First published at All_Habs on July 21st
Some, like Bertrand Raymond’s June 23rd rant on the RDS website, went off the deep end suggesting current Habs GM, Pierre Gauthier, is more American than Quebecer for how he supposedly builds his teams devoid of Quebec-born talent.
Others, like Rejean Tremblay, have repeatedly written along similar lines over the years and together with other Quebec based media in both languages, have regularly discussed the issue as a hot topic item every draft season and each and every time a Quebec-born player is traded or signed to a team other than the Montreal Canadiens.
I thought the time was right to sit back and study the general health of the system that produces Quebec-born hockey players and that required a long, hard look at the QMJHL. To do that properly meant looking at the numbers in context. In order to achieve that, I decided to study not just the “Q” but the other North American leagues, and even the European leagues, to be as thorough as possible in order to better understand what’s happening over time within the NHL’s primary feeder leagues and the QMJHL in particular.
This article will focus on Quebec-born players within the “Q” while my next article will compare the leagues with each another.
This month-long study analysed the “Q” from 1990-2010 and the other leagues from 2000-2010 in an effort to provide some real answers and insight on the apparent decline of Quebec-born players being drafted into the NHL, which leagues have adapted and excelled and which leagues have failed to adjust, especially in the post lockout era supplying talent to the NHL.
Please note that in all draft years, only the first seven rounds of each NHL draft were examined and all percentages are based on the total number selected at the end of round seven to provide balanced statistics to compensate for a period in time which saw the NHL expand from 21 to 30 teams and a reduction in draft rounds from nine to seven in 2005.
The most startling revelation is that in spite of 200+ new NHL jobs created through expansion since 1990, a player increase of 43 percent, not counting new jobs to stock their minor league affiliates, the number and percentage of Quebec-born players being drafted out of the “Q” has actually been stagnant for 20 years.
Even with all the new opportunities, the average number of players drafted each year has essentially flat lined, on average fluctuating between 13 and 14 Quebec-born players drafted out of the “Q” in 75 percent of the five year clusters studied over the past 20 years. Only one boon period, from 1995-1999 saw a brief increase to 20 players on average, even though more NHL jobs are now available during a time that has seen Quebec’s population grow by over one million people.
Within the “Q” itself, the percentage of Quebec-born players being drafted has dropped constantly; from 87.4 percent to just 56.8 percent over the past 20 years. Now import players from Europe, the Maritime Provinces and to a lesser degree, the United States are being increasingly depended upon to stock the “Q” for lack of enough quality Quebec-born talent, even though the QMJHL has expanded from 12 teams to 18 and created more opportunities.
At first glance one might think this is a natural result of expansion into the Maritime Provinces and Lewiston, Maine but on average, Quebec-born players today make up more than 50 percent of those rosters, even in Lewiston. So, even though there’s one less Quebec-based team in 2010 than in 1990, there are actually more Quebec-born players in the “Q” without a noticeable increase in players being drafted.
Since the NHL lockout, import players now make up 45 percent of the draft picks coming out of the QMJHL and are on pace to become the majority, possibly as soon as 2015:
NHL draft picks - Breakdown of the QMJHL
|PERIOD||QUEBEC BORN||DRAFT %||IMPORTS - EURO||DRAFT %||IMPORTS - CAN/US||DRAFT %|
To be thorough, I looked at the other North American leagues to see if the “Q” was bleeding talent and while the numbers are quite small, it is happening and the trend is increasing. CHL territory rules make it difficult for a young player to play in another Canadian league (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) unless a parent resides within the territorial boundaries of that league.
Because of the restrictions, Quebec-born players looking to leave the “Q” are seeing an increase in the recommendations made by their family advisors to enter US hockey programs offered by high schools and college prep schools as a viable alternative to the “Q”. It should be noted that the same scenario is developing in the OHL and WHL though with far less impact due to their ability to each produce on average, twice the number of draft picks compared the QMJHL. It jumps to three to four times the amount if you focus on just Quebec-born players within the “Q”.
These days, Quebec-born players can actually increase their chances of being drafted out of the US, a surprising revelation that will be discussed in my next article. The costs are prohibitive to all but more affluent families unless they manage to have a significant portion of their education covered by scholarships.
In the 1990s this was virtually unheard, grew to an average of one player annually in the first half of this decade to an average of two Quebec-born players since the lockout ended who are foregoing the “Q” to play in the US. Certainly not an exodus but a slow and steady increase nonetheless. In a weak draft year like 2010 which saw the “Q” produce just 10 Quebec-born draft picks, it represents a 20 percent loss.
Player Development – Past vs. Present
Ask most people today what sort of Quebec-born player the QMJHL has a history of developing and the first response is always goaltenders. After that, it’s usually centers, wingers and defensemen in that order. But what about 1990-1999 compared to 2000-2010? Has the “Q” gotten better or worse at developing certain positions and has the quantity and quality of Quebec-born players changed?
I’ve broken down each position, analysed the production of QMHL players who made the NHL and created a composite sketch for a typical Quebec-born player drafted at each position for each decade to better visualize how each position has changed over time. This is purely to illustrate how players between the decades have performed in the NHL.
As for the percentages seen in the 2000-2010 groupings below, they will be slightly lower for the simple reason that some draft picks just haven’t had enough time to make the NHL, though it’s debatable if the averages would actually change much when one looks at the caliber of Quebec-born prospects waiting for their chance. Draft picks who I feel have a legitimate shot in the near future are listed but as you’ll see, there’s an issue of quality and quantity. European, Canadian and US players are grouped together as “Imports” since this is a study of Quebec-born players:
The 1990s produced 17/26 (65%) draft picks who went on to play at least one NHL game and of those, 14/17 (82%) are Quebec-born. The 2000s saw the number of centers drafted increase dramatically but just 20/69 (29%) have so far managed to play a game in the NHL. Of those, 16/20 (80%) are Quebec- born:
Breakdown of Quebec-born centers drafted from the "Q"
Despite the number of drafted centers more than doubling this past decade and nine additional NHL teams since 1990, the number of Quebec-born centers being drafted has barely increased. Of the 49 players this decade who haven’t made the NHL, 24 (49%) are born in Quebec. Analysing the stats of Quebec-born centers (9 from 2000-2010) who have played the most in the NHL creates the following composite:
Center – Composite stats of a typical Quebec-born NHL player from the "Q"
1990-1999: The top 10 scoring centers out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Vincent Lecavalier, Daniel Briere, Yanic Perreault, Mike Ribeiro, Ian Laperriere, Eric Belanger, Serge Aubin, Steve Begin, Marc Chouinard and Daniel Corso. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Brad Richards and Sebastien Bordeleau.
2000-2010: The top 10 scoring centers out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Patrice Bergeron, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Antoine Vermette, Matthew Lombardi, David Perron, Maxim Lapierre, Derick Brassard, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Joel Perrault and Mathieu Perreault. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Sidney Crosby and James Sheppard. Future Quebec-born notables are: Angelo Esposito, Philippe Paradis and Keven Veilleux.
For Montreal Canadiens fans, seeing Maxim Lapierre as the 6th most productive Quebec-born center from 2000-2010 speaks volumes on how thin the talent pool down the middle has become. The composite stats between the last two decades are almost identical, except for marked reduction in PIMs while the number of Quebec born centers has stagnated in an expanded NHL.
The 1990s produced 44/76 (58%) draft picks who went on to play at least one NHL game and of those, 34/44 (77%) were Quebec-born. The 2000s saw about the same number of wingers drafted but just 22/79 (28%) have so far managed to play a game in the NHL. Of those, 13/22 (59%) are Quebec-born:
Breakdown of Quebec-born wingers drafted from the "Q"
The number of drafted wingers has stagnated but there’s been a dramatic 62 percent drop in the number of Quebec-born wingers who have made the NHL this decade. Meanwhile, drafted imports have almost doubled their percentage of wingers who succeeded in making it. Of the 55 wingers this decade who haven’t made the NHL, 30 (55%) are born in Quebec. Analysing the stats of Quebec-born wingers (just 5 from 2000-2010) who became successful NHL players creates the following composite:
Wing – Composite stats of a typical Quebec-born NHL player from the "Q"
1990-1999: The top 10 scoring wingers out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagne, J.P. Dumont, Eric Daze, Martin Lapointe, Alexandre Daigle, Patrick Poulin, Mathieu Dandenault, Georges Laraque and Gino Odjick. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Matthew Barnaby, Radim Vrbata, Sandy McCarthy, Juraj Kolnik and Andre Roy.
2000-2010: The top 10 scoring wingers out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Jason Pominville, Steve Bernier, Guillaume Latendresse, Michel Ouellet, Stephane Veilleux, Ramzi Abid, Jean-Francois Jacques, Guillaume Lefebvre, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Alexandre Picard. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Ales Hemsky, Ryane Clowe, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Future Quebec-born notables are: Jordan Caron, Nicolas Deschamps and Danick Paquette.
The composite stats between the last two decades are almost identical and yet again there’s a marked reduction in PIMs. Seeing Alexandre Picard, drafted in 2004 round out the 2000-2010 top 10 with just 67 NHL games played demonstrates just how dramatic the drop-off in Quebec-born wingers has become.
The 1990s produced 27/63 (43%) draft picks who went on to play at least one NHL game and of those, 24/27 (89%) were Quebec-born. The 2000s saw slightly more defensemen drafted but just 19/71 (27%) have so far managed to play a game in the NHL. Of those, 8/19 (42%) are Quebec born:
Breakdown of Quebec-born defensemen drafted from the "Q"
The number of drafted defensemen has increased slightly but again, there’s been a dramatic 67 percent drop in the number of Quebec-born defensemen who have made the NHL this decade. Meanwhile, drafted imports have almost tripled the number of defensemen, growing to 58 percent of all defence drafted out of the “Q”. Of the 52 defensemen this decade who haven’t made the NHL, 29 (56%) are born in Quebec. Analysing the stats of Quebec-born defensemen (just 4 from 2000-2010) who became successful NHL players creates the following composite:
Defence – Composite stats of a typical Quebec-born NHL player from the "Q"
1990-1999: The top 10 scoring defensemen out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Philippe Boucher, Stephane Robidas, Karl Dykhuis, Yannick Tremblay, Francois Beauchemin, Denis Gauthier, Joel Bouchard, Patrick Traverse, Christian Laflamme and Mathieu Biron. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Colin White and Jiri Fischer.
2000-2010: The top 10 scoring wingers out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kristopher Letang, Bruno Gervais, Alexandre Picard, Jason Demers, Mathieu Roy, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Mathieu Carle. Notable imports excluded from the composite are: Johnny Oduya, Aaron Johnson, Adam Pardy and Dmitri Kulikov. Future Quebec-born notables are: Simon Despres, Charles-Olivier Roussel, Marco Scandella and Kevin Marshall.
The composite stats between the last two decades show slightly more offense this decade by as we saw at center and on the wings, PIMs are down significantly. Habs fans just need to glance at Mathieu Carle’s appearance on this list with 3 NHL games played to see just how shallow the Quebec-born talent pool has become on defence.
The 1990s produced 24/37 (65%) draft picks who went on to play at least one NHL game and of those, 22/24 (92%) were Quebec-born. The 2000s saw slightly fewer goalies drafted but a socking 8/34 (24%) have so far managed to play a game in the NHL. Of those, 6/8 (75%) are Quebec-born:
Breakdown of Quebec-born goalies drafted from the "Q"
Without doubt, this is the most stunning revelation of all. The QMJHL’s most notable contribution to the NHL has fallen into the abyss, creating opportunities for the current wave of European goaltenders who, until the ”Q” inexplicably stopped churning them out, didn’t have a chance to compete for jobs. When the talent pool in the “Q” dried up, NHL scouts began mining Europe at their expense and have rarely looked back since. The decline has been so bad; I don’t have enough data this past decade to create a composite for comparison. Of the 26 goalies this decade who haven’t made the NHL, 20 (77%) are born in Quebec:
1990-1999: The top 10 goalies out of the QMJHL who were born in Quebec are: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron, Felix Potvin, Jocelyn Thibault, Patrick Lalime, Marc Denis and Mathieu Garon. Notable import is: Manny Fernandez.
2000-2010: There isn’t a top 10 list of Quebec-born goalies out of the QMJHL because there are just three worth mentioning in the NHL today: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pascal Leclaire and Jeff Deslauriers. Future Quebec-born notables; Corey Crawford, drafted 2003 and Jonathan Bernier, drafted 2006 are the great white hope for the “Q”, if only to give me enough data to compare with 1990-1999.
Just how bad is the situation for Quebec-born goaltenders drafted this past decade? The third most successful goalie drafted since 2000 is Jeff Deslauriers, who has played just 58 NHL games. Forth on the list would be Corey Crawford and his eight NHL games played.
Looking at the various positions, a pattern emerges which suggests offensive capability has remained somewhat consistent over the past 20 years, yet there’s been a sharp decline across the board in physical play. With the NHL’s desire for more offense, especially in the post lockout era and a push for more power plays, the significant decrease in PIMs suggests a departure from a style of play which has been successful in the past.
When adjusted for expansion, the percentage of QMJHL players drafted by NHL teams has declined from 11.1 percent to 10.4 percent while the percentage of Quebec-born players drafted from the “Q” has fallen 36.2% in the past 20 years from 9.4% in the 1990s to just 6.0% this past decade. To make matters worse, Quebec-born draft picks are having an increasingly difficult time morphing into NHL-calibre players, capable of solid careers.
With the QMJHL expanding from 12 to 18 teams since 1990, the number of Quebec-born players playing at that level of hockey has never been higher so enrolment or financial concerns over the cost of playing the game don’t appear to be valid arguments regarding the declining quality of Quebec-born draft picks. It’s the quality of athlete that has changed more than anything and the result has been more competition from leagues that are able to produce better athletes for the NHL.
QMJHL teams are more reliant than ever on import players from the rest of Canada, Europe and the United States to sustain its number of draft picks, which the NHL pays a scaled amount to each team for every pick they can produce. Draft picks are a commodity, the main attraction to draw attendance and help justify the increasing cost of tickets, sponsorship revenue and merchandising. No different than any other league except that it’s helped to create a situation where import players are on pace to become the majority of draft picks produced by the QMJHL, possibly as soon as 2015.
Some may wish to blame the stagnation in quantity and decline in quality on QMJHL expansion into the Maritime Provinces and Lewiston, Maine. Long road trips, bus rides, fast food and education all taking a back seat, yet the number of Europeans, Canadians and Americans being drafted continues to rise while half of the Maritime rosters have native Quebecers playing on them. If anything, expansion has saved the QMJHL.
As for the quality of Quebec-born draft picks produced by the QMJHL, it appears a fundamental shift is underway. Are high-calibre Quebec athletes moving into other sports like skiing, snowboarding, soccer, golf, baseball or football? Possibly. Is it the result of Quebec’s stagnant birth rate among the Francophone community, a negative birth rate when immigration is factored in? Perhaps, though immigration from traditional non-hockey playing countries is a county-wide issue and certainly not unique to Quebec. Better to leave the debate over “Why” to others.
This study makes it clear that fundamental change is happening within Quebec and it's not a result of any long-standing conspiracy towards Quebec-born players, a conspiracy theory that has always focused it's argument on quality players being denied opportunities in the NHL. As the numbers and lists of players at each position show spanning the last 20 years, these shunned players of quality doesn't actually exist. Not in the NHL, not in Europe, not anywhere. Without question, the Sovereigntist rallying cry of NHL victimization is a myth.
As for the Montreal Canadiens, they still remain far and away the top NHL team at drafting Quebec-born talent, no matter what Bertrand Raymond, Rejean Tremblay and others might suggest to the contrary. Surprisingly, Philadelphia and Buffalo rank 2nd and 3rd at drafting Quebecers over the past 20 years. If anything, this study should provide some perspective on why Trevor Timmins has primarily focused on drafting outside the “Q” until the later rounds.