Sylvain Lefebvre is the third longest tenured AHL head coach in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, and has just finished his fifth season behind the bench. Now he faces an uncertain future, with the spotlight being shone on lack of players graduating from the AHL to the NHL, and lack of overall success during his reign.
The primary role of a farm team coach is simple: develop the organization’s prospects to help them succeed at the NHL level. This often comes at the detriment of the farm team’s success, which was certainly evidenced in Lefebvre’s case by a lack of participation in the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. During his fifth campaign he did manage to qualify for the playoffs, although his post-season debut only lasted a mere four games.
When Lefebvre was initially hired to coach the Bulldogs in 2012, his only professional coaching experience was first as an assistant coach for the Lake Erie Monsters, and then later with the Colorado Avalanche.
Marc Bergevin targeted Lefebvre as his man for the situation in 2012, telling La Presse that “(Lefebvre) was someone who earned his stripes. He has a great personality and is someone who knows how to work with the young players.” As for why he replaced Clement Jodoin behind the Bulldogs’ bench, “it had nothing to do with the work that (Jodoin) did there last season. The reason that I chose to go with Sylvain is because I wanted a fresh start for the team. In my view change was required.”
At the Laval Rocket brand unveiling event in January of this year, Bergevin was asked about Lefebvre’s job security given the team’s record, and he said that “(Lefebvre) has done good work with his assistants. We have already used upwards of 35 players because of injuries this season in Montreal. That hurts the farm team.” Bergevin also said that he didn’t look at standings when it came time to evaluate his coaching staff at the end of the season.
Lefebvre has not had very much team success in the standings, and when you look at the players who started their professional careers under Lefebvre you get a very mediocre results to say the least. Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher, Greg Pateryn, Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Michael McCarron and Michael Condon all graduated from the Lefebvre system to carve out a roster spot with the Canadiens, although most of them are either gone or remain on the precipice of the team, with the sole exception of Gallagher, who only spent 36 games in the AHL, mostly due to the lockout.
Other more notable names who played under Lefebvre with high expectations, but flamed out, would have to include prospects like Jared Tinordi, Magnus Nygren, Louis Leblanc, and Michael Bournival (concussion issues aside). The book remains out on Jacob de la Rose, Charles Hudon, and Nikita Scherbak. The fact of the matter is that Lefebvre not only failed to instill a winning mentality within the farm team, but he also failed develop any players of impact for the Canadiens.
To be fair, we must remember that Lefebvre was instructed to coach the team in a way that followed Michel Therrien’s system which favoured archaic defending and chip-and-chase-into-cycling style of offence, which is very difficult for younger players to accomplish successfully.
With Claude Julien now behind the bench, the style of play that prospects need to learn will shift, and the question that Bergevin will have to ask himself during the offseason is whether or not Lefebvre will be the man who will teach it.
Names such as Joel Bouchard, Andre Tourigny, and Dominique Ducharme have been whispered as potential candidates to replace Lefebvre, but obviously it’s business as usual right now as far as Bergevin is concerned, or at least he’s not showing his cards. He certainly will be wondering whether the slate needs to be wiped clean once again when the team moves to Laval.
In addition to Lefebvre, his assistants Donald Dufresne and Nick Carriere are also facing the end of their contracts, and Bergevin said that he would have individual reviews with each one in order to determine what the next step should be. There hasn’t even been any whispers being heard of what went on at those reviews, although that in itself could be a smoking gun.
Regardless of what decision Bergevin makes, it’s easy to see why many would point to a need for a fresh start in the AHL.
If your farm team isn’t developing quality players, and isn’t winning many games, it doesn’t have much value.
We’ve seen a clear lack of impact players with the Canadiens in recent years, and a new approach to development may finally right that ship.
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