The Montreal Canadiens are currently locked in a tight playoff battle in the Eastern Conference. Very few fans or pundits expected them to be in this position. It’s been a pleasant surprise to Habs fans everywhere. The team plays an uptempo offensive game. Most nights they are very entertaining. This coming on the heels of a disastrous 2017-18 campaign. It was so bad that many believed Habs GM Marc Bergevin would lose his job.
In response to the Habs bad season, many felt it was time to strip the team down and perform a dreaded rebuild. Marc Bergevin stated he would reset the team. Now in the first year of his reset, he faces a serious conundrum.
Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin Conundrum
In the wake of last season, Bergevin refused to use the word rebuild. He chose a synonym instead. He called it a reset. Nobody knows if that meant it would be on the fly or quicker but it implied building for the future. Many Habs fans felt it was time for this. They can look jealously up the 401 to see the hated Toronto Maple Leafs now flourishing after their rebuild. The hope among several fans was that the team would also enter into its own rebuild, regardless of what the GM was calling it.
Still, this year’s Canadiens have played well above their expectations. They currently have 75 points through 64 games, already more than their 71 all of last season. They are a fun, energetic, hardworking team had has won back some of the fans that became disillusioned after the last three seasons. Marc Bergevin has bounced back as well. The teams two leading scorers, Max Domi and Tomas Tatar were both acquired in off-season trades. The Habs had, by all accounts, a good draft. They were also able to acquire a top prospect from Vegas (along with Tatar) in Nick Suzuki. There is so much positive around this team this season, it’s hard to see the big picture sometimes.
Marc Bergevin made it his mission to make the Habs younger and faster this year. He succeeded. Most fans of the Habs were hoping the team would be a fast and fun team to watch but that lost more than it won. Giving fans a reason to keep watching while still building towards the future. The team had other plans. The Canadiens have been in or around the playoff picture all season. It has been a tremendous turnaround for a team that picked in the top three this past June. With all the excitement and success the team has generated, it can be hard to think that maybe it hasn’t been the best thing for the team.
It feels strange suggesting winning as a bad thing for a team. And in reality, it’s not. All teams and fans want to win. Winning is a hard thing to learn for young teams so it’s good that the Habs are learning it now. The drawback from winning, however, is from purely a developmental aspect is that it hurts the Marc Bergevin reset. Now the Habs are in this situation that the need to make the playoffs.
If they don’t make the playoffs, that will be picking in the mid teens at the draft. Despite this being considered a deep draft, it’s hard to imagine the Habs landing a game-changing prospect in that area. The Habs seemingly found their number one center of the future with 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Still, the Habs need more high-end players to help with the reset. Picking between 13-15 is unlikely to land them a player like that. That’s the pitfall of having a season like this. Just missing out on the playoffs would be a worst case scenario for the Habs. They miss getting that playoff experience and further energizing the Habs faithful. They also miss out on a high-end prospect that can really help the team for years to come.
That is why the Habs can’t miss the playoffs. It is the only saving grace for this situation. This season is a surprise. Again, most people were hoping for a fun competitive team that would be in most games but ultimately lose. Herein lies the conundrum. The team is clearly not a finished product but have played well enough to be in the playoff conversation. If they drop off, they are too far gone to be able to slip into the lottery. They end up in no man’s land in the standings and drafting.
It’s a bit of a balancing act for the Habs here. Nobody would trade the success the team has had so far this year but it would feel a bit disappointing if they end up missing out on the playoffs. The Habs can again look to their rivals up the 401 for how damaging it can be to just miss out on the playoffs. The Leafs spent several years in mediocrity trying to get into the playoffs and usually missing out. The team would not commit to a rebuild and the team suffered for it for over a decade.
Not a Finished Product
This is not to suggest the Habs are going down that road. It speaks to an issue the team could face. While Habsland is full of excitement for the future, having two good drafts does not mean the reset is complete. Sure there is way more to get excited about than there was in 2017 but they are not there, yet. Another good draft, picking in a marquee position would definitely help the reset and the long term future of the Canadiens. That is no longer a reality this year. Which is why the playoffs are so important now. And while this has definitely been a big step forward for the organization, missing out on the playoffs, at this point, will take the shine off such a positive season.