Thursday, October 26, 2017

Eating Their Young

There's something seriously wrong in Montreal when it comes to nurturing the next generation.

Take a look at the last ten years of drafting. In 2007, the Canadiens picked four future NHL players. Only Max Pacioretty remains with the team, where he still regularly faces public criticism about his fitness to be captain, his on-ice production and his crises of confidence. Somehow, he claims to love playing in Montreal.

P.K.Subban was traded for Shea Weber after several years of veiled implications that he was a me-first player and amid outright finger pointing from his coach. Ryan McDonagh didn't even get the chance to prove himself in the NHL before getting traded for Scott Gomez, in part because management didn't like his performance at the world juniors the previous winter. He's now a star in New York. Yannick Weber had an up-and-down career in Montreal, but remains in the NHL with the Predators. That was the best draft class the Canadiens have had in the last decade.

The next two drafts, in 2008 and 2009, saw 112 NHL games played among the twelve players chosen. Notable among them was first-rounder Louis Leblanc, who suffered the dreaded high-ankle sprain in 2012. He came back in the AHL to minimal ice-time with scrub linemates and little PP time. Worse were reports that coach Sylvain Lefebvre systematically destroyed his confidence, even that he tied elastic bands to the player's skates to improve his stride. Leblanc eventually was traded for a fifth-round pick.

In 2010, the draft yielded NHLer Brendan Gallagher in the fifth round. The year's first-rounder was Jarred Tinordi who never earned the trust of his coaches and was traded for a couple of scrubs shortly before receiving a 20-game suspension for drug violations. The following year, the Habs picked one NHLer in first-rounder Nathan Beaulieu. He's now a member of the Buffalo Sabres; traded for a third-round pick after failing to live up to his potential in Montreal, and following newspaper reports about his penchant for partying and his lack of respect for fans.

That brings us to 2012. For the first time since Carey Price was drafted fifth overall in 2005, the Canadiens had a lottery pick and a chance to add some serious talent to a struggling lineup. Some might argue (with hindsight) that Filip Forsberg would have been the more productive pick, but Galchenyuk was a solid choice with tons of potential.

As it's turned out, though, his developmental learning curve has been just as steep and rocky as some of his predecessors'. Thrust into the NHL spotlight at 18, Galchenyuk has been the subject of debate about whether he's qualified to play centre every season since. He's been publicly mocked for being involved in a domestic altercation with a girlfriend and criticized for being Beaulieu's party pal. This season he's been regularly demoted to fourth-line wing duty in punishment for a lack of production.

Now this young player is dealing with the malicious revelation that he may have voluntarily entered the NHL's substance abuse treatment program. The person who decided to publicly announce this was none other than ex-player and ex-coach Mario Tremblay who was convicted last year for refusing to give a give a breath sample in a suspected drunk driving incident.

A player who voluntarily looks for help in the alcoholic culture of the NHL is to be applauded. We don't need to know their names or why they look for help. It's enough that they're self-aware enough to seek counselling in the first place.

For an alleged hockey professional to break the sacred confidence of rehab and betray a young player is unforgivable. Tremblay should be ashamed.

In the meantime, the Galchenyuk case is just the latest public embarrassment of a young player in Montreal. The party culture, the adulation of young women and the open-door policy of the local bar owners gives young men a degree of licence they don't get anywhere else. Unsurprisingly, they fall under the thrall of such privilege. The fact the team does little to help youngsters deal with the wealth of temptation in their city is shameful.

Management studiously ignores the problems off ice and focus on criticism on the ice. That does nothing but destroy confidence and leave young players adrift.

Just look at the last ten years and decide if the Canadiens' strategy of developing youngsters is working.



johnnylarue said...

Nicely said, J.T.

The Habs' shall we say "not always reasonable" fan base shares some of the blame, too.

Our (increasingly distant) past successes create a culture of ridiculous expectations, and hockey's quasi-religious status in Montreal that can turn teenage athletes into demigods can just as easily destroy them when the shine wears off. We're very quick to pile on under-performing players, coaches, and management, always demanding immediate results and largely unwilling to compromise. While this is probably true of most sports fans, everything is amped up to an unhealthy degree in Montreal, and the sports media prey on this, providing as much content as we can eat--regardless of its nutritional value.

It could well be that this is a great situation for running a profitable business, but these are not conditions which are conducive to building a winning franchise.

Ian said...

I used to like Tremblay as a hockey player. He proved to be not worthy of coaching in the NHL, and that's fine. Very few people are.

However, to do what he did disgusts me.

dra58 said...

JT as always your comments are spot on and very thoughtful. The only thing I miss is your writing as it is always insightful and well written but there is not enough of it. I could read your thoughts every day as unlike many bloggers they are very articulate and it's obvious you put in a lot of thought and planning before you publish these articles. I wish more writers were as good as you are. I agree there are too many vampires out there feeding on the young and am hopeful that Mete is brought along in a safe environment like they stated to do with Galchenyuk when they had his mother and sister live with him the first two years. Montreal is too big a city for young men who are stars for their team. Luckily CP survived his early ordeals with the Kotsisten brothers and he turned out okay but the GM should be wary of letting kids grow up under the lights of the city without some parental guidance or bad things happen. I believe it is part of the GM's duty like the Penguins did with Crosby to secure the future of these young men whom they are investing so much money and effort in to safeguard them from the perils of youth riches and fame because many are not ready for it.

Juce said...

Great post, JT.