Ever since his retirement, former Habs Hall of Famer and GM Serge Savard has not shied away from letting everyone know what he thinks about whatever situation he’s being asked about his former team. For reporters, Savard is candy as he will speak his mind and, let’s face it, he carries a bit of credibility. He is, after all, the last GM to have brought Lord Stanley to the NHL’s most storied franchise, and he did it twice, in 1986 and 1993. But sometimes, it feels like “the Senator” likes to hear himself talk and what he says doesn’t always hold water. It’s particularly the case when speaking about French Canadian players on the Habs.
Savard is a close friend to the Molson family and Geoff Molson hired him as his personal consultant when the team was looking for its last General Manager. He’s the one who helped Molson select Marc Bergevin as the new GM back in the Spring of 2012. But when it comes to language, the former number 18 has been rather critical of Bergevin’s work for the lack of Quebecois on the team. As a matter of fact, in an interview on “le 5 à 7 on RDS”, he stated having warned Bergevin of the importance of scouting Quebecois players.
“I told him, but I imagine he didn’t listen. I told him that people will let him win in English, but they won’t let him lose in English.”
~ Serge Savard
For many more practical people like yours truly, this statement didn’t sit well. It seemed like the landscape had changed since the mid-80’s to mid-90’s to today. Up until now, I didn’t have solid numbers to base this on. Oh we knew that there are more teams today. But doing the deep research made me realize how unrealistic, unfair and quite frankly, out of touch Savard was in his comments. To be fair, I doubt he knows how far off he is realistically. But here are the facts. Believe it or not, I’m only putting a fraction of the research I’ve done, not to bore you with numbers. But all of it points in the same direction.
The Canadian Hockey League
The CHL is formed of the three major junior hockey leagues in Canada: the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). For the longest time, those three leagues were for Canadian-born players only. Then, all three leagues changed their rules by allowing “Imports”. Today, each team in the CHL is permitted to dress and play a maximum of two import players each season who are selected annually through the CHL Import Draft process. There are 60 teams in the CHL: 22 in the WHL, 20 in the OHL and 18 in the QMJHL. So that’s 120 import players across Canada. 120 Canadian kids cannot play and develop in the top junior leagues in their own country! No wonder someone as patriotic as Don Cherry was upset about that.
Further, the NHL is scouting overseas and in US Colleges more than ever. More American teams mean more Canadian-born players playing in the US and having children in hockey in the US. All of this contribute over time to the decline of Canadian-born players to the National Hockey League and that, even when not taking Imports into consideration. Had I broke this down further, it would be even fewer Canadian players drafted as those imported players are often top end talent.
Before looking at numbers, I have separated them into two “eras”. Savard was GM of the Canadiens between 1983 to 1995 while Bergevin has been GM in Montreal since 2012 so his last draft was in 2020. Here are two obvious facts:
- There are more teams in the NHL today than under Savard
- There are fewer rounds at the draft for each team to pick
I took the number of rounds per year under each GM, added them up and made an average. I did the same for the number of teams so that’s why you have fractions in there. Without further ado, let’s look at some numbers, shall we?
|# of Rounds||# of Teams||% Draft Ration/Round *||CHL % Picks|
|Difference||– 4.32||+ 7.87||– 1.15||– 2.20|
Between 1983-1995, each team had 4 more rounds of draft picks than between 2012-2020. There were about eight (8) more teams in the NHL between 2012-2020 than between 1983-1995. That’s eight more teams speaking before you for the next round, eight more players selected between each of your picks, eight fewer players available… each round. In the seventh round of today’s Draft, that’s over 50 fewer players that were available to your team when it’s their turn to speak.
League by league
Let’s now look at the CHL’s specifics, more specifically its three league’s performances.
|CHL Drafted||% OHL||% WHL||% QMJHL|
|Difference||– 1.58||– 2.64||+ 4.22|
Oh look, the percentage of QMJHL has gone up! Great news, right? Wait.
QMJHL and Quebecois
Those numbers from the QMJHL don’t tell the whole story. You see, since the talks aren’t about the number of players selected from the Q, but rather the number of Quebecois selected by the Habs, I went further in my study. Let’s look at all of the players selected from that league and take out the Imports. I also took out the players from the Maritimes that are not French speaking. Yes, that was a lot of work (and research) but I didn’t want to do this half-ass. So here’s what I found…
|QUEBECOIS||% Drafted of CHL||% Drafted Overall||# per Team||Odds of Drafting one *|
|Difference||– 2.36||– 1.34||– 6.92||– 0.12%|
* % of Québécois (of all drafted players) / # teams
The percentage of Quebecois has gone down by over 2%. What does that mean? It means that the arrival of more European and American players in the QMJHL are skewing the league’s stats. More Europeans are playing and are being selected from the Q by NHL teams, but fewer Quebecois. It means that the QMJHL is producing much less local talent in Quebec. Further, there have been seven (7) fewer Quebecois per team between the two eras. Per team folks. Not just the Habs.
So, Mr. Savard… here’s a summary of my research, which I’ve compiled for you yes, but also for the small but vocal group of politically driven individuals in Quebec, pounding on the Canadiens and their current GM for not doing their due diligence in picking local products.
- Bergevin has four fewer rounds to pick players than Savard
- There are eight more teams under Bergevin than under Savard, so eight more teams picking in between each selection
- The number of CHL players has gone down drastically since Savard
- There are fewer Quebecois drafted to the entire NHL than ever before (not just the Habs)
- There are fewer Quebecois in the NHL than during the days of Savard, league-wide
- The odds of drafting a Quebecois under Bergevin have almost been cut by 40% from the Savard days (0.31% to 0.19%)
You want to point fingers? Perhaps a more educated approach is needed and the finger should be pointed to the QMJHL instead. I’d go further in stating that Hockey Quebec is doing a very poor job at providing the necessary talent to feed the Q as well. The issue, Mr. Savard and company, is NOT Bergevin and the Canadiens. It’s up to the QMJHL and Hockey Quebec to work hand in hand to help promote young players to get back into the game. And it’s up to those leagues to ensure the proper development of these young men with proper practice/game ratio and better formation of coaches, focussing on skills instead of systems to win games. The odds will still be worst than they were under Savard, but there will at least be numbers to pick from, which isn’t the case today. Go Habs Go!