The Curious Case of the Montreal Canadiens
This past season Montreal was absolutely spoiled by our hockey team. Having finished in fourth place in the weakest division in the NHL, and with a first-round matchup against the high-scoring Maple Leafs ahead, The consensus around the city was that we would be happy if we got a couple of wins in that series.
Four games into the series against our cross-province rivals we found ourselves down 3-1, and things looked pretty grim for Game 5. Then something magical happened; Carey Price played like the Carey Price from 2014-15. That Carey Price won a Hart Trophy, Vezina trophy, and Olympic Gold Medal – all in the same year.
With a game 5 win, we saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Could Montreal really pull this off? It was impossible, right? I mean, come on, we were going up against the Leafs! This Toronto team had the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and a slew of other stars on their team. It was impossible, right?
Well, the Canadiens proved that anything is possible, and stole Games 6 & 7 from the Maple Leafs as well, advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Finals. Just beating the Leafs would have been enough for most Canadiens fans to be happy. The Habs took it one step further and ended up advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, something we didn’t see coming even in our wildest dreams.
Although they would end up losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens made the city of Montreal proud, as the team showed a bundle of resilience, heart, and guts in the playoffs. Now that the off-season is in full effect, I wanted to see what the Canadiens could do to improve on their chances of heading back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With Shea Weber on the verge of retirement because of injuries, and Carey Price supposedly out for the first 6-8 weeks of the season, it’s not going to be easy for the Canadiens by any stretch of the imagination, but if there’s one thing this team taught us this year, it’s that anything is possible.
Signing Some Key Pieces
Much has been spoken about who the Canadiens should be going after this free agency, with the normal consensus being that they need to sign a scoring winger or center, as well as a right D who can transport the puck effortlessly through the neutral and offensive zones. When I read these reports, I can’t say that I disagree with them, as I think that is exactly what the Canadiens need, as well as few depth options, to have some playoff success next season. So, which names do I think specifically the Canadiens should go after?
Rumors have been swirling that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is high on Mike Hoffman, the Kitchener, Ontario native who spent the last season playing for the St. Louis Blues. Last season Hoffman potted home 36 points in 52 games for the Blue notes, an impressive stat-line for someone who hadn’t been signed until the remaining days before training camp.
Since being submerged into an NHL lineup on a full-time basis Hoffman has always consistently delivered 20+ goal seasons and has posted five 25+ goal seasons as well, with his highest total being 36 in 2018-19. So why should Hoffman get the nod from the Canadiens when there is a slew of other free agents on the table?
In so many words, we need to score. That is how you win hockey games. Putting more pucks in the net than the opposing team. Is Mike Hoffman a complete “200-foot” player? Not really. Does he have the best skating in the world? Not by a mile. Hoffman may not possess metrics that are praised by NHL scouts, but the one thing he can consistently do, on a nightly basis, gives your team more scoring chances and opportunities.
That’s it, that’s all he is there for; he can score. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring. They were ranked 17th on the goals per game leader last season, as well as being 17th on the power-play leaderboard during the regular season. Being in the middle of the leaderboard may be fine for some teams, but for this Montreal Canadiens team that simply oozes potential, and that has a chance to get back to the Finals, this simply isn’t good enough.
Saying that Hoffman is good on the power-play is an understatement, as, in my humble opinion, he is an aficionado at the mad advantage. Over the course of his 9 year NHL career, Hoffman has been able to establish a cool 66 goals and 73 assists on the power-play, good for 139 points.
This hockey marriage between the Canadiens and Hoffman looks like it was made in heaven, and if the Canadiens play their cards right they may be able to snag him for a salary similar to what he received last year. I could already see him lining up with either Josh Anderson or Tyler Toffoli on the opposite wing. Wow, what a sight that would be. Even if Guy “The Hawaii Blues Fan” is going to reach down my throat and do horrible things if it happens.
When it comes to right-handed defenseman, the next two are arguably some of the best. Take Dougie Hamilton for instance, who has become the model of consistency for defensemen in the NHL. Over the past seven seasons, Hamilton has accrued at least 39 points in each season. During the 2019-20 season, he posted 40 points – in only 47 games! That is nuts.
With the Carolina Hurricanes looking less and less likely that they are going to sign Hamilton, and with the Canadiens having lost their captain and number one defenseman in Shea Weber, it seems that there is no better time for the Canadiens to sign the Toronto native than now.
As we spoke about with the Hoffman free agency scenario, the Canadiens need scoring, and just like Hoffman, Hamilton brings ample of it. Over the past seven seasons, he has delivered consistent double-digit goal scoring campaigns, as well as being proficient in the assist column.
So what lends to Hamilton’s scoring prowess? In particular, it’s his vision, mobility and skating, and his blistering shot that allows Hamilton to be deadly offensively. The Canadiens could use scoring from wherever they can get it, so if it means signing Hamilton to a contract that benefits both parties.
Although Hamilton has great size, 6’6 – 230 pounds, he is not a looming physical threat while on the ice. With the Canadiens already housing physical defensemen such as Ben Chiarot, Alexander Romanov, and Joel Edmundson, some fans may think that the Canadiens shouldn’t pursue another hard-hitting physical defenseman.
As we saw in the playoffs, many liberties are taken and it’s up to the physical players on the team to set the opposing players straight. That’s where David Savard would come in.
Savard checks off all the boxes for Montreal – he’s a great stay-at-home defenseman, physical, can unleash a howler of a slapshot when he wants to, and best of all, he’s French-Canadian. Savard is the perfect complement to a Dougie Hamilton signing, as he could the ying to Hamilton’s yang.
Savard recently won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay Lightning, and he enjoyed quite a great playoffs. He was a central figure in Tampa’s top-6 and was a quiet, but physical, presence on the ice you couldn’t take your eyes off.
The Canadiens need depth, and Savard would be a substantial addition to their blueline. With the Canadiens also in talks with Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres, as well as Tyson Barrie, they may field one of the most complete defensive lineups in the NHL next season.
The teams that make it to be Stanley Cup Champions are the ones that house the most depth. As we saw this year, due to some cap gymnastics, Tampa Bay had an absolutely overpowered team. They found a loophole and kudos to them for that. The loophole allowed them to add as many key pieces as possible to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Instead of being angry at the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams should follow suit and try to replicate what they have accomplished. With Shea Weber going onto the LTIR (Long-Term Injury Reserve) now is the time for the Montreal Canadiens to seize the opportunity of the extra cap-space and sign some help.
Develop a Game Plan
During the first half of the season, the Canadiens were on fire, at one point leading the North Division and looking like the team to beat. Then, around the 15 game mark, things started falling apart. The team played sloppily, surrendering easy goals to clubs such as the Ottawa Senators. Carey Price was a shell of his former self, and the entire squad would look demoralized and dejected on any given night.
Then Marc Bergevin decided to let go of Claude Julien, and would promote Dominic Ducharme to the role of interim head coach. When it first happened I really thought that this would change the tides for Montreal, but alas, it wasn’t so. The Canadiens still delivered inconsistent play, but thanks to the play of Jake Allen, and some key wins on the road, they were able to squeak into the playoffs. Thanks Guy.
In the playoffs, we saw a completely different monster submerge in the waters. The Canadiens were focused, playing with a purpose, and it was working. They completed a 3-1 comeback against the Maple Leafs, they swept the Winnipeg Jets to become kings of the North Division, and they even dominated the series against the Vegas Golden Knights, something no one would have seen happening in a million years.
Still, they were able to pull it off, and all because of one thing; their game plan. During the playoffs the Canadiens would strike early, scoring first, then play defensively for the rest of the game. This early scoring allowed them the freedom to play their own style and not feel the stress of having to play catch-up hockey.
As we saw the game plan worked beautifully in the playoffs, which is why the Canadiens are going to need to implement that same game plan all of next season if they want to see any success. The divisions will go back to normal next season and with teams such as the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning in the mix, the Canadiens are going to need to be infinitesimally better than they were last season if they are going to want to crack a playoff spot.
All the Canadiens need to do is stick to the game plan they had in the bubble and they should be just fine.
Allen and Primeau Stepping Up
Jake Allen proved that he had what it took to take over the starting goalie reigns from Carey Price last season, as he was arguably the sole reason we even had a chance at squeaking into the playoffs. Allen went 11-12-5 in 27 games played last season, but his record doesn’t show the entire picture of just how well he played. Allen was often the best player on the ice for the Canadiens and really stepped up for the team when Price went down with nagging injuries.
Even though Price is injured, he is still this team’s number one goalie. The only thing is that the man is hurt, and he should be allowed to properly rest and heal without being forced back into action. Price has given so much to this team, especially during the playoffs, that it would be a shame if he had to return early from injury, as he has done in the past, to try and save the Canadiens one again.
That is why it is optimal that Jake Allen returns to his usual form for next season, and that Cayden Primeau also shows what he’s made of, as he will be most likely backing up Allen. If these two can create a solid goaltending tandem, then the Canadiens can rest easy knowing that their prized possession can rest easy and be ready 100% come playoff time.
With the Canadien’s last Stanley Cup championship coming all the way in 1993, I think I speak for the entire city of Montreal when I say that it’s time to go and capture Stanley Cup number 25. What do you say?
Dropping the Mike on ya!