The casket was closed on the Canadiens season with the Hamilton Bulldogs final game Sunday. Like the parent club, the farm team finished out of the playoffs. If there had been any different outcome Bulldogs coach Clement Jodoin could have been lionized as professional hockey’s coach-of-the-year.
Everything that happened to the Canadiens was echoed in Hamilton. Twenty-one different players spent time on the Canadiens injury list and in almost every instance it meant stripping the Bulldogs roster to replace them.
All you need to know about how extreme things go the situation became; on the night the Canadiens finished their season they immediately returned six players, all of whom were in 4-1 over Toronto, to Hamilton for the Bulldogs final four games of the season.
But Hamilton was also plagued by injury. At one point in January seventeen of the 46 players the Canadiens had under NHL/AHL contract were out with injuries. . With injuries and recalls the Bulldogs were forced to fill up their roster with players on loan from other organizations, call up players from the ECHL Wheeling Nailers and sign college players to professional tryout contracts. In total, 39 players saw action at various times this season in Hamilton. Promoting players out of their league before their time is not the development path any team, especially one from the NHL, would prefer to take.
The Canadiens used eight rookies during their 2011-2012 season for better and, at times worse. They are, in order of games-played, Alexei Emelin (67); Rafael Diaz (59); Louis Leblanc (42); Aaron Palushaj (38); Frederic St. Denis (17); Blake Geoffrion (13); Andreas Engqvist (12) and Gabriel Dumont (3). Right wing Ian Schultz was called up as well, but was sent back before he played a game.
All but two or three of the eight rookies will be returning to the minors to start next season. The downside of their experience is the conficence-damaging experience of being force fed into the NHL before they’re ready. The upside is the fact that they were learning on the job with the accelerated learning curve that goes with that.
The risk is, it can go one way or the other.