What do Jake Evans, Jarret Tyszka, and Mikhail Sergachev all have in common?
All three have been injured at the annual September rookie tournament that the Montreal Canadiens have participated in over the last few years.
Montreal’s management needs to carefully reassess the value of risking the safety of their budding prospects in this meaningless event that serves little practical purpose.
If this year’s tourney is like past ones, one or more of the Canadiens’ prospects will find themselves either in the team’s sickbay or worse.
Previous Habs general managers, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier, wisely kept their prospects away from this tournament due to injury concerns. Going forward, current GM Marc Bergevin, should grudgingly acknowledge the error of his ways and jettison Montreal’s participation in this event. No one will rake him over the coals for doing so.
For those of you who have forgotten, here’s what happened to Jake Evans and former Habs Mikhail Sergachev and Jarret Tyszka.
Last year, Evans received a brutal hit from Ottawa Senators’ tryout Jonathan Aspirot. In a more regulated setting, Aspirot’s actions would have led to a major suspension. The injury to Evans was so severe that the listless forward was carried off on a stretcher. What happened to Evans could easily have been career-ending. Fortunately, he fully recovered.
The year before, Sergachev suffered an upper-body injury from Ottawa Senators’ prospect Vincent Dunn that sidelined him for a while. Again, this was a close call for the then top prospect in Montreal’s organization.
At this same tournament, Tyszka, whom I felt had a strong upside within the Habs’ talent pool, suffered so severe a concussion from Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Hudson Elynuik that it took over half a season for him to resume play. This summer, the Canadiens did not sign Tyszka to a new contract and his dream of becoming an NHL professional player now seems less likely to happen. He recently opted to not return to the WHL for his senior season and instead intends to enroll in college. What a totally avoidable waste of this diamond in the rough talent.
Trevor Timmins once referred to defenseman Mikhail Sergachev as a “Lamborghini” prospect. Why then, did Montreal take one of its Lambo’s for a test drive on this muddy and rocky ATV path of a tournament? How did participation in this showcase event help in Sergachev’s development?
All three players that I mentioned were hurt as a result of some less-talented prospect desperately hoping to get noticed by playing the role of a tough guy. Rookie tournaments like this one give oxygen to these types of individuals.
If I were a player agent, I would demand that my client’s team pay extra insurance in this unregulated competition that has zero power in terms of handing out suspensions for goonery. And if I were a lawyer, I’d look into the liabilities associated with these poorly regulated events.
The supposed purpose of the September tournament is to give some of Montreal’s high-end young talent some comparable competition and boost their development. I’m not sold on this notion.
Most of these players will get more than their fair share of peer competition in their respective junior leagues where tough guy, subpar prospects have less incentive to get noticed. At the very least, they will pay for their misdeeds either by their respective leagues’ officials and/or by opposing team enforcers. None of this will likely happen in an unregulated four-day tournament.
If development is the goal by the Habs then there are significantly better options out there which leads to my second key point that I’m going to make in this piece:
The Montreal Canadiens should end participation in the September tournament and replace it with monthly skills evaluation combines where each prospect’s progress – NCAA ones unfortunately excluded – are monitored in June, July, August, and September.
Right now, we are still in the “Wild West” when it comes to player development. Players are basically left to their own devices hiring their own trainers and coaches. Or even worse, some either train on their own or with less talented prospects.
This is a terribly inefficient approach. A better method is a monthly academy style training program that emulates those used by professional soccer franchises and is supported by team-approved/vetted off-site coaches.
That is, the Canadiens should have four summer combines with first-rate skills coaches – the best that money can buy – along with their own coaching, training, scouting, and development staff on hand. During these monthly get-togethers, they could assess and advise on each player’s performance/efficiencies and deficiencies and then monitor their subsequent progress.
Each prospect would also be provided a list of team approved recommended offsite trainers found wherever a player lives during the offseason and would then be expected to meet improvement targets monitored throughout the summer combines.
The Habs need to certify that whoever is being used by one of their draft picks for training is appropriate for the task. Greater centralization in this area is desperately required.
Think of this training and development approach like farming. No farmer just plants seeds, no matter how good the quality, and just periodically looks after his crop. His work is ongoing and he must oversee any hired help tending the fields.
Likewise, just letting prospects develop on their own will not maximize the Canadiens’ draft yield. More oversight is required.
The Habs need to end their 20th-century band-aid approach to development. They need to stay ahead of the curve.
Imagine if someone like Michael McCarron had had a first-rate skating coach right from his draft year rather than from last summer. Multiple combines could have fixed his skating mechanics early on and who knows how far this former first-round pick would now be in his development.
Likewise, why did Victor Mete hire a shooting coach this summer when this was a known problem area from day one?
These are two clear examples of reactive rather than proactive training approaches. A summer’s worth of combines would have isolated their deficiencies and boosted both McCarron’s and Mete’s productivity.
One of the most glaring weaknesses in the organization is player development. The hiring of Joel Bouchard as coach of their AHL franchise in Laval was a good first step in addressing this problem but this was not enough. One very good addition does not turn things around.
And yes, I know that the Habs have a few full-time player development coaches but these former players are generalists. They are not experts in all facets of the game. Many more Bouchard’s need to be brought aboard.
If you don’t believe in my arguments on the importance of enhanced development then simply look at what it has done for Finland’s hockey players. This tiny country of just five million people is becoming a hockey superpower thanks to its focus on making its minuscule pool of players the best that they can be. The recent Finnish invasion of talent has not been a fluke. It is the result of a superb development program.
I strongly believe that Montreal has at least 10 prospects that can become very good NHLers. I also keep hearing the narrative that only 2-3 of them will ultimately pan out. Historically, such low yields are the norm.
Why? Because NHL teams by and large principally leave their prospects to develop on their own. You get what you don’t pay for.
If the Canadiens though put true resources to develop them like the Finns, there is no doubt in my mind that the Habs will see many of these top ten prospects live up to what their amateur scouts had anticipated them to be.
The Canadiens spend millions of dollars on first-rate scouting and even more so on rookie contracts. The final missing piece is having a player development program that maximizes the team’s return on their investment.
Now some of you may argue that the costs for these monthly summer combines might be prohibitive. Let’s then get creative. There are workarounds to these expenditures.
For example, why not strike a contra deal with an airline such as Air Canada to sponsor this event and fly everyone in? Second, gate receipts generated from fans watching the players play and get trained could then be used to subsidize hotel costs. The Canadiens could also write off some of the expenditures for these training combines as business expenses. With a bit of creativity, the financial challenges could reasonably be held in check.
The bottom line here is that summer monthly combines are a better alternative and ensure that Habs management is paying closer attention to their multi-million dollar draft investments. The September tournament does not deliver the most blast for the player development buck and risks serious injuries.
The current Wild West approach needs to end. There is are better 21st-century ways of maximizing player performances. Rookie tournaments are not one of them.
In the meantime, here’s hoping no one, either from the Canadiens or their competitors, gets seriously hurt this September. This useless tournament needs to be shelved once and for all.