Slafkovsky – A Taste of Maple Syrup And Poutine

By JD Lagrange – The debate is on: where will Juraj Slafkovsky play this upcoming season? And the answers are as variant as there are fans, or so it seems. They go from playing in the OHL for the Erie Otters, who own his rights, to top line in the NHL, and anything in between. Yet, Canadiens’ Co-Director of Amateur Scouting, Nick Bobrov, dropped a hint when he met the press with Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting) after the Draft.

According to Bobrov, Slafkovsky has nothing more to learn by returning in Liiga, a league he qualifies as extremely defensive. The Canadiens feel that the big winger needs to tap more into his offensive skills while adapting to the smaller ice surfaces of North America. He also stated that this will be a decision taken with Slafkovsky’s input. If you read between the lines, it basically means that unless the young Slovak insists on returning to Europe, he will likely play on this side of the big pond next season.

His contract

Juraj Slafkovsky signed his ELC

Before getting into where he will be playing, we must be aware of Slafkovsky’s contract structure. He has signed his entry level contract (ELC), which comes with a minimum cap hit of $950,000. An important factor to keep in mind however, is that he can get as much as $3.5 million in bonuses on top of that. According to puckmedia.com, there are two categories of Performance Bonuses for forwards:

“A” Bonuses are worth $212,500 each, to a maximum of $850,000 (maximum 4 achieved). For players drafted starting in 2022, “A” bonuses are worth $250,000 each, to a maximum of $1,000,000 (maximum 4 achieved). They are achieved by each of:

  • 20 goals
  • 35 assists
  • 60 points
  • Top six in Time on Ice among forwards (in total and/or per game) on team (minimum 42 games)
  • Top three in +/- among forwards on team (minimum 42 games)
  • 0.73 points per game (minimum 42 games)
  • End-of Season All Rookie Team
  • All Star Selection
  • All Star MVP

“B” Bonuses are worth a maximum of $2 Million (up to $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 and later), and the full amount of the bonus is awarded if any of the following is achieved:

  • Top Ten in NHL Forward Goals, Assists, points, or points per game (min 42 GP)
  • Win any of the following trophies: Hart, Selke, Richard, Conn Smythe, Norris
  • 1st or 2nd team All-Star

Contract structure: If an entry-level contract has performance bonuses, the first $850K (up to $1M for players drafted in 2022) are “A” bonuses, and the remainder (to a maximum of another $2M or $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 or later) are “B” Bonuses. For example:

  • If a contract has $1.1M in bonuses, the first $850K are “A” bonuses, and the remaining $250K are “B”
  • If a contract has $500K in bonuses, they are all “A” bonuses. The player would get $212,500 each for the first 2 items achieved, and then $75,000 if a 3rd item is achieved.

The CBA allows teams to differ the bonuses but eventually, they have to count against the cap.

Unlikely going to junior

Because he was drafted out of a professional league in Europe, Slafkovsky doesn’t have to abide by the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, meaning that he is free to play in the AHL as a teenager.

His CHL rights are owned by the Erie Otters, but it is unlikely he will return to Junior after playing pro last season. So it essentially means that he will either make the Montreal Canadiens or be sent down to play with the Laval Rocket to begin the season.

“Slafkovsky is a pretty impressive kid. He’s a very strong kid. He’s big, but he still has lots of room to grow. He’s a kid that you want to be around. He’s got such a charisma, you want to be talking to him, you want to be around him. He wants to make a difference, and that’s the way he plays the game. Here in Montreal, he just loves it. He had a feel for it on Thursday when all the fans were cheering for him. This guy, he’s a hockey player, and he wants to get better. He’s not perfect, but he wants to get better, and for me that’s a hockey player.” ~ Martin Lapointe, Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting

Size factor

One of the biggest deterrents sometimes in deciding where a teenagers should be playing goes beyond talent. Countless times have we seen players coming out of junior or Europe not being fully developed physically, being vastly underweight to face grown men at the highest levels of pro hockey. These kids can get man-handled when facing the top athletes in the world, and severe injuries can occur just because of that.

It is not the case when talking about Slafkovsky. Standing at 6-foot 3-inches and 218 lbs, and having played against men in Liiga, at the Olympics and at the World Championships, he has the physique to handle the bigger North American brand of hockey on smaller ice surfaces.

AHL or NHL

Based on the Canadiens brass’ comments, on the caliber of the player (first overall pick) and on his size, it seems legitimate to think that Slafkovsky’s best bet for next season will be at the pro level in North America. What this means is that he is most likely going to get immerge into the maple syrup culture of Montreal/Laval.

As a first overall pick, he will certainly be given every opportunity to showcase what he can do at camp and in pre-season. He might even start the season in Montreal. But as a waivers exempt youngster, it is also possible that he could be making the 30 minutes trip between Montreal and Laval fairly regularly throughout the season.

I personally don’t expect him to start the season on the top-2 lines in Montreal. But he could (or should) very well play that role in Laval. If in Montreal, I can see him being placed with a couple of sound veterans to start.

Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Drouin – Dach – Dadonov
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Hoffman – Evans – Armia

More reading…

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
1983-199511.5422.464.4544.12
2012-2021730.53.2841.59
Difference-4.54+8.04-1.17-2.53
*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.

CHL Drafted% OHL% WHL% QMJHL
1983-199543.7837.3518.88
2012-202141.4435.0523.54
Difference-2.34-2.30+4.66

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 *
1983-199515.977.0410.510.31%
2021-202113.405.573.900.18%
Difference-2.57-1.47-6.61-0.13%
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.

Conclusion

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.

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