When the trade deadline came and went, Marc Bergevin had only acquired three fourth-line grinders, and two depth defencemen. He stated they brought depth and playoff experience to a young lineup. The issue in the playoffs ended up being not depth quantity, but depth being unable to score or contribute anything effectively. Essentially the depth had no quality. The fourth line had one goal, scored by Torrey Mitchell, who ended up being scratched in the final game of the series.
In contrast, after two poor outings the Rangers sent Tanner Glass to the press box in favour of Pavel Buchnevich. The rookie forward instantly created chances for the Rangers, and was an offensive threat throughout the three games he played. His entry also allowed for Michael Grabner to slide down the lineup, where his speed against the Canadiens bottom pairing and fourth line resulted in the puck being in Montreal’s zone a lot.
Meanwhile, despite goal scoring struggles the Canadiens continued to lean on Steve Ott and Dwight King. There were better options available.
Those options however, were not in the NHL. In fact, the best option was kept in the AHL, despite a mountain of evidence leading us to believe he should have been given a legitimate shot with the Canadiens.
That player, of course, is Charles Hudon, who currently is dominating the AHL playoffs with St. John’s, along with his linemates Chris Terry and Nikita Scherbak.
Not to mention Max Friberg, Jacob de la Rose and Stefan Matteau, who have been all over the scoresheet in the postseason and down the stretch for the IceCaps. While it’s understandable that Canadiens management might have wanted to keep their full AHL lineup intact due to the Calder Cup berth, they picked a very odd time to care about AHL success, seeing as they always placed importance on developing players over team success.
Since Marc Bergevin took over as GM and Michel Therrien was named coach, the Habs seemed to follow the old Detroit Red Wings model of keeping talented prospects in the AHL for as long as possible, or until they forced their way into the lineup. Initially those players were Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, who despite being potentially better options were behind Francis Bouillon, Sergei Gonchar and even Douglas Murray on the depth chart. Then came forwards like Sven Andrighetto, who didn’t get regular NHL playing time at any point despite being one of the best scoring talents the AHL team had at the time. This past season provided yet another prospect who has been ready for a real NHL shot since his rookie season in Hudon, who produced at nearly a point per game clip yet again this year.
The Canadiens don’t seemingly trust their AHL call ups to do anything more than play sparingly on the fourth line for a few games, then head back to the minors to make room for the next temporary call up. And the players that do stick for more than a game or two, end up being buried in brutal deployment. Voir: de la Rose.
The playoffs, however are not the regular season, you need your fourth line to be an asset, and the Canadiens failed to take advantage of that situation.
To not give Hudon or leading scorer Terry a shot in that situation can only be seen as a discouraging sign to the players attempting to crack the NHL. Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins the past two seasons, players like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Jake Guentzel have become overnight stars for the defending Stanley Cup champions. And it’s because Pittsburgh trust their kids to come up, and be able to step into a role that befits their skill set. Even last year, in a season ravaged by injuries the Canadiens, the Canadiens only gave Hudon a three-game audition before immediately sending him back to the IceCaps. For what it’s worth, despite limited minutes on the fourth line, Hudon earned two assists during those three games.
Good systems treat their AHL and ECHL teams as developmental stages, allowing their players to learn the pro game, and hopefully break into the NHL, where they know what is expected of them. The Toronto Marlies are a great example, wherein this year William Nylander was a dominant rookie, Connor Brown scored twenty goals, and Kasperi Kapanen terrorized the playoffs. All three of them were nurtured in a system that allowed them to develop their game to it’s highest level, while also gaining post season experience in the AHL. Meanwhile for the better part of four years the Bulldogs/IceCaps were besieged by poor lineup choices and an outdated play style that didn’t work with the player’s strengths.
The AHL club is moving into Laval next year, and with that comes the opportunity to press the reset button on an organization that may have been out of sight, and out of mind. With the move to the Montreal area comes an added spotlight on the development of the Canadiens next generation.
The future of the organization will depend on it.