When Cole Caufield skated off the bench after Nick Suzuki’s shootout winner and shouted ‘Bonne Nuit, Tampa!’ while mic’d up for TVA Sports, it really cemented how different the Montreal Canadiens have become over the last few months.
The changes on the ice are obvious, the team looks different on the ice, players are allowed to make mistakes, and they are free to focus on attacking instead of hammering down the defensive end of the ice. It isn’t always pretty, as they have been outplayed and outmatched at times, but overall it is providing a much more competitive team than the first months of the season.
Off the ice, the changes are apparent as well, and not just because of the increased access the media is getting to members of the organization. That’s certainly a part of it, but Cole Caufield reportedly being told to show his personality is another. Having a development coach like Adam Nicholas actively working with NHL youngsters during practice is a significant change from how this team dealt with player development.
The result is a team that may not finish in last place, and there are people who are upset by this. For a very long time, the only players who succeeded in Montreal were can’t miss prospects. The Canadiens’ player development system essentially left the development part up to the player. That meant that the team’s only young players who succeeded were too good to fail, or developed elsewhere.
That history is behind a lot of fans’ fears about dropping down the draft order. If they draft outside of the top three — or maybe even the more dreaded third overall pick itself — people are scared that a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season would be all for naught.
This isn’t the old Canadiens.
Like Chantal Machabée has completely changed how the Canadiens are dealing with their public-facing operations, Canadiens owner Geoff Molson is giving Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes the same ability to change their operations behind the scenes. We have already seen the hiring of Nicholas, and there is plenty more to come in player development over the off-season.
They trust themselves to build a system that will turn their good prospects into good NHL players. It’s likely part of the reason they felt confident in bringing over Emil Heineman on his entry-level contract despite a new deal in Sweden. It’s why they chose to trade established NHL players with team control for a few more seasons. A rebuild is only as successful as your ability to find and develop young players.
The previous iteration of the Canadiens — which lasted for 10 years under Marc Bergevin, but really started even before he or even Trevor Timmins arrived — was old fashioned. It put so much pressure on the scouting team because there was essentially no development system. It hurt the long-term prospects of the NHL team, and especially hurt the AHL team.
It has understandably left its mark on the fan base and those who follow the team. The Canadiens have done more to modernize in the last few months than they did in the previous decade and a half, if not more.
This isn’t to say that the Canadiens cannot and will not fail. There are a lot of variables at play, and they haven’t proven anything long-term as of yet. People, however, should not judge this group on the sins of their predecessors.
They say that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over again and expecting different results. By that definition, the Canadiens may finally be sane.