Savard, Bergevin and Quebec Players: Numbers Don’t Lie

By JD Lagrange – Since retiring, Hall of Famer and former Canadiens’ general manager Serge Savard hasn’t been shy about telling everyone what he thinks of the situation when asked about his old team. For journalists, Savard is a candy because he says what he thinks and, let’s face it, he has some credibility. After all, he’s the last general manager to bring Lord Stanley to the NHL’s most successful 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 does not always hold water. This is particularly true when he talks about the French Canadian players of the Canadiens.

Savard is a close friend of the Molson family and Geoff Molson hired him as a personal consultant when the team was looking for a General Manager in the spring of 2012. It was he who helped Molson choose Marc Bergevin as the position back then. But when it comes to language, the former number 18 choses to criticize Bergevin’s work for the lack of Quebecers on the team. Indeed, he once said during an interview at RDS “5 à 7”, that he had warned Bergevin of the importance of scouting Quebec players.

“I told him, but I guess 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

Serge Savard

For many more pragmatic people, like yours truly, such statements did not sit well. It seems like the landscape has changed since the mid-80s, mid-90s and today. Until now, I had no solid numbers to base it on. We knew that there are more teams today. But upon doing extensive research, I realized how unrealistic, unfair, and frankly out of touch with reality Savard’s comments were. To be fair, I doubt he knows how unrealistic he is, but here are the facts. Believe it or not, I present only a small portion of the research that I have done, as I don’t want to bore you with numbers. But it all goes in the same direction.

The Canadian Hockey League

The CHL is made up 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 (LHJMQ). For a long time, these three leagues were only for players born in Canada. Then all three leagues changed their rules allowing “outsiders”, or “imports”.

Today, each CHL team is allowed to dress and play a maximum of two foreign players each season, who are selected each year 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. Therefore, this means a total of 120 foreign players across Canada. And because of that, 120 Canadian children cannot play and develop in the best junior leagues in their own country! No wonder someone as patriotic as Don Cherry is upset about this situation.

Additionally, the NHL is scouting more overseas and at American colleges than ever before. More American teams in the NHL means more Canadian-born players playing in the United States and having children there, who then in turn are playing hockey in the United States. All of these factors contribute over time to the decline in the number of Canadian-born players in the National Hockey League, even without accounting for imports. If I had pushed the reflection further, there would be even fewer Canadian players drafted, because these imported players are often high level talents (Ex: Artemi Panarin).

Before looking at the numbers, I separated them into two epochs. Savard was General Manager of the Canadiens from 1983 to 1995, while Bergevin has been general manager at Montreal since 2012, so his last selection was in 2021. Here are two obvious facts:

  1. There are more teams in the NHL now than in Savard’s day
  2. There are fewer Draft rounds to allow a team to select

I took the number of rounds per year under each GM, added them up and averaged them. I did the same for the number of teams, hence the fractions. Without further ado, let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

# of Rounds# of Teams% Draft Ratio/Round *CHL % Picks
*1 / # of Teams

Between 1983 and 1995, each team had 4 and a half more draft rounds than between 2012 and 2021. There were approximately eight more teams in the NHL between 2012-2021 than between 1983-1995. That’s eight more teams talking ahead of 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 more than 50 fewer players who were available for your team when it’s their turn to speak.

League by league

Now, let’s take a look at the performance of each of the three leagues individually.


Oh look, the QMJHL percentage has gone up! Good news, right? Wait…

The QMJHL and Quebecers

These QMJHL numbers don’t tell the whole story. You see, since the discussions are not about the number of players selected in the QMJHL, but rather the number of Quebecers selected by the Habs, I went further in my study. Let’s look at all players selected in this league and remove foreign players. I also removed players from the Maritimes who are not French-speaking. Yes, it was a lot of work (and research), but I didn’t want to do things halfway. So here is what I found…

Quebecois% Drafted of CHL% Drafted Overall# per TeamOdds of Drafting one *
Quebecois specific table
* % of Quebecois (of all drafted players) / # of teams

The percentage of Quebecers has dropped by more than 2.5%. What does that mean ? This means that the arrival of more European and American players in the QMJHL distorts the statistics of the league. More Europeans play and are selected in the QMJHL by NHL teams, but fewer Quebecers. This means that the QMJHL produces far less local talent in Quebec. In addition, there were almost seven fewer Quebecers per team between the two eras. That’s per team folks, not just on the Habs.


So, Mr. Savard… here is a summary of my research, which I compiled for you, yes, but also for the small group of politically motivated individuals in Quebec, who are going after the Canadiens and their current CEO for, according to them, failing to exercise due diligence in choosing local products.

  • Bergevin had four fewer rounds than Savard to choose players.
  • There were eight more teams under Bergevin than under Savard, so eight more teams choose between each selection.
  • The number of CHL players has dropped considerably since Savard.
  • There are fewer Quebecers drafted in the entire NHL than ever before (not just the Canadiens).
  • There are fewer Quebecers in the NHL than in Savard’s time, in the entire league.
  • The chances of drafting a Quebecer under Bergevin had almost decreased by 40% since the days of Savard (0.31% to 0.18%).

Want to point a finger at a culprit? Perhaps we should take a more informed approach and point the finger at the QMJHL instead. I would go even further and say that Hockey Quebec is doing a terrible job of not providing the talent needed to power the Q as well. The problem, Mr. Savard and company, is NOT Bergevin and the Canadians. It is up to the QMJHL and Hockey Quebec to work hand in hand to help promote young players to return to the game. And it is up to these leagues to ensure the proper development of these young men with a good ratio practice/game and better coach education, focusing on skills rather than systems for winning games. The odds will always be worse than they were under Savard, but at least there will be more choice, which is not the case today.

There is a glimmer of hope for the QMJHL and the Canadiens though, as Hockey Quebec has a very good man at the helm now in Jocelyn Thibault, and it looks like the 2022 Draft is rather promising… although not at the very top, but depth-wise at least. We shall find out.

More reading…

Drafted Prospects rules: NHL Is Overdue For Changes

Sometimes, because a rule has been in place for a long time, it means that is has overcome the test of time. Other times though, it is outdated and due to be changed. That’s the case for the old unrestricted free agents rule for NHL drafted players. Many teams have lost quality prospects because they chose to re-enter the Draft or play their four years of College. While re-entering the Draft offers no guarantee for a young player’s destination, College players become completely free to sign wherever they want. The bottom line is teams are losing quality prospects for the benefit of others.

There are more teams in the NHL than ever so when you think about it, it would be to most College player’s benefit to wait and sign with which ever team they want while finishing their education. This way, they could go where they want. And we’re not only talking about US-born players here. Many Canadians choose the College way to the NHL by getting a full ride scholarship to get there, an education to fall back on if something was to happen to their hockey career.

Canadian Hockey League (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) Players: Teams that a draft a CHL player have two years to sign him to an entry-level contract before forfeiting the player’s NHL rights. The affected player can re-enter the NHL Draft and, if unselected, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

For collegiate and college-track players, NHL teams hold the rights to drafted prospects for the duration of their NCAA eligibility. In the case of a player who spends his draft-plus-year in an amateur junior A league such as the USHL before starting college, it could be a five-year signing window.


Teams that finished the lowest in the standings tend to pick sooner in the NHL Draft. Therefore, all things being equal, they have been odds at selecting the better players in each round. The NHL does that so bottom teams are not permanently stuck at the bottom of the standings. While there have been rule changes to the Draft over time, this formula has worked quite well.

When you have a good prospect who chooses to sacrifice a year of pro hockey by finishing College, he gets the benefit of being able to choose to sign with which ever team he wants. With the Entry Level Contract (ELC) salary cap, it’s not a matter of money offered. The player simply goes where he wants to play. How fair is it for the team that drafted him, who was awarded the benefit of selecting him before anyone else? How logical is that?

Two possible solutions

If the NHL really wants to fix this loop-hole, they will have to sit down and amend those rules. While there are possibly more options than that, I see two that would be rather easy to implement:

1- Change the age or amount of time teams have to sign prospects

This would be a blanket rule, no matter where the player plays. You are drafted in the NHL, the team that drafted you owns your rights, signed or not, for “x” amount of years, or until “y” age. But it has to be a couple of years after the four years of US College.

To avoid teams punishing players, an ELC has to have been presented to the player no later than by the end of his last year junior or College or, in the case of European players, by a certain age. If the player declines, then it’s on him if he sits. But it’s his team or nothing.

2- Make the College rule like Junior hockey

At the very least, change the rule for College players and match what is done with CHL players. Instead of being complete free agents, those who choose to play their final year of College should have to re-enter the Draft if they choose not to sign with the team that originally drafted them. It would be at least a bit of a deterrent as they would likely be selected by a weaker team, unlikely with the team they really want to play for.

Jordan Harris

The Canadiens’ prospect has absolutely little to no reason to sign with the Canadiens, merely weeks away from choosing to sign wherever he wishes. While it’s not impossible for him to sign with the team that drafted him and invested in sending development coaches to help him out in his development, it is very unlikely to happen.

Until the NHL decides to address this issue, something tells me that we will see more and more players choosing to finish College. If the NHL and NHLPA truly want to do what’s best for the league as a whole, meaning for the bottom teams or smaller markets, they will look into this matter as it’s an easy fix.

More reading…

Avoiding The Worst Case Scenario

Three Habs Who Could Be Traded?

Edmundson’s Impact On Habs’ Defense