It’s been a great battle, one that left many wounded soldiers unable to help their troup while they were getting slaughtered by opposition through an eight game winless streak, followed by another seven game winless streak a week later. When the dust settled, after losing a third game in as many games to the NHL’s basement dwellers Detroit Red Wings, who were 13 points behind the second worst team in the league, the New Jersey Devils, the Montreal Canadiens are faced with the harsh reality that their hopes for a playoffs’ spot are rapidly fading away… in January.
“But they’re only seven points back from a Wild Card spot“, some people will say. And they are 100% right. However, the Habs have to leapfrog five teams in order to hope for a participation in the playoffs. Yes, they can go on a winning streak once their injured players come back but while Brendan Gallagher seems the closest to returning, the others aren’t expected for at least another week, maybe two.
The reality of this new NHL is that the “loser point” makes it extremely difficult to catch up to one team as even in a loss, they can gather a point. While one, possibly two teams can get into a slump themselves, the odds of having five teams slumping at the same time and the Canadiens going on a tear are close to none. And if American Thanksgiving is an landmark to statistically determine your odds of entering the playoffs, mid-January is even worse.
So without being defeatist, let’s be realistic here folks: chances are that the Canadiens will, once again, miss the playoffs this year. And while odds are stacked against them, they should, at the very least, have a slim chance of drafting local talent Alexis Lafrenière. The silver lining of this early elimination would be that this year is said to be a heavily talented Draft for the top-10, so the Canadiens should be able to land a good player regardless.
I highly, highly doubt that this would ever happen but here’s what I would personally do if I were Marc Bergevin:
- Fire or promote Claude Julien, give the head coaching job to Dominique Ducharme, or co-coach with Kirk Muller to finish the season
- As injured players come back, send Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Lukas Vejdemo, Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury to Laval. Let Joël Bouchard work on their confidence and hopefully give them playoffs’ experience.
- Trade Charlie Lindgren (Cayden Primeau/Michael McNiven in Laval)
- Call up Karl Alzner, Charles Hudon and Keith Kinkaid
- Keep Dale Weise and Matthew Peca
- By trade deadline, trade pending UFA’s Ilya Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson, Dale Weise and Marco Scandella
While I know that Kotkaniemi and Fleury are NHL ready, they could use a boost in confidence, particularly KK. So as a GM, I would sit with them explaining the reasons for doing this, putting the emphasis on the fact that they are still very much in the Habs’ future plan next season and beyond, but this is for them to dominate and play top minutes at the AHL level instead of going through the motion in the NHL.
Will this happen? Likely not. Regardless, it seems like the same culprits will be given plenty of ammunition to keep on calling for Bergevin’s firing… which won’t happen. When Geoff Molson met with him in the summer of 2018, the Canadiens’ owner and President bought the “reset” plan of getting younger, presented by his GM. Contrary to what some will try to make you believe, Molson is not an idiot and he knows that doing so takes time. He’s not going to fire his man less than two years after implementing his plan, particularly not seeing the stack of quality prospects coming up. The Habs will ride the wave once again this year, in anticipation for another busy off season. Go Habs Go!