Sylvain Lefebvre is entering his second season as head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, and expectations are that he will improve on a season that saw the Bulldogs finish last in the AHL. Last season some growing pains were to be expected, yet by the end of the season these growing pains appeared to be coaching ineptitude. Early on in this season there are several flaws that are becoming glaring issues for this young Bulldogs team.
Dating back to last season Lefebvre favoured a lineup that focused on size and being able to play a tough gritty game, and there isn't an issue with that assuming you have the proper players for that style of hockey. The Bulldogs did not, and would ice Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini for 67 and 73 games respectively. The dudtastic duo combined for for 12 points and a -27 overall plus/minus rating. Meanwhile highly skilled (enigmatic?) winger Alexander Avtsin was limited to just 15 games all season, but Avtsin would still manage almost the exact same level of production as both Hagel and Stortini. So why is Avtsin sitting in the press box while Stortini is out there doing nothing but taking penalties and putting the team down a man?
This sat in the press box:
While this played 73 games:
As if icing both Stortini and Hagel on the same night wasn't bad enough, they were often centered by one of the young centers attempting to break into the lineup. Players who were counted on to be effective leaders such as Blake Geoffrion (before his career ending injury) were saddled with the responsibility of carrying the "dead weight" of the team and it had an adverse on their effectiveness as players. Shockingly this trend is still carrying over to this season and was on full display last night as the Bulldogs took on the Lake Erie Monsters.
2009 first round draft pick Louis Leblanc was sent down from the Montreal Canadiens early in the preseason and was tasked with showing Marc Bergevin and the Habs brass what he was capable of. Fast forward to last season and Leblanc is centering Nick Tarnasky and Maxime Macenauer...Yes the same Tarnasky whose highest professional point total is 26. I can understand his previous linemates of Michael Blunden and Gabriel Dumont as they, like Leblanc, are solid AHL players who have proven to be capable NHL call ups. However pairing one of your top prospects with such unnecessary baggage after challenging him to "prove himself" seems entirely contradictory.
Fast forward to the shootout vs Lake Erie...You are Sylvain Lefebvre who do you select to shoot?
Talented all around prospect Leblanc?
Sven Andrighetto and his 172 QMJHL points?
QMJHL Scoring leader Ben Duffy?
Top Swedish Defensemen Magnus Nygren?
Power forward Akim Aliu?
Nick Tarnasky and Maxime Macenauer?
If you picked anything other than the last option... Congratulations you may have theoretically earned the Bulldogs another point last night!
However Lefebvre went with Gabriel Dumont (with which I have no issue), Nick Tarnasky (WHAT), and Maxime Macenauer (WHATx2), and Hamilton would go on to lose in the shootout after dominating the final period of the game vs Lake Erie.
These are small samples and examples I realize, however these trends are ones that cannot be avoided if the Habs minor league club expects to have any sort of success in the coming season. While having a successful AHL club is not of paramount concern to the Habs brass, it should be on their radar that Lefebvre is unable to garner positive results while having a lineup that has all the tools to be a good club if used properly. If Lefebvre cannot produce positive results with this club this season I think it may be time to look for a new coach in Hamilton who can hopefully get the Habs young prospects to reach their potential.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
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- Canadiens vs Blue Jackets - Game Recap - Habs avoid overtime with a late goal, win 5-3
- Highlights of the Montreal Canadiens' 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets
- Moen Goes Beast Mode?! (and other links)