There are many factors that mold a young player into becoming a great performer at the NHL level. Of course, it takes skills. Laurent Dauphin will never score 40 goals in this league. It also takes dedication and determination. It takes hard work and maturity, to be able at a young age to put workout and career ahead of parties, booze and drugs. It even takes luck, being able to avoid key injuries and being in an organisation where it’s possible to be given a chance, one that will support the young player, the young man. But one aspect is too often underrated: the quality of the veteran leadership to mentor those young players, to show them the ropes and lead by example.
Stating that the Canadiens are having an awful season would be an understatement and there are many reasons factoring into the equation. As newly appointed Executive V-P of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton said himself in a couple of occasions, it’s been the perfect storm against the team. I would like to focus on one aspect, the one that’s perhaps the most under appreciated by the fan base, and hopefully not by the new management group in place.
Marc Bergevin was highly criticized this past summer for playing hardball with two of his pending free agent veterans Corey Perry and Phillip Danault. Both were loved in the dressing room and young players looked up to them, listened to their advices, even copied them. There is no doubt that letting them both go has been one of the contributing factors into the season we’re seeing today.
But there is more. The unexpected long term loss of team captain Shea Weber and veteran leader Carey Price have been monumental in explaining what we’re seeing today. Then you add assistant-captain Paul Byron, who has just recently returned from injury, and Joel Edmundson who hasn’t skated in a game all season. Those are not only great impact hockey players on the ice, but they are all key leaders and examples for the young players on the team.
Fans understand that changes need to be made. It was clear when Bergevin got fired and the Gorton and Hughes duo arrived that they would change the culture. Not that it was bad, as we’re talking about a team that just months ago, went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. But new management had the perfect storm to start making changes, substantial changes, and bring in their own vision and philosophy.
There are players on this team who are not happy. It’s evident with the way they perform and the seemingly carelessness they are displaying both on and off the ice. But there are also some who have been performing well and who have stated publicly wanting to remain with the Canadiens, showing their true love for the City, the fans and the logo in front of the jersey. Some of them are young veterans who signed here long term, quality players on whom the young players on the team look up to, after losing the veterans mentioned earlier.
Tyler Toffoli was one of them. Suzuki, Caufield and Jake Evans all took to social media to show their pain and sadness to see him go. Toffoli signed in Montreal because he wanted to play with Suzuki. He was doing just that and was producing. The two had chemistry on and off the ice, and Caufield looked up to him as a dedicated, successful hockey player.
It would be easy to understand why management would want to trade veterans who are not producing to expectations, with high contracts. Toffoli was not only productive and a good mentor, but at $4.25 million a year, he was an absolute steal of a signing by Bergevin. Was the Lehkonen 2.0, a late first round pick and a late pick worth losing what Toffoli brings to the team and what he represents to the Canadiens’ young players? There are solid reasons to doubt it.
Which now leaves the question wide open as to which players will stay and which ones will be leaving through trades. Like Toffoli, Josh Anderson has publicly stated wanting to stay in Montreal and he’s playing like a guy who does. Seeing that Toffoli is the first one gone, it is not a stretch nor is it unreasonable to wonder if the young veteran is next to go.
Just as Bergevin took the heat for letting Danault and Perry walk, Gorton and Hughes should, at the very least, be questioned about the departure of Toffoli, all things considered. There are a lot more moves coming up, many more players who won’t be wearing the Habs’ uniform much longer. Here’s hoping that management starts thinking of the quality mentorship for the young players and not turn into the Edmonton Oilers…
Expectations, Season of Misery And Slice of Life by Marc-André Breault