August 17, 2013

67's Rebuild Comparison Part 3: QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques

Less than a month from now, the Ottawa 67's and Gatineau Olympiques renew hostilities in a pair of exhibition games.  It wasn't long ago that the CHL refused to allow the two teams to play each other due to matchups being too violent.  It also wasn't long ago that these two squads went on long playoff runs, with Gatineau going to the President's Cup finals in 2011 and Ottawa going three rounds in 2012.  Now, they appear to both be back on the upswing in their rebuilds.

Comparing team dynamics in these two leagues can be difficult because of the QMJHL’s different playoff format, mentality of the general managers and trade regulations.  Cody Ceci, for example, probably would have garnered at least one future first-round pick if the 67’s played in the QMJHL and were allowed to trade first-round picks.  Still, it’s a comparison worth making as both squads try to become contenders once again.

Major Junior hockey fans in the National Capital Region weren't able to watch any true contenders this season, instead watching a pair of rebuilding squads.  While the 67's were unable to get into the playoffs, the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL went on an impressive run in the second half of the year, pulling off a first-round upset before bowing out to the eventual Memorial Cup winner.

Gatineau's rebuild is a year ahead of Ottawa's, with reason to believe that the Olympiques could be a team that winds up with home-ice advantage in this upcoming year's playoffs.  But given the timeline of Gatineau's upswing, how fare are the Barberpoles from hitting their contending window?


Some fans and media in Gatineau have had choice words for head coach Benoit Groulx in response to his unorthodox systems and aggressive nature off the ice, but he brings an amazing amount of experience which Chris Byrne doesn't.

As a result, the Olympiques powerplay has always been impressive, even when they were a bottom-feeder.  However, while Byrne employs a powerplay system that doesn't dominate teams the way Groulx's does, the 67's did have the league's fourth-best powerplay while finishing last place.  If Ottawa shores up their penalty kill, they will be as dominant on special teams as the Olympiques typically are.

Tough-to-play defence

Even in a season where they knew they probably wouldn't go very far, Gatineau went out of their way to acquire overage defenceman Etienne Boutet and '93-born Mikael Langois.  Byrne has gone as far as to say that he has faith in his '96- and '95-born defencemen, and outside of drafting, hasn't done anything thus far to improve the blueline.

Similarily, the Olympiques also let their 16-year olds play in 2011-12 before drafting two defencemen in the first round and going back into buy mode.

Having a tough defence is more important in the hostile and rough-and-tumble Quebec league than in the OHL, but having lost Sean Callaghan and Michal Cajkovsky this off-season, Ottawa's blueline has taken a step back going into year two of their re-tooling.

Ottawa may have a lot of potential on their blueline, but as of right now, they don't have many defenders who will make the opposition pay the price for being around their net, and Gatineau has a clear advantage when it comes to having a hard-nosed blueline.

Scorers and their trade market

In year one of their rebuild, Gatineau finished the season with Tomas Hyka as their only point-per-game scorer.  Hyka didn't lead his team in scoring the next year, but still kept up his scoring pace, and if Sean Monahan returns, as the only point-per-game scorer on Ottawa last year, he should be able to add more offence in the upcoming season.

Furthermore, a Monahan return could mean a blockbuster trade.  The Olympiques traded now-Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau during the first year of their rebuild for two first round picks, which is something that OHL teams can't do, but Monahan would bring in a huge package that would have to include at least one elite 16- or 17-year old.

After selecting Monahan 6th overall in the NHL draft, the Flames used another first-round pick to take Gatineau's Emile Poirier, who lead the team in scoring.  Poirier was played in the top-six as a rookie, putting up 40 points before his breakout year.  Dante Salituro also put up 40 points as a rookie and if he makes as much of a jump as Poirier last year, he and first overall pick Travis Konecny could do a lot of damage.

Gatineau's only other point-per-game scorer was rookie Martin Reway, and it's anyone's guess as to whether Joseph Blandisi or another depth player can add that much offence.  Overager Rock Regimbald provided plenty of offence and grit in Gatineau last season, and Ottawa fans are hoping that Ryan Van Stralen has a similar final campaign in the OHL.

Three Goaltenders

If there's a position where these two teams are eerily similar, it's between the pipes.

Gatineau traded for backup-turned-starting goaltender Robert Steeves last season, and this off-season, traded 18-year old rookie Eric Brassard to make room for Anthony Brodeur, who had never played a very high level of hockey, but is still a promising prospect.

Now, replace Steeves with Clint Windsor, Brassard with Jacob Blair, and Brodeur with Danny Potter, and you have Ottawa's situation.

If Ottawa wanted to go the exact same route as Gatineau, they would keep Windsor as their starter, as Gatineau did with Steeves, and use the promising rookie prospect in Potter, while finding a buyer for 18-year old Blair with a year under his belt, as Gatineau did with Brassard.

The difference is that the Olympiques are capable of contending this season, making the choice to keep the veteran and choose between the two younger goalies as a backup.  If Ottawa wants to continue with a full rebuild, they might consider trading the overaged Windsor and go with the two younger netminders.


All-in-all, the Olympiques have been better off than the 67's.  They went to the finals, which Ottawa couldn't do, they stayed a playoff team during their rebuild, and they're ready to compete again at least a year before the 67's contending window re-opens.

Should the 67's be aggressive enough to add some older pieces to their roster this season, their rebuild will follow a similar path to that of the Olympiques.  Despite playing in a different league, the Gatineau team that plays its final season at the Robert Guertin Arena this year could be very similar to the Ottawa team that returns to its old stomping grounds in 2014-15.

Since this is the first season that the Ottawa 67's have missed the playoffs since 1994-95, a number of fans may not be familiar with a full-on rebuild.  To help fans see the direction that this team could head moving forward, this four-part series will compare the Barberpoles to other teams who have kick started a rebuild.  

Part 1 (Barrie Colts) available here, Part 2 (Kingston Frontenacs) available here, and Part 4 (1995-1999 Ottawa 67's) to come soon.

No comments: