A little under one year ago, Marc Bergevin killed it at his end of season press conference when the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated by the New York Rangers. The highlight of the whole talk was Bergevin being asked whether he was willing to see the Canadiens take a step backwards in results in order to get the young players into the lineup, specifically Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and Greg Pateryn.
Bergevin responded in the affirmative, sending fans into an excited tizzy that the youth movement was about to begin. Assumptions were made that aside from the young defenseman being given a chance, Alex Galchenyuk would begin his move to center ice, and youngsters like Michael Bournival and Sven Andrighetto would be given real chances to be regular NHLers.
Come training camp and preseason, Galchenyuk was indeed at center, and the Canadiens took long looks at Andrighetto and Christian Thomas. But by the end of preseason Beaulieu was the only defenseman who seemed to have cracked the roster, and though Jiri Sekac was extremely impressive in preseason, his grace period was all of five games before he was a healthy scratch for six of the next seven, in favour of Travis Moen.
Tinordi played all of 13 games in the NHL, while Pateryn played 17 in the regular season, and 7 more in the playoffs after Beaulieu suffered a broken sternum. Bournival meanwhile, didn't see NHL action until November, and played just two games until mid-December. Galchenyuk was given a shot at center, it lasted all of 157 even strength minutes of the 1070 that he played. Sekac was traded for another young player, a far less skilled one, and Bournival was sent down to the American Hockey League.
Transition or confusion?
There's all kinds of reasons for the Canadiens to not experiment with youth, especially if they believe that not doing so wins them more games. With a 110 point regular season, you can't really argue that.
However when Bergevin said he was willing to see the team take a step back to have the youngsters develop in the NHL, when he said this was a transition year for the Montreal Canadiens after losing a big part of their leadership core with Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges in Buffalo, he set the expectation for the Canadiens to compete for a Stanley Cup the following year, but not this season.
The problem is, that by delaying that youth movement, the Canadiens have set themselves up for yet another "transition year". Whether that year would cause a step back in the Canadiens' results is up for debate, but it seems like the organization is extremely hesitant to rely on their youth, thus delaying the inevitable.
For the Canadiens to claim that the last three seasons were a transition period, while at the same time saying young players were sent down or scratched because they were trying to win games, just doesn't cut it. Marc Bergevin used both in Friday's end of year press conferences as explanations for various decisions, it just doesn't logically follow. You don't get to claim that you're a team in transition, and that you're desperate to win games, thus sacrificing good development time for younger players.
It's worse than logically inconsistent, it's disingenuous, and the Canadiens have no right to be upset when media question them on this, they've brought it on themselves with such an unclear approach.
Compare the development of Galchenyuk to the way the Columbus Blue Jackets allowed Ryan Johansen to play center early, struggle, and come into his own. Compare the way the Canadiens have developed Beaulieu and Tinordi to the Anaheim Ducks with Sami Vatanen or Hampus Lindholm. Can you really argue that the Canadiens wouldn't be better today if they had allowed their young players to make an impact?
Three years into the Bergevin/Therrien era of the Canadiens, Galchenyuk remains on the wing, only Beaulieu has really been given a shot on defense, the forward corps is less talented than the year before, and all the Canadiens will say is that people should be satisfied with the job Therrien has done. A good job isn't enough in Montreal though, fans want to see greatness. Yet here we are three years in, and all I can wonder is, what's the plan? Because it isn't clear.