One thing that struck me about the Canadiens' draft was how six of the seven picks were forwards, with a preponderance of skilled players vs. the 'two-way' work ethic types. That is good news for those who long for a return to an exciting, more offence-oriented brand of hockey, if not quite the old firewagon style popularized by the team in the glory years. A look at the farm team and what prospects there were in the system revealed a definite lack of forwards with offensive flair; the more surefire prospects were defencemen Jared Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu. Longer shots like Brendan Gallagher and Danny Kristo showed an offensive dimension, and then the talent dropped off to Hail Mary candidates.
So with the shelf restocked with great to good prospects like Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg and Tim Bozon, as well as intriguing long shots like Charles Hudon and Erik Nystrom, the balance has been re-established. We've got some forwards coming in the pipeline, and not just pluggers. It's almost as if the Timmins team did so intentionally, although both he and Marc Bergevin claim that their was no preference given to position, that they only drafted the best available players.
Or did they? Are they executing a plan skillfully engineered by Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey before their unceremonial ouster in March? Have the Canadiens set in motion a machine that will inevitably manufacture a Stanley Cup championship?
It's an oft-repeated fact that NHL defencemen take longer to mature than forwards, usually a season or two longer. Goaltenders usually need even longer, maybe another season or two.
So have the Canadiens harnessed these forces and are they now poised to reap the benefits of this phenomenon? Have they timed these waves to coalesce together in a tsunami of talent that will sweep any and all that dare to confront it?
Let's imagine Pierre and Bob, meeting by themselves in a twenty-person boardroom, patting each other on the back, replete with confidence that the first stage of the operation has been successful: Carey Price is the franchise goalie every team seeks but few actually find. He's young, has been tempered in the fire of the playoffs and the cauldron of fan expectation, and seems to have come out stronger. He's 24, and will reach the peak of his athletic ability in about four years, and stay there for another five years or thereabouts, at least. He may be a freak like Martin Brodeur who doesn't fade in his thirties.
In any case, you have your franchise goalie, and you start to plan for the future. To build a consistent winning team and Cup contender, you need to do it through the draft, as trying to do so in free agency is impossible in a salary cap league. So you know you're going to stockpile draft picks and prospects, but to have a chance, it really helps when your team matures in sync, so that you're not just adding rookies while your veterans are declining, and barely keeping up with the treadmill. Ideally, you have a bunch of youngsters who blossom in the NHL around the same time, with a few support players and veterans, à la Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins. How do you ensure that they all peak at the same time?
You start with defencemen. You already have P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges, but need some talent up front, the fans say? Damn their pusillanimous hides. You don't care what they think, you barely condescend to speak to them once or twice a year. So you draft Jared Tinordi and Morgan Ellis. When you make a trade you take a defenceman back, any defenceman, like Greg Pateryn or Mark Mitera. Some of these guys are bound to turn out.
The next year, with the hounds baying for more forwards, you double down, and draft still more defencemen, Nathan Beaulieu, Josiah Didier, Magnus Nygren, Darren Dietz and Colin Sullivan. You sign European defencemen, guys like Raphaël Diaz, and long-lost prospect Alexei Emelin. You can't have too much of a good thing. Fans schfans. Direct them to the gift shop. Point at the legends dropping the puck at centre ice, to open the loss to the Hurricanes with a bit of pomp. You know what you're doing. They'll grovel with gratitude in a few years.
Now with the system teeming with defenceman talent that needs to percolate, you have successfully manoeuvered to the end of Stage 2. You sit back, have a cucumber sandwich with Perrier to celebrate, and plan for Stage 3. You'll need forwards. Talented forwards. Top of the draft forwards. But never fear, you've skillfully dragged down team morale and left gaping holes in the roster, and a couple of fortuitous injuries later, your squad is settling towards the bottom of the standings. You ensure the draft position by poisoning the well, savantly-timed coaching shuffles, questionable trades. You're scouting some talented 18 year olds and dreaming of Nail Yakupov when...
You're ousted in a palace coup. Some ignoramuses who never understood you or the way you work slit your throat and dumped you in a ditch. The plan will now fail.
Except the assassins are morally irresolute. They take pity on your young protégé and spare his life. He retains control of the machine, and continues your mad experiment, unknown to the self-satisfied courtiers he pretends to serve.
Now a different wave builds to merge with the others: Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg, Tim Bozon, Charles Hudon, Erik Nystrom. A wave that will peak quicker than the other two, but at exactly the same time....