It’s been a while since the Montreal Canadiens had an ECHL affiliate. I mean, you need enough prospects to get them to play in the third ranked professional league in North America and well… the prospects’ cupboards were pretty bare for so many years now. Finally under GM Marc Bergevin, it seems like this is all in the past and the Habs may not have to travel far and use any Air Miles to keep an eye on most of their professional prospects… and it’s not a minute too soon!
In a league with a hard salary cap, having cheap labour coming in and being able to contribute at a low cost is often the difference between bad teams and good ones. Every team has top end veterans who earn most of the cap space. Some teams try using washed up veterans to plug holes in their line-up and we’ve seen how unsuccessful this method has been in Montreal. But for the past couple of seasons, we have also seen what it’s like to have young guys step in and contribute and that makes a world of difference. For one thing, those young guys will hopefully take over the veterans but in the meantime, they offer quality depth and production.
In 2015, the Canadiens only had five draft picks and in 2016, the team only spoke six times at the NHL Draft. But when Bergevin informed team President Geoff Molson of his new plan in the summer of 2018, he was going to change all that. The Habs selected 11 players in 2018, 10 in 2019 and they own 14 picks for this 2020 selection, whenever it happens. And they’re not done, as the Trevor Timmins and Shane Churla duo is set to speak 11 more times coming up in 2021.
Now that’s all fine and dandy but those players, for one, need to all be signed and there is a limit for NHL clubs of 50 professional contracts. Just as importantly, those players need a place to play once turning professional and the official farm team of the AHL only has so many spots available. That’s when an ECHL affiliate becomes important.
Avoiding the McNiven experience
In an organisation which has been chastised for their player-development (or lack of thereof), having control of their prospects and having them at proximity becomes extremely important. Not only does having them close makes for easier travel for player-development personnel, but it makes call-ups less problematic and in the world we’re living in right now, avoiding having to fly is a smart idea.
Last season was problematic for the Canadiens and having players being loaned to other teams’ ECHL affiliates is that the organisation doesn’t control their playing time, or development for that matter. Last season was a real eye opener for Bergevin and his staff when young goaltender Michael McNiven found himself having little playing time in spite of grossly outplaying his counterparts, for the most part. McNiven was bounced around between three ECHL teams last season, playing a total of 22 ECHL games. He also played three games in Laval in the AHL. In four games with the Adirondack Thunder, he had a 1.75 GAA and a .941 Sv%, miles ahead of the other five goalies having played games there. He played 10 games with the Jacksonville Icemen recording a 2.79 GAA and a .915 Sv%, again best on the team. His performance was more modest with the Norfolk Admirals with a 4.16 GAA and a .889 Sv%. For the Rockets, he had a 2.33 GAA and a .919 Sv%.
An all-Quebec organisation?
When the Montreal Canadiens brought their farm team from St. John’s Newfoundland to Laval, a stone throw away from the Bell Centre, it allowed team management to keep a close eye on their young prospects while easing the communication between coaching staffs, while making player-transfers much easier. So far, it’s been a match made in heaven.
The City of Trois-Rivières has called a press conference for this afternoon, as they seem to be set to announce that an ECHL team will be making the Colisée their home. As speculations have been surrounding the Canadiens setting roots there, it’s rather easy to assume that this could very well be the case. This affiliation has the potential to be as natural as what Laval was for Montreal, although it remains to be seen if the team will receive enough fan support to make it viable.
Trois-Rivières was, for years, better known as a Major Junior City. In 1969, the Ducs joined the QMJHL, changing their name to the ever successful and popular Draveurs in 1973, before the franchise being moved to Sherbrooke for the 1992-93 season to become the Faucons/Castors.
If, as anticipated, the Canadiens have their ECHL affiliates in Trois-Rivières, it will be the first time, to my knowledge, that they have all three professional teams in Quebec. This is not only excellent news for the Mauricie City and surrounding area, but it could be a good match for the Habs’ organisation as well as Trois-Rivières is only an hour and a half away from Laval. There should be plenty of players to field that team in years to come, as it doesn’t look like the Bergevin management style wants to sell the farm for short term gains… and that augurs well for the organisation. Go Habs Go!