MONTREAL, QC — It’s been a quiet summer in Habsland, or so it seems. Following up on the major roster overhaul of 2009, fans are left to embrace “breaking news” of minor signings.
I overheard a staffer in a Sports Expert store asking a coworker, “What do you think of James Wyman’s one-year deal?”
With all due respect to J.T., it was not a long conversation.
Rosters are starting to settle throughout the hockey world. Speculation about Canadiens’ line combinations has already begun. Faces familiar to Habs fans are finding new homes, some far from Montreal.
Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman continues to impress as he rebuilds the Lightning. Dominic Moore was the latest of the former Habs to be recruited by Yzerman. Moore signed a two-year deal with Tampa.
Would the Canadiens lineup be better with Moore over the combination of Mathieu Darche and Max Lapierre? No doubt. The same could be said for the duo of Yzerman and Guy Boucher in place of Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin.
But that’s a story for another time.
Fan favourite Glen Metropolit has not yet found work in the NHL, his preferred destination. Metropolit has an offer to play for the Swiss National League A possibly with EV Zug or HC Lugano. It would be a somewhat of a homecoming for Metropolit who won a championship with Lugano in 2006.
Brock Trotter expected to be competing for a spot on the fourth line with the Canadiens this Fall after a point-a-game season with the Bulldogs. Instead, the 22 year-old Trotter will be playing for Dinamo Riga (Latvia) of the KHL, in a one-year deal worth $250,000 (US).
Much closer to home, the Verdun Auditorium will welcome Louis Leblanc as the Montreal Juniors begin their training camp on August 15. The Canadiens’ 2009 first-round draft pick signed a three-year contract today and has decided to shelve his economics textbooks for the time-being.
Leblanc could have returned to Harvard to continue his education and coasted through a 31-game schedule. Instead, he will play twice as many games with the Juniors and should get top six minutes.
Habs fans cheered the decision. Leblanc’s academic advisor? Not so much.
Harvard does offer two summer economics courses in Venice. But the offerings in Italy or on the main campus are at the first year level. Harvard’s course calendar warns that “Summer school course grades will NOT be factored into your economics GPA.”
So much for completing a degree in the off-season.
It’s not just a lack of Habs news that makes this a significant story. Leblanc has garnered more than his share of the spotlight since last year’s draft. While Danny Kristo is one of the best young prospects in the system who will have an opportunity to make the Hamilton roster, Leblanc’s every step is under a microscope.
In July, I recall a man in a business suit who stood next to me for the better part of a hour watching the prospects at the Habs development camp.
“I can’t find Leblanc. Which one is he,” asked the man?
When I told him that Leblanc had attended the prior camp in June, the man muttered that he had wasted his time. He had no interest in players with names like Eller, Maxwell, Weber, Subban or Tinordi.
Such is the blessing and the burden of being Louis Leblanc.
For those wanting him to skip a grade to the pro ranks, Leblanc isn’t ready yet for a jump to the Bulldogs. Based on his performance at June’s development camp, there are a number of players well ahead of him on the depth chart. If anyone needs a reminder why it’s not a good idea to rush a player through the system, the name “Gui” should set them straight.
To most, the news about the move to the Juniors came as a bit of a surprise. All along, the Leblanc family habs been firm in their commitment to Harvard. They must have been under tremendous pressure by the organization to change their minds.
While the decision seems be a positive one for Leblanc’s development plan, it’s hard to ignore that other factors may have played a part.
Back in June, the Juniors sent Guillaume Asselin and a first round pick in 2011 for Leblanc and a third round pick in 2011. Asselin, once touted as having first-round draft potential, has seen his stock drop sharply. Nevertheless, he was still one of the more popular Juniors.
It wouldn’t have been an easy for management to fill the Verdun Auditorium without one of their poster players. The problem would only be compounded with their prized attraction playing for the Crimson in the ECAC. Farrel Miller, the owner of the Montreal Juniors, and his staff should be breathing much easier.
What about the Canadiens? For political reasons, President Pierre Boivin must be beaming that the team’s great Francophone hope will be playing in the QMJHL.
So, it’s a happy ending. Isn’t it?
This may be a case where the result could be in the best interest of the hockey career of Leblanc, even though the motivations of the clubs involved may not have been entirely pure.
From the family’s perspective, it’s normal that their focus would extend beyond hockey, to their son’s long-term future.
“As a family, we embrace education,” said Leblanc prior to last year’s entry draft. “It has always been a big factor in my life. I like studying and learning new things so I thought the college route was better for me.
“My mom, Marie, is a piano teacher and my dad, Yves, is a chemist. They’re both well educated and they take education seriously.”
Yet for some reason, Leblanc and his family did an about-face in the pursuit of an Ivy-league education. Their surprise decision coupled with the benefits to the Canadiens and the Juniors leave some with the nagging feeling that something doesn’t sit right about this decision.
Given the team’s track record, we will understand fans if their simple message on this topic to the Canadiens is, “Don’t screw this one up!”
(photo credit: Rogerio Barbosa)