After six seasons behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens’ top farm team, Sylvain Lefebvre did not get his contract renewed this past summer at the conclusion of another painful season. His team missed the playoffs for a fifth time in six seasons.
But Lefebvre’s ultimate downfall was likely not the team’s record year-over-year, but rather a failure to provide the Canadiens with a steady stream of NHL graduates. After all, the purpose of the farm team is to develop players and prepare them for the NHL. That sometimes means putting them in positions to learn various game situations, which could be to the detriment of the team’s success. But that focus on the individual didn’t yield to individual success.
By all accounts, Lefebvre was a genuine and good person, which in life is an important and honourable trait. But in the cutthroat world of professional sports, failure at developing coupled with lack of team success is certainly fatal.
All that the current Canadiens roster has to show for Lefebvre’s six seasons developing players are Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak, both of whom are facing an uncertain future with the main club after prolonged tenures with the farm team. Nicolas Deslauriers, a 27-year-old career fourth-liner from the Buffalo Sabres system, appears to be ahead of the younger offensive talents.
Jacob de la Rose, another long-standing prospect under Lefebvre, was just lost to waivers after he was deemed to be the lowest-ranking forward on the team.
In the American Hockey League, the Laval Rocket underwent a massive overhaul from last season, Lefebvre’s final one, as only Michael McCarron, Brett Lernout, Antoine Waked, Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, and Daniel Audette remain as prospects who Lefebvre had a significant hand in shaping as professionals. It is, however, hard to see a clear path for any of them to the NHL at this point. Once promising prospects Daniel Carr, Jeremy Grégoire, Simon Bourque, Tom Parisi, and Zachary Fucale did not return for 2018-19.
Looking at the top 20 longest-tenured players under Lefebvre, few became established NHL players. The only ones who managed to establish themselves as NHLers were Sven Andrighetto, Greg Pateryn, and Nathan Beaulieu. All three were eventually traded away after struggling to carve out permanent roles with the Canadiens. The case can be made that Andrighetto is Lefebvre’s most successful student.
There is a secondary group of players from this list who are still working to establish themselves as NHLers, including Hudon, Scherbak, McCarron, de la Rose, and Carr. Carr is currently in the Vegas Golden Knights system.
Beyond that there is no one who rose into the NHL under Lefebvre’s tutelage. Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Christian Thomas, Gabriel Dumont, and Jarred Tinordi barely made blips at the NHL level before settling into permanent AHL roles or trying their luck overseas.
An argument can be made about Noah Juulsen and Brendan Gallagher, but neither one really spent any significant time on Lefebvre’s teams, and rather graduated on their inherent merit and talent. Players like Mike Blunden, Byron Froese, and Nicolas Deslauriers were essentially fully-formed by the time they joined Lefebvre before getting lengthy call-ups with the Canadiens, so it’s hard to include them as success stories.
It’s not that there weren’t opportunities for AHLers to force the Canadiens’ hand to keep them. In two out of the last three seasons, the Canadiens were riddled with injuries, but Marc Bergevin preferred to claim players like Mike Brown and Logan Shaw off waivers than permanently graduate an AHLer, including eventual league scoring champion Chris Terry.
When it came down to it, Bergevin would say nice things in public, but there was an evident discontent in the way players were being developed and the “future of the team” was frequently cast aside.
Only time will tell if Lefebvre’s replacement, Joël Bouchard, will be able to buck this trend and produce graduates who will be deemed satisfactory for the Canadiens.
As the saying goes: “A good man will always land on his feet.” Lefebvre found employment, moving to California, and is currently an assistant coach with the AHL San Diego Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks’ farm team, where he, and his charges, will hopefully enjoy much more success.