A decline would be unacceptable
The Canadian raises the same issue as last year when training camp approached. Will there be series next spring? Except that the situation is not the same this year. After getting so close to the goal last season, the Habs must now reach it. It’s primordial.
The fans were not too upset at the end of the last campaign, because they saw a team that was playing at full speed most of the time. This had the effect of a balm compared to the disastrous season that the Canadian had experienced the previous year.
The pill has gone better. But fans will want more from their team this season. They will expect nothing less than a participation in the playoffs.
A decline would be unacceptable. The Canadiens have already missed the series three times in the last four years.
It’s already too much.
A fourth exclusion in five years is likely to be overflowing. Especially if the loss of profit had to be several points.
Price and Weber have little time
This is a year of truth for Marc Bergevin. The same goes for Claude Julien. Geoff Molson may say he’s optimistic for the “next three to eight years,” but he’s unlikely to enjoy another year without a playoff hockey at his Bell Center. If that happens, would he give Bergevin another chance? The question is valid.
Before going on vacation last April, Carey Price and Shea Weber said that time was running out for their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. In three years, Price will be 35 years old. Weber will be 37 years old. For them, the future is as fast as possible.
Bergevin knows it very well. It is not for nothing that he submitted a hostile bid to Sebastian Aho. It was perhaps the only way he was able to grab a high-quality player.
For all sorts of excuses that we know well, Montreal is not a popular destination for independent players without compensation. Moreover – and this must be agreed with Bergevin – the bad contracts are too often those given on the 1st of July.
The torch is to young people
In a national league that has never been so young, free-agent players with compensation are the best targets. They have already proven themselves and the best is yet to come. They no longer want to accept bridging contracts.
Bergevin tried it with Aho and he found Gros-Jean as before. His audacity did not bring him back. He might have had to push his offer as much as possible, but he would have alienated his counterpart executive directors.
What to do ?
Thus, to date, the same two glaring needs have still not been met. He is still missing a left-handed defender who can play alongside Weber and a caliber striker for one of the first two lines.
Several excellent young players remain without a contract a few days before the opening of the camps, but we do not see how Bergevin could acquire one of them by way of a transaction.
It would cost him an arm and a leg! Like an established player and a good hope.
Nothing says it will not move in the next few days. The name of Jason Pominville circulates, but the native of Repentigny will be 37 years old at the end of November.
Andrei Markov would like to return to Montreal to finish his career, but Bergevin should have retained his services two years ago. It’s probably too late today. Markov certainly did not gain speed as he approached his 41st birthday.
For the moment, Bergevin relies on the numbers he retained at the end of the last season and the newcomers he added to his training during the off-season, ie the assistant goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid, defenseman Ben Chiarot and forwards Nick Cousins, Riley Barber and Phil Varone.
The last two are intended to play with the Laval Rocket.
The stars must be aligned
The race for the playoffs is all the more difficult as teams like the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils, which were not last season’s playoffs, have improved significantly.
The Flyers and Sabers could also be at the height of the fight.
It will be necessary that the stars are well aligned for the Tricolor.
Price and Weber will have to stay healthy and perform to the best of their abilities.
Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, Philipp Danault, Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry will have to be as productive as last year.
Drouin to free himself
The hour of truth has also sounded for Jonathan Drouin. His age can no longer be used as an excuse. At 24, the time has come for him to break free. He is the player who could make the difference for his team.
Greater consistency in terms of effort and production would be valuable assets for his people. He plays his future. It’s up to him.
It will be interesting to see how Jesperi Kotkaniemi will get through in his second NHL season. If he escapes the guinea that often falls on the players of second year, it could serve well the cause of his team.
As for Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki, it’s early to say. Time will prevail in both cases. In defenders, Chiarot should be a good complement to Petry. A good contribution from Kinkaid would be welcome. Victories on his part would be profitable for the Habs, as well as for Price, who would not have to slap almost all the work in front of the net.
A solution for the five-man attack?
Finally, this analysis would not be complete without a word about the five-man attack, which lost valuable points to the Canadiens last season.
Need we remind that the Habs finished penultimate in this chapter with a poor average efficiency of 13.3%? Only the Nashville Predators did worse (12.9%).
It would be necessary to find a way for it to unlock, this case! If you think you have miracle solutions, send them to Claude Julien.
THE REPECHAGE DOES NOT GUARANTEE SUCCESS
Geoff Molson sees the future of his team in pink. It’s perfectly legitimate. When he says he is optimistic that the Canadiens are among the best teams in the National League in the next three to eight years, it’s probably the projections his hockey men made for him.
The organization has rekindled its bank of hopes in the last three repechage. Jesperi Kotkaniemi gave him reason for choosing third place last year.
Like many young people in the top five, the Finn proved he was ready for the National League at 18.
Alex Romanov, Jesse Ylönen and Jacob Olofsson were drafted, just like him, in 2018.
Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury, Cayden Primeau and Joni Ikonen come from the 2017 vintage.
It is also said that the greatest good of Cole Caufield, first choice last June, and Jayden Struble that the Canadian has selected in the second round.
Added to these names are Noah Juulsen, first choice of 2015 whose development was slowed down by injuries, as well as Nick Suzuki, first choice of the Golden Knights of Vegas obtained in the transaction that sent Max Pacioretty in the capital of the game.
Between dream and reality
How many of these 13 players will carve a place with the big club?
In an ideal world, they would all succeed, but experience has taught us that there is a difference between dream and reality.
The story also says that it often takes a long time to win top honors. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals did not become champions overnight.
The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabers, who have drafted several times in the top five in recent years, are slow to take hold.
The Oilers only took part in the playoffs once in four years with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in training.
Prior to last June’s draft, the Buffalo Sabers had six top-10 picks in seven years. Yet they have missed the playoffs in the past eight seasons and there is no guarantee that they will be next spring.
Like what it is not easy to rebuild.
What to expect
After several years of failure with his first picks, the Canadian is on a good track since 2015.
Juulsen (2015) and Poehling (2017) knock on the door. Kotkaniemi (2018) has already made its way with the big club.
2016’s first choice, Mikhail Sergachev, who was traded in return for Jonathan Drouin, is doing well with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It remains to Drouin to demonstrate that the Habs did the right thing by going to get him.