Marc Bergevin continues to put his stamp on things, and transforming his team. The latest indication is the announcement that the Canadiens will take part in the '2015 NHL Rookie Tournament', along with the Maple Leafs, Senators and Penguins.
These camps are common in the NHL, and features young prospects, recent draft picks and camp tryouts in games against other teams' prospects. There is the Traverse City tournament hosted by the Red Wings that this year will include the Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues.
The Canucks every year host the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C., featuring the youngsters of the Flames, Oilers and Jets.
For the last few years, the Canadiens have avoided taking part in such rookie tournaments. The Gainey-Gauthier admin preferred a ‘teaching’ camp, not a prospects tournament. They'd hold an individual rookie camp, then a main camp with some of the luminaries from the previous camp to flesh out two full teams for scrimmage purposes. This entailed inviting a lot of players to try out, to ensure having enough bodies for full lineups, and to account for dings and injuries.
One advantage of this approach is the 'leave no stones unturned' aspect, that you get a closer look at a lot of players and may find a diamond in the rough, a player who for some reason(s) slipped through the cracks of the draft or was let go by the team which held his rights. This screening process was largely aimed at LHJMQ products, in the hope that more local players could be found and developed.
Another reason that the Canadiens in the recent past decided not to take part is that when in the past they did participate, their prospects were getting gooned, assaulted by those of other teams. I wasn’t on social media back then, but the vets say that while the Canadiens would show up with 'true' prospects, other teams would stock up on young professionals, players in their early twenties who had been let go by other teams, and who were desperately trying to catch on with a new team, by any means, and being 'physical' against teenagers was one way they were trying to catch a GM's eye.
Mix in some natural rivalry between divisional opponents, and the games reportedly degenerated into slugging matches, nasty affairs replete with stickwork, fights, etc. It got so bad that the Canadiens management team decided they could get more done by running their own camp, there was no benefit to being in these rookie tournaments.
I think it was last summer that Marc Bergevin was asked about the value of a prospect camp, and he said there were advantages and disadvantages for both options, but that they’d held a tournament in Chicago and he’d thought that it was valuable for their rookies. He said at the time that he was happy following the current practice for now, and he’d study the matter further.
So I guess our GM has decided to have a more competitive, baptism-by-fire experience for the young ‘uns, even at the cost of a greater likelihood of mayhem and/or injury.
One important distinction is that Marc Bergevin is given a lot of credit in league circles for his people skills. He has strong relationships with a multitude of executives and coaches on other teams, and is famously adept at cultivating and maintaining these, whereas the previous régime was more idiosyncratic, more wonky than anything else.
We can hope that the current braintrust can establish some ground rules with the other teams, about who is eligible for inclusion on these teams, how the games will proceed, how they'll be refereed, so there are no nasty surprises. The last thing we want is for our kids to act as punching bags for opponents vying for a grinder/enforcer role.
So get ready for a new camp routine, one with fewer Sahir Gills and Stefano Momessos, but one where players like Mike McCarron, Connor Crisp, Brett Lernout, even the odd Bokondji Imama is better able to showcase their particular set of skills, to use their size and strength with more abandon, as opposed to the restraint they had to show when facing their own teammates in controlled scrimmages.