Fair to say that the 2017-2018 season of the Montreal Canadiens has been a huge disappointment. Going from a 103 points Division title to a lottery team at the very bottom of the league is as big of a disappointment as what’s felt in Ottawa and Edmonton, amongst other places in the league. We can look at every reason for this lackluster season but one wouldn’t have to look very far. When you are without your best players for long periods of time, and when they are there but not producing to the level expected of them, your team will be in deep, deep trouble… as were the Habs this year.
Carey Price suffered from Chronique Fatigue Syndrome and his goals against average of over 3.00, and a saves percentage of just over the .900 mark, all well below respectability, will go a long way in explaining the team’s lack of success. Further, if you add to that the fact that Price’s best protection, stud defenseman Shea Weber, broke his foot in game one and had to call it a season a quarter of the season in, plus the team’s top goals’ scorer Max Pacioretty finished the season with a total of 17 goals in 64 games, and the team barely breaking the 200 goals for mark on the season, well… you have what you got.
Needless to say that for the team to hope getting back to the success they have accustomed their fans to in the past 6 years under Marc Bergevin, those players will have to return to form. In a league where parity is as high as it’s ever been, in a cap era where substantial trades are extremely difficult to complete in-season, the Canadiens’ GM has his work cut-out for him in order to address some serious issues.
Team captain Pacioretty has been rumoured to be traded by trade deadline, and the return for him would be substantial, particularly considering what the Colorado Avalanche received for a less productive Matt Duchene. But how would trading your best offensive player, or best goals’ scorer, the guy who, since 2012, has scored the most goals in the NHL after only Alexander Ovechkin, would sit with a disgruntled fan base?
Let’s take a look at what is likely to be the to-do list of Bergevin and his associates this summer, at least in my opinion…
1- Find an assistant-coach to replace Jean-Jacques Daigneault
Under Daigneault, the Canadiens’ defense has never looked great. He couldn’t figure out P.K. Subban and certainly didn’t have his respect. The penalty-kill is second worst in the NHL and no one seems to know what they’re doing out there, leaving Price and any other goaltender out to dry in way too many occasions. My personal choice would be to get Larry Robinson behind the bench, but I doubt that he would want to get a role requiring such commitment at this point in his life. Still, I would ask him first, before considering anyone else. Otherwise, leave the choice up to Claude Julien as it’s his team to coach anyway. Either way, Daigneault needs to go and be replaced by someone better and with fresh ideas.
2- Bring in one, possibly two offensive centres
Isn’t that simple? Yeah, right! There is no doubt that Bergevin knew his team’s need last summer but he was unable to get his hands on that elusive centre. He was rumoured to be very interested in Duchene, but backed out when the price became too rich for his blood, and rightfully so! However, he cannot afford to go another season without improving at that key position and rest assured that he will do everything to get a top-end centre this summer. His job will depend on it. If he makes it to free agency, John Tavares will be his prime target, but he could find what he’s looking for in Winnipeg too.
3- Possibly a defence partner for Weber
This is something that was lacking from day one, even when Weber was skating on one leg. Weber is one of the most feared defensemen in the NHL, THE or one of the most efficient shut-down defensemen in the game, but in order to maximize on his qualities, he needs a good skating, puck-moving defenseman to complement him. Just like Subban needs a good stay-at-home defenseman to cover for his high-risk plays, it’s something that Bergevin needs to address. Unless he feels like he has what he needs in either Victor Mete or newly acquired Mike Reilly, that is. Something tells me that he would rather have his young guys deeper in the depth chart and acquire a veteran for the first pairing, especially if he wants his team to contend.
4- New coaching staff in Laval
Enough of the Sylvain Lefebvre experiment. Since he’s been there, the farm has missed the playoffs every year and the number of players moving up and making an impact are minimal, if any. The best candidate for the position would be Team Canada Junior head coach and current coach and GM of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dominique Ducharme. Having him in the organization would groom him to potentially become a good replacement for Julien down the line, and would bring some fresh blood and new ideas to a development teams needing some sort of boost.
There could be more than that happening in what promises to be not only a very busy off-season for the Canadiens, but a career defining one of Marc Bergevin. He has Geoff Molson‘s support and confidence to address the team’s needs, but he cannot afford another summer like he had a year ago. Expect a lot of movement, or at least some very important movement at this year’s draft, while the Canadiens are in an excellent position to make some noise. Go Habs Go!