The Montreal Canadiens are 8-12-3 heading into American Thanksgiving. They looked lost, disorganized and have lost five games in a row. The time to dream that they can turn it all around is over. It is time to move on. The Habs are not likely to make the playoffs. Even if they do, they are not going on a deep run. It is time to take a deep breath, Habs fans.
Montreal Canadiens Season is Over: Time to Tank and Rebuild
It is important to define our terms. What do people mean by tank mean exactly? First and foremost, general managers, coaches, and players don’t throw games. The idea that for the next 60 games of the season, the Montreal Canadiens will stop skating, deliberately give the puck away, or stop trying to play defence is absurd. Tanking does not mean stop trying. Instead, it means to think about this season as the beginning of a rebuilding year. This is an idea that is gaining currency among many.
Tanking this season means accepting this is a lost season and trading assets that are likely to bring you reasonable returns in the form of younger talent or draft picks. Finally, it involves playing your third and fourth lines as if they were your first and second lines. Ideally, this means you will get lucky, and draft in the top 5 this year and next. While there is no guarantee a rebuild will work, it may be the Canadiens best option. While tearing the organization down to the studs, and ridding the team of all players over the age of 25 may not be necessary, the team needs to reimagine itself. That starts at the top. There are at least four steps involved.
Step 1: Accepting This is a Lost Season
The first and most difficult step is to recognize the sense of impending doom heading into this season was just good common sense. The way the Canadiens bowed out of the playoffs last year coupled with the terrible off-season by Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin left many fans worried. They were right to be concerned. The Canadiens rank last or near the bottom in team scoring and team defence.
Injuries and Poor Play
Carey Price started the season playing well below his usual standards. Before being injured, he was playing just plain bad. He had a 3-7-1 record with a 3.77 goals-against-average and an .877 save percentage. He is not the only one struggling. The defence has been a mess and the team’s best players simply cannot score.
The Canadiens have been hit the injury bug this year. Price has been sidelined for ten games with a lower-body injury. David Schlemko has yet to suit up this season. Ales Hemsky has been out since October 20th. Nikita Scherbak was injured on October 26th. Al Montoya has been out since November 9th. Artturi Lehkonen was hurt in practice and has been out since November 13th. Shea Weber has also missed the last two games.
While the players have struggled, much of the blame for the team’s poor play should be placed on Marc Bergevin for failing sufficiently improve the team in the offseason. This includes Bergevin’s choice of coaches who employ a dated defensive approach to the game.
Step 2: Trading Assets
Accepting this is a lost season, means looking toward the future. The Canadiens have only one expiring contract of note in veteran centre Tomas Plekanec. He should be traded, along with Ales Hemsky, in the unlikely event a trade partner can be found. The Habs recently traded Torrey Mitchell, more trades will be required.
Ridding the roster of some peripheral players won’t be enough. You can’t tank without rebuilding the team in one way or another. Truly improving the team means looking for trades that will bring you reasonable returns. This might include Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, and Karl Alzner. It could even mean Shea Weber or Carey Price. While in those cases the players themselves may need to be partners in any trade negotiations, fans need to accept that these players themselves may be ready to move on.
Obviously, the priority should be a left-shooting puck-moving defenseman. The Canadiens need to acquire depth at centre ice. The next few NHL drafts are considered deep, so Montreal would be wise to bring in extra picks to address they’re less than stellar prospect pool. The goal is to maintain their position as a lottery pick team in the draft while trying not to lose their best young talent.
Step 3: Play the Kids
The third step is to get used to some new faces. This must include a new general manager, and perhaps a new coach. It means playing younger and less experienced players. Indeed, this should start now. Third and fourth lines should be played like first and second lines. Where possible, younger players should get a shot. While rushing a player’s development must be avoided, Victor Mete, Charlie Lindgren, Jakub Jerabek, Nikita Scherbak should play in Montreal. They should play alongside whatever other young players are acquired from trades and the draft. The players will learn on the job.
Step 4: Lowering Expectations
Fourth and finally, everyone needs to lower their expectations. A rebuild will take time. The Habs will lose games. At times, it will be sloppy. It will be downright depressing at others. Fans may choose not to fill the arena. Ownership, management, players, and especially fans need to understand and accept this.
Moreover, there is no guarantee a rebuild will work. One only need look to the Buffalo Sabres. The rebuild has not yet worked. There are numerous other examples. Indeed, a rebuild is a risk. Unfortunately, in Montreal, the time has come.