After a disastrous season finishing fourth last in the entire NHL, the Montreal Canadiens are left looking for answers. What went wrong? Who’s to blame? Where do they go from here? Do they re-tool or rebuild? These questions will certainly find answers as Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, Geoff Molson, and the rest of the Habs brass gear up for the NHL Entry Draft in June. On the surface, most would think a rebuild is necessary as the Habs finished just nine points above the league’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres. But if you really sit down and review the roster, the prospects they have that are ready to make the leap, and where they sit at this years draft, you will see why a re-tool is the best option for the Montreal Canadiens.
A Montreal Canadiens Re-tool Is Coming
There are many contributing factors as to why the Canadiens had their worst season since 2000-2001. Carey Price had an off-year while suffering from chronic fatigue. Not acquiring a true number one centre proved to be detrimental to the club. The patchwork on the defensive end was a failure as there was no one truly able to replace longtime Hab Andrei Markov. Injuries to star players Price, Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty also didn’t help the cause.
In the midst of it all, the Habs brought up some of their young prospects to give them a shot to leave their mark for next season. Some left lasting impressions, which leads to my first point.
Serviceable Defence Group
Lead by Shea Weber, the Habs have a very serviceable defence group. The loss of Andrei Markov really hurt the Habs and the patchwork done by Bergevin clearly failed. The good news for the Habs is that prospect Noah Juulsen proved he has what it takes to be an NHL regular next season. Victor Mete was phenomenal playing his first NHL season at the age of 19. With Weber as his mentor, he’ll prove to be even better. Meanwhile, Brett Lernout and the recently acquired Rinat Valiev could be knocking on the door for NHL jobs as well.
The Habs made a trade with the Minnesota Wild to acquire youngster Mike Reilly, who moves the puck well and finished out the season strong with the Habs. Reilly had 8 points in 19 games with the Canadiens while finishing a +1.
Rounding out the group is veterans Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner. Petry is a solid number three or four defenceman who faired well serving as the number one with Weber out this season. Alzner struggled in his first season as a Canadien but looked much better once paired with Juulsen. Look for him to bounce back next season.
Depth on the wing
The position of strength for the Habs is on the wing. Captain Max Pacioretty has five 30-goal seasons to his name. Brendan Gallagher secured his first 30-goal season this year while Paul Byron has put up 20 in back-to-back seasons. Alex Galchenyuk was one goal shy of 20 but is a proven goal scorer as he already has a 30-goal campaign under his belt. Jonathan Drouin‘s elite vision makes him one of the most creative players in the NHL. Youngsters Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Kerby Rychel as well as grinders Andrew Shaw and Nicolas Deslauriers all have double-digit potential and can move up and down the line up as needed.
The depth the Canadiens have on wing gives them a ton of options. It allows coach Claude Julien to be creative with his line-up but also gives Bergevin the chips he may need to acquire a much-needed centreman. With a potential top-five pick in this years draft, the Habs could obtain another winger to add to the group as well.
World Class Goaltending
Prior to the start of the season, Carey Price signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Habs. The contract is set to kick in 2018-2019. It is the richest contract signed by a goaltender in the history of the NHL. He followed that up with an injury-riddled season and the worst statistical season of his career. It has many fans questioning whether the Habs should have signed him or not. Carey Price says, he intends to earn every penny, and there is no reason to doubt this claim.
The three seasons prior to the 2017-18 season, Carey Price looked elite. In 2014-15, Price has a record of 44-16-6 and posted a 1.96 GAA and a .933 save percentage, with nine shutouts. He carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final that year but got injured in Game One after a collision with New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider. The Habs went on to get eliminated in six games. Price went on to win the Hart, Vezina, Ted Lindsay and William M. Jennings trophies that season.
In 2015-16, Price and the Habs got off to the best start in franchise history. In 12 games, Price went 10-2-0 while posting a 2.06 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Price went down with injury, and the Habs season went down the drain.
Price returned to form in 2016-17, carrying his Canadiens to a first-place finish in the Atlantic division. He finished the year 37-20-5 with a 2.23 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He also finished third in Vezina Trophy voting that season.
Price sustained multiple injuries this season and also suffered from chronic fatigue. However, as history has shown, Price has been faced with this adversity before. There’s no reason to believe he won’t bounce back in the same way.
When you look at the Habs roster, the only position of need is at centre. This has been the demise of the club for almost a decade. The last true number centre the team had was longtime captain Saku Koivu. Going into the off-season with a ton of cap space and superstar centre John Tavares set to hit the open market, you can bet Bergevin is going to take a swing. If he does strike out he will still have the cap space, draft picks as well as depth players to use as bargaining chips to acquire a centre. If Bergevin does address the centre position, there’s no reason to doubt the Habs ability to reach the top of the Atlantic division again and become a serious Stanley Cup contender.