL, and fans dream their favourite players can win their teams a Stanley Cup. As such, a team that can build a great farm system can hope for both, making the farm team system a field of dreams, so to speak. If Bergevin can build a modern development system, he could earn both the respect of the fans and, in time, a long awaited championship title.
It is a field of dreams, after all.
By Blain Potvin, Staff Writer. Edited by Cate Racher.
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