The Canadiens Don’t Need To Tank The Season

The Canadiens Don’t Need To Tank The Season

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.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 9, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 9, 2021

COVID-19 strikes the Stars and Blue Jackets, plus updates on Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The Stars’ training facilities are closed indefinitely and the club’s practices canceled after six players and two staff tested positive for COVID-19. The NHL is revising the Stars’ regular-season schedule with the expectation the club won’t be able to play until Jan. 19 at the earliest. That means their season-opener on Jan. 14 and their following two games (Jan. 15 and Jan. 17) will be rescheduled.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Stars and the league haven’t revealed which players tested positive for the coronavirus. The report noted forwards Jason Robertson, Joel L’Esperance and Tye Felhaber and defensemen Joel Hanley were missing from the Stars’ last practice but it’s unknown if those absences were injury- or illness-related.

While the Stars’ facilities are closed indefinitely they could reopen soon. As the report observed, the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning had several players test positive before the start of the 2020 playoffs, but their facilities opened several days later.

Despite the NHL’s health and safety protocols, it was inevitable COVID-19 would make its presence felt. Unlike the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, the upcoming regular season isn’t being held in hub cities under strict quarantine conditions.

The coronavirus also affected Major League Baseball and the National Football League this season but those leagues managed to complete their seasons. This outbreak won’t prevent the start of the NHL’s overall schedule, but it means the Stars’ 56-game schedule has become more compressed.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets yesterday held 17 players out of practice for precautionary reasons. Most were regular roster players, including team captain Nick Foligno, forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Max Domi and defensemen Seth Jones, Vladislav Gavrikov and David Savard. The Jackets didn’t indicate if any of the absent players had tested positive for COVID-19.

Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll find out during this weekend if those players will remain sidelined and if the Jackets will be carrying on with their practice sessions. Their season-opener is Jan. 14. The report observed the Jackets dealt with an outbreak last month during small-group workouts that closed their practice facilities for a week.

NHL.COM: Henrik Lundqvist took to social media on Friday to report he is recovering well from his recent five-hour open-heart surgery. Lundqvist had signed with the Washington Capitals but his heart condition sidelined him for the entire season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to King Henrik for a swift and full recovery.

NJ.COM: Corey Crawford is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the New Jersey Devils for personal reasons. The 36-year-old goalie signed a two-year deal with the Devils in October. There’s no timeline for his return. The Devils are expected to turn to Scott Wedgewood as Mackenzie Blackwood’s backup.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s hoping things are okay for Crawford and his family and he returns to action soon.

WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres signed center Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $700K contract. Sheahan was attending Sabres’ training camp on a professional tryout offer.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle suffered a sprained right knee during a collision with another player. He’ll be sidelined for six weeks.

CAP FRIENDLY: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, New York Rangers blueliner Adam Fox, Pittsburgh Penguins rearguard John Marino, Washington Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov and Ottawa Senators winger Brady Tkachuk are among several players within five games of losing their waiver-exempt status.

ESPN.COM: Long-time Pittsburgh Penguins play-by-play man Mike Lange, 72, is sitting out the start of the 2020-21 season as a precaution due to COVID-19.

TSN: The province of Manitoba has given approval for the Winnipeg Jets to stage games in their home arena.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: All seven Canadian teams have the approval of their respective provinces to play in their home cities this season.

THE MERCURY NEWS: Growing number of COVID-19 cases in California’s Santa Clara County is casting doubt on whether the San Jose Sharks can return to the SAP Center early next month as scheduled. The Sharks are starting the season on the road because of the county’s current restrictions on sporting events.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – October 21, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – October 21, 2020

The Blackhawks begin rebuilding, a look ahead to next season, the latest notable contracts signings and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: In an open letter to their fans, the Blackhawks announced their commitment to “developing young players and rebuilding our roster”. The letter also stated the club needs “a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players” in order to return to Stanley Cup contention.

Chicago Blackhawks want core veterans like Jonathan Toews to be part of their rebuild. (NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks are finally admitting what’s been apparent for some time. Years of salary-cap constraints led to cost-cutting moves that steadily eroded their depth of talent, leaving them with no choice but to restock with younger, affordable players.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports they want veterans such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith to be part of the rebuild. He said general manager Stan Bowman spoke with those players about their role in the club’s direction. “Now, we’ll see how those players react,” said LeBrun.

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the joint NHL-NHLPA committee tasked with return-to-play for next season haven’t met yet but it eventually will as the league conducts internal intel among its clubs. Ten players are expected to be on this committee.

LeBrun reports the NHL general managers will be meeting on Friday. There will be discussion over when the American Hockey League will begin play as some GMs want to get their prospects playing as soon as possible. He also indicated the league and the PA have tentatively agreed that the seven clubs that didn’t qualify for return-to-play this summer will have extra training-camp time ahead of the normal training-camp period for next season.

Frank Seravalli reported NHL players are wondering if salaries will be prorated in case of a shortened season. For now, there’s been little discussion on that issue. The players are expected to receive all but 30 percent of their salaries next season, with 20 percent deducted for escrow and 10 percent deferred.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Player agent Allan Walsh believes it’s safe to assume the NHL won’t return to action on the tentative target date of Jan. 1. He believes it could be Jan. 15 or pushed to Feb. 1.

Walsh also speculated there could be multiple bubble cities with two in Canada and four in the United States where teams would travel to those cities for two weeks to play several games, return home for a week, and then travel to another bubble city for two weeks. He doesn’t expect to see any clarity on next season until mid-December.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Everything seems to be in the preparatory stage for the actual meetings between the league and the PA. Holding a regular season during the pandemic comes with a different set of challenges compared to staging the 2020 playoffs in two bubble cities.

Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley last week suggested the league could return on Feb.1 with a reduced schedule played in some sort of divisional bubbles, including a Canadian division if the border between Canada and the United States remains closed to non-essential travel. We’ll probably find out by mid-December if Foley’s remarks foreshadow the league’s intentions.

TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs avoided salary arbitration with Ilya Mikheyev by signing the winger to a two-year deal worth $1.645 million annually.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Leafs are $175K over the $81.5 million salary cap with defenseman Travis Dermott to re-sign. They’re allowed to sit over the cap by 10 percent during the offseason.

OTTAWA SUN: The Senators and Connor Brown are $2.5 million apart in contract negotiations. Brown seeks a one-year, $4.8 million deal while the Senators countered with $2.25 million. Brown’s arbitration hearing is slated for Thursday.

THE PROVINCE: Vancouver Canucks winger Micheal Ferland is skating again but his agent said his client’s health will determine if he resumes his playing career. Ferland made three attempts to return from a concussion suffered in a game last year against the Los Angeles Kings.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON: The Bruins signed forward Karson Kuhlman to a two-year, $1.5 million contract. It’s a two-way deal in the first year.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Canadiens signed Kaiden Guhle to an entry-level contract. The 18-year-old defenseman was the Habs first-round pick (16th overall) in this year’s NHL Draft.

THE SEATTLE TIMES: Geoff Baker reports Kraken general manager Ron Francis said the ownership of the expansion club has approved spending toward the upper limit of the 2021-22 salary cap as long as they aren’t hamstrung in future years.

Baker speculates players with hefty contracts lacking no-movement protection, such as San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, Tampa Bay Lightning winger Tyler Johnson, Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie and Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby, could be targeted by the Kraken if left unprotected in next year’s expansion draft.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expect Francis to use the Vegas Golden Knights as his template for building an expansion roster. Thanks to some savvy moves including trades and free-agent signings, the Golden Knights became a Stanley Cup Finalist in their inaugural season and a perennial playoff club ever since.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 11, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 11, 2020

An update on the league’s return-to-play plans, the Ducks re-sign two players and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NEWSDAY: Andrew Gross reports a source claiming the NHL’s return-to-play plans have been narrowed down to two scenarios. The first involves a 24-team format in which the top four teams play for playoff seeding while the bottom teams would have postseason play-in games. The second involves going straight into the usual 16-team playoff format with no attempt to salvage the regular season.

Completing the regular season might not be possible for the NHL.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Gross via e-mail every option considered by the league remains on the table.  “Obviously, some may be being explored more extensively than others. But no decisions have been made,” wrote Daly.

Many health and logistic issues confront any of the league’s attempts to return to action, including self-quarantining of players and international travel restrictions. Some players expressed concern over the possibility of spending up to three months separated from their families while playing in four neutral-site host cities.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gross also reports his source claiming the NHL was hell-bent on including regular-season games if play resumed. It would recoup more of its losses by completing the regular-season schedule. With the pandemic ongoing and social-distancing rules varying from market-to-market, that might not be possible. The health, logistic and family concerns cited by Gross could force the league into returning with a shorter format.  

Gross also pointed out there’s been no clarity over determining which teams would return under 16 or 24 team playoff scenarios. However, it’s assumed points percentage will be the measuring stick.

THE SCORE: NHL legend Bobby Orr told TSN’s James Duthie he doesn’t see anything wrong with the NHL attempting to restart the season, but he cautions against trying to do it too quickly.

“We just cannot come back until the players are safe, the families are safe, anybody connected with those games, around the games, if they do come back, (we have to make sure) that everyone is safe.”

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks re-signed defenseman Brendan Guhle and center Sam Carrick to contract extensions Sunday. Guhle signed a two-season, $1.6-million contract and Carrick signed a one-season, $700,000 deal. 

EDMONTON JOURNAL: A Russian hockey website claims Oilers forward Markus Granlund will sign with KHL club Ufa Salavat Yuleaev next season. He’s an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and struggled to earn playing time with the Oilers this season. It’s believed the two sides have already agreed on a contract.

TRIBLIVE.COM: Concussion injuries have brought Ben Sexton’s playing career to a close. The 28-year-old forward spent most of his professional career in the minors, seeing two NHL games with the Ottawa Senators in 2017-18. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sexton missed all of this season with a concussion. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Sam McCaig looks at the all-time single-season scoring and wins leaders for all 31 NHL teams. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some of the names on these lists might surprise you.