Monday, September 10, 2018

NHL Preview 2018-19: Montréal Canadiens

GM: Marc Bergevin (since 2012). 5/10
Coach: Claude Julien (second stint, since 2017). 7.5/10

2017-18 record: 29-40-13, 71 points, 28th overall, out of playoffs.

Departures: Max Pacioretty (RW), Alex Galchenyuk (C), Daniel Carr (LW).

Arrivals: Max Domi (LW), Michael Chaput (C), Xavier Ouellet (D) Joel Armia (RW), Kenny Agostino (RW), Matthew Peca (C), Tomas Plekanec (C), Tomas Tatar (LW).

Top forwards: Jonathan Drouin (55-65 points), Domi (45-55 points), Phillip Danault (35-45 points), Brendan Gallagher (50-55 points), Tatar (40-50 points), Artturi Lehkonen (20-30 points), Tomas Plekanec (20-30 points), Nicolas Deslauriers (20-30 points), Andrew Shaw (30 points), Paul Byron (35-45 points), Charles Hudon (30-40 points).

Must-improve forwards: Domi was acquired in exchange for Galchenyuk, a third-overall draft pick who still leads his draft class in points to this day and has a 30-goal season under his belt. Domi? Two straight 9-goal seasons in Arizona. He needs to find his inner Brad Marchand and add some goal-scoring to his game, to go with the dumb penalties and suspensions.

Top defensemen: Shea Weber (30 points), Jeff Petry (30-35 points), Mike Reilly (30 points), Karl Alzner (10-15 points), Noah Juulsen (20 points), Victor Mete (10-20 points).

Goalies: Carey Price (84/100), Charlie Lindgren (79), Antti Niemi (75/100).

Top rookies: Juulsen (21 years old, D, 2015 first-round draft pick), Charlie Lindgren (24, G), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (18, C, third-overall pick in 2018), Nick Suzuki (19, C, first-round pick in 2017), Ryan Poehling (19, C, first-round pick in 2017), Jake Evans (22, C, 2014 draft pick).

So, there's that Domi thing. That's three summers in a row where Bergevin trades away his actual best player for an admittedly below-value asset. But then there's the Pacioretty-for-Tatar/Suzuki/second-rounder - and that's just amazing value for a leader who can't lead and a scorer who can't score, let alone when they're the same guy.

Tatar's not the second coming of The Rocket, but if the Habs had had him on their second line two years ago, with that dependable two-way play and assured 20-25 goals, it may have prolonged Plekanec's career as a middle-six forward in the NHL by a couple of seasons.

Of course, Montréal's biggest problem isn't the fact that their lack of offensive depth has them having to focus on winning 2-1 games; it's the fact that past Weber, Petry, and Mete, they will have to rely on a youngster like Juulsen to make the roster and hope Reilly reaching age 25 will have him become a full-time NHLer, because we saw last season that Alzner cannot play in Julien's system and Jordie Benn and David Schlemko need to be #8 Ds in the NHL, or else your team's in trouble; Benn and Schlemko played upwards of 18 minutes per game last year and Alzner over 20, with Benn suiting up in 77 games and Alzner playing in all 82. And that's saying nothing of the wear-and-tear on Weber's 33-year-old body, or his contract, which runs until the end of time.

Speaking of which, behind that rag-tag group of glorified AHLers stands (kneels?) a guy who will take up over 1/8th of the team's salary cap for the next eight years by himself, the oft-injured, buckling-under-pressure, one-season wonder and perennial All-Star Price, he of the 3.11 GAA and .900 save percentage last season, far behind Niemi's 2.46/.929 and Lindgren's 3.03/.908. Price had a single shutout in 49 games last year; Niemi had one in 19, and Lindgren had two, in 14 games.

There's worse, though, because the shit-show known as the Ottawa Senators exists.

The future is bright for the Canadiens. Mete, Juulsen, and Reilly on the back end could be mainstays for at least half a decade, maybe more; Drouin's still pretty young, Domi could become a fine middle-six winger, Kotkaniemi and Poehling could become a very good one-two punch at center, Hudon's always there to take a spot on a second line at least temporarily, Danault is still just 25 and able to fill an offensive role in case of an injury and young guys like Nikita Scherbak, Lehkonen, Deslauriers and Michael McCarron may develop well under Joel Bouchard in the AHL to fill valuable roles in Montréal.

But that's all at least a couple of years away, and it will require at least an upgrade on defense and between the pipes.

Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division, out of the playoff picture, but ahead of the Sens.

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