It’s that time of year again. Finger pointing time. Being in Montreal, with fans as inconsistent as the players, every viewer has their own opinion on the disappointing end of the season. The bitter taste left in everyone’s mouth due to an early playoff exit is worsened by the fact that they were the favorites in the series. After taking a 2-1 lead, the unfortunate turn of event left many unanswered questions and fingers pointing in all directions. Everywhere, except towards the source of a now long-term issue.
Who’s at fault? What’s next? The two questions that people are aching to answer.
Before identifying the true problem, I believe it’s necessary to justify why the obvious choices are superficial. Let’s start with the easy choice, Paccioretty. Zero goals in a 6 game playoff series, while being one of the league’s best goal scorers, is an obvious let down. Snipers go cold, it happens. But as a Captain, you must lead the way, regardless if you’re putting the puck in the net or not. He didn’t. Having many SOG is irrelevant when you aren’t battling your heart out every shift and making the right plays. Players follow their captain, and the Habs did exactly that.
However, it’s tough to blame one player for an entire team’s lack of scoring. Especially when more than a third of the goal total in a six-game series (11) came in one game. When things go bad, it’s a given that fingers point towards the top guys. Yes, he should’ve buried a few; but it’s not his load to carry alone. His supporting cast should’ve stepped up, and most of them did not. Paccio was without a doubt a disappointment, but his assistants did a good job supporting him in the leadership task. In the end, your fate (and scoring) cannot rest on one player. Which leads me to my next point.
Carey Price. Widely regarded as the best goalie on the planet. Ended the series with a 1.86 GAA and .933 Save%. Nothing spectacular, but good numbers – definitely good enough to lead you to victory. These stats were however not sufficient for many. Ironically enough, his postseason numbers were superior to his 2.23 GAA and .923 Save% regular season; numbers that got him a nomination for the Vezina trophy.
Your best players must be your best players if you want a chance to win. Was Carey the best he could’ve been? Probably not. Should he have stolen a game like King Henrik? Maybe. But letting in less than 2 goals a game is a recipe for success. Scoring less than 2? Not so much. Nevertheless, the Habs did not lose because of Carey Price. Period.
Often, the first person to take all the heat after a disappointing result is the coach. We can only imagine what would have been said if Therrien was still behind the bench. Having a newer, more accomplished coach made the critics slightly less violent. Fourth liners playing too much, some disagreements in the roster make up, who plays where, all topics subjective to each viewer. Bottom line is, the coach can only work with what he has. What he had firstly didn’t perform to the best of their abilities. Secondly, what he had was incomplete. It has been discussed many times, over the course of many seasons, but the end result stays the same.
Could Claude have coached better? Most likely. Did he do the best he could with what he had? I believe so. Simply put, what he had wasn’t enough. Regardless of what players you thought should be in or out of the lineup, those are the bottom guys. They have an impact, but not enough to lead you all the way. The high impact players are constantly in the lineup, and on the ice.
When a team is missing key pieces, the GM is obviously the first person to be pointed at. I believe that when there’s an issue in pyramid-like organisation, you must start at the top and work your way down, not the other way around. Molson is a great owner and stands by his GM in any decision he makes. Bergevin needed to bring in a top forward and additional leadership before the season started. He did that with Radulov and Weber; and it was good enough to get them back to the top seed in their division. I do believe that the Habs long-term issues are due to the management, but the current owner and GM are not the cause.
Additional depth was visibly required, with injuries to key players and some playing in spots above their skill level. Many expected a big move at the deadline, Duchene’s name kept coming up, but in the end, the deal was not there. Giving up your future for one player isn’t wise and Bergy knew that. We need to remember that these people are professionals. They are where they are because they know what they’re doing. If we as fans can see that a team needs X, you bet they do too. If the blockbuster trade didn’t happen, it’s simply because the management believed that they wouldn’t be immerging the winners in the long run.
You might be here wondering who is left to blame? The guy running the organisation, the one running the bench and the ones on the ice have all been dealt with. While they are all in some way responsible for the outcome of the season, I do not believe they are the primary causes for this long-term “just not enough” outcome that is becoming all to common. Who do I think is to blame? The Montreal Canadiens Scouting Department.
While I think the issue is more prevalent this year, this has been an accumulation of almost two decades worth of mediocre decisions, leading to disappointing results.
The current cap era makes trading even more difficult than it used to be, let alone trading for a top 3, or even a top 1 player. Habs are in desperate need of a first line center. No need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Comparing Danault to any other playoff team’s top center is laughable. Crosby, McDavid, Johansen, Pavelski, Toews, Backstrom and the list goes on. Most top contenders even have 2 elite centers to add to their depth. My problem with the Scouting Department is the fact that not only they didn’t draft any currently suitable top center in the past, they don’t have any in their development system for the future.
Like I said previously, Trevor Timmins and his crew are professionals and know what they are doing. But it’s about time to wake up. If we talk about all the bad draft choices the Habs have made over the last decade and a half we would have a lot to talk about. Many would think of the abysmal first round picks that Louis Leblanc, Jarred Tinordi and Kyle Chipchura were. When I think of it however, first thing that comes to mind is the 2003 NHL Draft. That was the year they picked the legendary Andrei Kostitsyn with the 10th overall pick. He had a couple decent seasons before disappearing to Russia with his waste of a draft pick brother Sergei. Last seen snorting coke off a hooker.
Bad picks happen all the time (more often than not in the Habs case). But to make matters worse, 9 picks later, Ryan Getzlaf was chosen by the Anaheim Ducks. With 45th pick, the Bruins chose Patrice Bergeron. Both players who have played their entire career with their respective team, won a cup with them and produced marvellously in every aspect of the game. The best part? They’ve been a consistent anchor in that infamous #1 center spot. We can even add Jeff Carter to that list as he was chosen with the pick right after Andrei. Another player who could’ve stabilized their first line.
If you think this was just an off-year, think again. In 2006, Habs picked David Fischer with the 20th overall pick. Two picks later? Claude Giroux. Funny that the one time they don’t go for the Quebecer, it bites them in the ass.
There are many more similar cases but I wont go through them all or we’ll be here all day. Who knows where the Habs would be had they drafted one of these elite Centers all those years ago. Could these players have been the extra push they needed to get passed the Flyers or the Rangers and into the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago? Well never know.
Don’t get me wrong, scouting is one of the toughest jobs in hockey. Predicting what an 18-year-old will be like when he’s 24 in regards to his skill level, physical abilities and mental capabilities is no easy task. Having the pressure of an avid hockey city on your shoulders doesn’t help either. However, being a professional scouter in a league where you make or break your team at the Draft, I would expect better results.
Let me explain. The Habs have a decent prospect pool. I would rank them in the bottom half of the league, but that isn’t a big surprise as they’ve almost consistently made the playoffs in the past decade and haven’t gotten many top picks. When choosing guys like Galchenyuk or Sergachev in the top 10, you are bound to get a good player. Finding diamonds in the rough in the later rounds is how you determine the quality of your scouting department. The only real hidden gem that the Habs have found in the last decade and a half is Brendan Gallagher with a 5th round pick. Other than him, nothing.
Putting aside Sergachev who’s a top end prospect, the Habs have Juulsen, Scherbak, McCarron and Hudon leading the pack in their development system. All good players, that could have solid careers in the show as well. Good enough to make them a contending team in the future? Not even close. They’re perfect to continue on the path of “almost” and “just not enough”.
So why was Bergevin so unwilling to let go of Sergachev in a potential trade for Duchene, a player that could’ve been their first true #1 center since Saku Koivu in his prime? Answer is he’s the only player coming from within the organisation that will have a real impact on the team’s future. He had no one else as imposing to use as a bargaining chip. The scouting department has handcuffed the GM and the coach. They’ve limited their options and opportunities. It is that simple.
Hockey is a team game. At the professional level, the large management group play a big role, even though they may be behind the scenes. When a portion of a team is underperforming, the whole group suffers. That’s the unfortunate side of team sports. And that is what we are witnessing with the Montreal Canadiens.
Whatever opinion you have on the direction the Habs are heading, one thing is for certain: their window is closing. Price can only be in his prime for so long. Same goes for Weber and Paccio. Their need to win now is no secret. The fact that they are missing key pieces isn’t either. It is always tough to thrive with one hand tied behind your back, but it is what it is. You must work with what you have. Unfortunately for them, their scouts didn’t give them much.
This leaves the team with only two options: go all in and try to win now with their elite goaltender, defencemen and forward(s), which may include trading their best prospects and picks. Or think of the future and govern themselves accordingly by acquiring future talents for their current assets. There’s no in between. It’s too late for that. If they continue going half-half, they’ll stay in the same place they’ve been in the last decade: not good enough.
Quit blaming all the figures on the surface of the organisation and dig a little deeper. Look for the problem at its source. Let’s give the players a little break and point at the ones slowing them down. The ones that should be speeding their process up and brightening their future, not the opposite. The recruiters.
All stats taken from NHL.com