The Canadiens Don’t Need To Tank The Season

by | Nov 29, 2022 | Soapbox | 10 comments

A quarter of the way into the 2022-23 schedule, the Montreal Canadiens are exceeding expectations.

Having bottomed out last season in one of the worst performances in franchise history, the Canadiens (11-9-1) had 23 points entering their Nov. 29 games with the San Jose Sharks. They’re just two points out of a wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

Several factors account for this improvement thus far.

Head coach Martin St. Louis doesn’t punish players (especially the younger Habs) for making mistakes. It’s much easier to play the game when you’re not terrified of getting banished to the press box for screwing up now and again.

Nick Suzuki wears the captaincy as comfortably as he would his favorite pair of skates. He leads the Canadiens in scoring, becoming the first-line center this franchise has been lacking for some time.

Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield (NHL Images).

Cole Caufield, meanwhile, continues to blossom into one of the league’s most dangerous snipers. Off-season acquisition Kirby Dach is thriving alongside Suzuki and Caufield, providing the Canadiens with a potent scoring line.

Rookie defensemen Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic stepped up when veterans Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson were sidelined by injuries. 2022 first-overall pick Juraj Slavkovsky is showing some potential as a future top-six winger.

The Canadiens’ rebuilding process under general manager Kent Hughes and his boss Jeff Gorton seems to be tracking in the right direction. A house of horrors a year ago, the Bell Centre is rocking once again to the cheers of Habs fans.

However, not every Canadiens follower is pleased by the club’s promising early-season play.

There are those fearful that the Canadiens are wrecking their rebuild, screwing up their chances of winning the 2023 draft lottery and the rights to projected top prospect Connor Bedard. Some suggest management tank the season by trading away as many veteran players as they can as soon as possible.

Hughes and Gorton entered this season with no illusions. Their game plan was always to shop some veterans (especially those on expiring contracts) by the March 3 trade deadline for draft picks and prospects to put toward the ongoing rebuild.

Waiting for February or March to unload those players isn’t good enough for those Canadiens followers hoping their club finishes dead last. They want them gone now in the belief it’ll send the team tumbling toward the bottom of the standings and fulfill their daydreams of Bedard pulling on a Habs jersey at the 2023 draft.

Those folks are overlooking the potential already on display within this season’s roster.

The Canadiens have two foundation stars in Suzuki and Caufield. Dach has the potential to become a star in his own right. The 18-year-old Slavkovsky could turn into a serious scoring threat as his game matures. Guhle, Xhekaj, Harris and Kovacevic are providing a tantalizing glimpse of what could become a solid blueline corps.

Why mess with that right now? What gut the roster of veteran experience, skill and leadership that takes the pressure off those kids while they’re developing their skills? Why risk damaging the budding confidence of those promising players with another season wallowing in the bottom of the standings?

Despite the Canadiens’ early-season play, realistic fans understand that they will likely come up short of a playoff berth. There are still too many holes in their current roster despite their better-than-expected start. Management probably understands this too. They will start shopping some of their veterans leading up to the March trade deadline for draft picks and prospects. In the meantime, those players are more beneficial in the lineup now to help the kids develop their abilities.

Even if management did all it could between now and the trade deadline to tank the season, there’s no guarantee they’ll win the lottery again. Just because they might miss out on Bedard doesn’t mean they can’t find a potential star later in the opening round. Caufield, after all, was chosen 15th overall in the 2019 draft.

Thanks to their current and former management, the Canadiens already have a crop of promising talent on the roster and within their prospect pipeline. Those youngsters could form a solid core that forms the nucleus of a future Stanley Cup contender or at the very least a perennial playoff club.

Thanks to the guidance of St. Louis and his coaching staff, they’re already getting better. They’re entertaining to watch and never give up when they fall behind on the scoreboard.

Those Canadiens fans worried about next year’s draft lottery should just relax. Don’t look at it like they’re wrecking their chances of landing a magical unicorn prospect. Appreciate that they already have a promising core that could become something special in a few years.


  1. As a fan, I enjoy watching “my” team, watching them compete all out if not win.
    We Hab fans are spoiled by winning the SC with regularity over a few decades, in my case 12 parades despite the present 30 year drought.

    Tanking, winning the draft lottery isn’t a goal, expectation or a desire.
    A winning team is s function of assembling a puzzle in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    I like the way this team is being built, the parts added have exceeded my expectations and while it remains to e seen how the drafting pans out, initial indications are promising.

    As I have reminded people many times even the great Sam Pollock ha gaffes, most glaringly drafting Mark Napier instead of Mike Bossy.

    The upcoming draft is rich in talent and the Habs have two picks already and are looking or a third.

    Suzuki (#13) and Caufield (#15) are proof that you don’t need to tank.

    • Agree HF30

      We must be close to the same age…. But those 12 Habs cups ‘65 through ‘93…. Sadly only 1 Leaf cup in that time (I was a toddler in ‘62, no memory whatsoever of ‘63 and ‘64)

      Habs are sitting very good in their rebuild

      Highly likely they finish just out of playoffs this year (so much better than ‘21/‘22) and already still have 11 ‘23 picks including 2 firsts; have 5 1sts over next 3 drafts; and will likely move at least 2 vets by/at TDL for more picks!

      Rebuild going well

      On the Leafs side…. Shanaplan now over 8 years old…. picks’ cupboard is nowhere near stocked (only 5 ‘23 picks right now) and 1/2 Cap still on 4 Fwds; and I still believe the roster as is; is not likely to get to SC in ‘23, let alone win it

      This Leafs’ fan of course hopes Habs blow the rebuild; but realistically I believe they are on track

  2. The thing certain Have fans are ignoring is that, even should the Habs finish last in the league and get the 1st overall pick in the lottery, there is no guarantee that they’ll pick Bedard.

  3. A rebuild has to establish a culture of winning and sacrifice and “tanking” doesn’t establish that culture.

    Drafting the “best” player doesn’t ensure it either, hello McDavid, Matthews.

    I don’t want to tank or miss the playoffs 5-6 years in a row and have a team that learned to lose.

    • There is definitely truth that a culture of losing/negativity can stick if it lasts too long HF30. I have lived in Edmonton for 12 years and watched a large portion of the “decade of darkness”. Somewhat objectively as I am a B’s fan first but it was really hard to change that, or at least sure looked like it from the outside.

      IMO opinion what changed it was McDavid. Not just his talent, but who he is. That guy hates losing, like really hates losing. Also forced change in attitude from ownership where he backed off the DTD biz, and hired a proven GM. Not sure Holland comes to EDM without McDavid either. I believe it helped to get some FA’s as well, as who the heck wants to come to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years.

  4. I think you would be hard pressed to find an nhl player that would play to lose. Not in the dna of hockey players. Owners can try to force a tank by dumping good players for not as good players. Like Pitt did for Mario. Player will always try to win. There is satisfaction in screwing the other teams playoff hope etc

    • I agree 100%.If this were basketball I can see it happening.What does Montreal want?The management team,Gorton,Melrose doing an unbelievable job.They were left with a lot oo deadweight that is impossible to move in Armia,Droiun,Dandanov,Monahan,just to name a few.

  5. I counted about 15 unnecessary paragraphs but, okay.

    The Habs are coming in for a landing very soon.

  6. I too would love to see the Habs be a relevant team again. Who wouldn’t, as a fan? It is pleasantly surprising (so far) to see where they are in the standings given that they were predicted to be one of the worst teams this year. But as I write this, they are in 19th place with another 5 or 6 teams within 2 points of them. They have a very good top line and promising young defenders. But they still need a goalie and a 2nd and 3rd line which can contribute on the score sheet. They do have many good prospects in the system but who knows what kind of NHL players they will be. So, I still don’t think they are anywhere close to being a team that can compete for the Cup. The experts are saying it is supposed to be a very good draft year and so the more picks, and the higher they are, the better. HF30, Matthews and McDavid are great players and it is not their fault that they play on mismanaged teams. Any team would line up for these 2 players if they were made available right now. We all know the draft can be a crap shoot but no GM is trading a 1st round pick for 2 thirds just because Marchand and Letang were third round picks who became stars. The odds of picking a star is still better in the top 10 then in any other round. So seeing that this team will not make the playoffs, it is incumbent on management to get the highest pick possible this year. The only way to do this is to trade away players that are not projected to be part of the long -term future as it has already been stated by others that coaches and players play the game to win, not to lose. As far as this fear of building a team with a losing culture, the players in the room know that this team is not good enough and would welcome any talent that would increase their chances of winning. The reason why teams lose and don’t make the playoffs year after year is because they don’t have the necessary talent to compete, not because of some sort of losing psychosis.

  7. I don’t like to believe any pro player wants to rank a game let alone a season. I line watching them compete and be competitive. Bédard is a promising player and would look great in Habs colors. But teaching players to lose on purpose is a bad idea.