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 – October 11, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – October 11, 2022

Wayne Simmonds, Nazem Kadri and Akim Aliu take issue with a Toronto Sun columnist, an update on David Pastrnak’s contract talks, the Golden Knights sign Nic Hague while the Senators sign Derick Brassard and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.

YAHOO SPORTS/TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds and Calgary Flames center Nazem Kadri took issue with Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons regarding an article the latter wrote about former NHLer Akim Aliu. The three players are members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, formed in 2020 by several current and former players of color to eradicate racism in hockey.

Simmons suggested Aliu, chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, was using racism as an excuse for not achieving his potential as a player. “By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was color-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?”

Aliu replied on social media saying Simmons had “no clue” what he and his family endured physically and emotionally since he started playing hockey. He recounted several instances of racism he faced throughout his career.

Calgary Flames center Nazem Kadri (NHL Images).

Simmonds replied to the Sun columnist on Twitter, saying he didn’t appreciate what Simmons was trying to do. “Do not ever use my name or any other player of color’s name to try and make your point.”

Kadri, meanwhile, said Simmons is the last person who would know about experiencing racism. “He’s always been a writer that’s kind of been on the line and created a lot of controversy so people can read his articles,” said the Flames center. “He’s just a guy who’s a little dated in his writing.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The number of teams Aliu played for or the number of leagues he played in or his ability as a player doesn’t disqualify him from speaking out against racism in hockey. His story and those of other players who’ve endured racism and bigotry in the sport must be heard and their concerns must be addressed. Remember, hockey is supposed to be for everyone.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said contract talks with David Pastrnak are ongoing but offered up no timetable to finalize a deal. The 26-year-old winger said he’s comfortable with negotiations carrying on into the season. Meanwhile, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said ownership’s mindset in trying to re-sign Pastrnak was “aggressive.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The fact those discussions are ongoing bodes well for the two sides reaching an agreement before Pastrnak’s eligibility for unrestricted free-agent status next July.

VEGAS HOCKEY NOW: The Golden Knights signed Nicolas Hague to a three-year contract worth an average annual value of $2.294 million. The 23-year-old defenseman was a restricted free agent coming off an entry-level contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights’ limited cap room factored into why it took so long to get Hague under contract. With Shea Weber, Robin Lehner and Nolan Patrick on LTIR, Owen Krepps of Vegas Hockey Now speculates they’ll squeeze under the $82.5 million cap by $700K depending on which players they demote to their AHL affiliate.

OTTAWA SUN: Derick Brassard earned a one-year, $750K contract with the Senators following a professional tryout offer. It’s the 35-year-old forward’s second tour with the Sens, having skated with them from 2016 to 2018.

CBS SPORTS: The New Jersey Devils placed captain Nico Hischier on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. It’s unclear if the 23-year-old center will be ready for the Devils’ season opener on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

TSN: Vancouver Canucks placed Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott and Tyler Myers on injured reserve. Meanwhile, Brock Boeser will start the season on their active roster. Boeser had been recovering from hand surgery.

WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: The Capitals placed Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injury reserve. The 34-year-old center is recovering from off-season hip surgery. Carl Hagelin (lower-body injury) and Tom Wilson (knee surgery) are listed as non-roster to start the season.

FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Panthers placed Anthony Duclair (torn Achilles tendon) on LTIR. They will start the season with a 20-player roster due to salary-cap constraints. They also released Eric Staal from his professional tryout offer but are hoping to find a way to sign him to a contract.

NEWSOBSERVER.COM: Limited salary-cap space is also delaying the Carolina Hurricanes from signing Derek Stepan. They demoted Jordan Martinook after he cleared waivers but it’s considered merely a paper transaction until Jake Gardiner is officially placed on LTIR to start the season. Martinook will remain with the club and Stepan is expected to be signed shortly.

TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs demoted Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford after they cleared waivers on Monday.

98.5 THE SPORTS HUB: The Boston Bruins demoted Nick Foligno, Mike Reilly and Chris Wagner after they cleared waivers. It’s expected they’ll be recalled with Brad Marchand (hip surgery) and Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) going on LTIR to start the season.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: The Blues assigned Jake Neighbours and Josh Leivo to the minors but in reality, they’re not going anywhere. The move is a paper transaction until sidelined defenseman Marco Scandella is placed on LTIR today.

MONTREAL HOCKEY NOW: The Canadiens did the same thing with defenseman Arber Xhekaj. He made the roster due to a strong performance in training camp but the Canadiens must first place forward Paul Byron on LTIR.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Clubs can be over the cap during the off-season by 10 percent but must be compliant when the regular season officially opens. Lots of teams with limited cap space were forced to do some creative accounting until they can officially place players on long-term injury reserve to start the season.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Juraj Slafkovsky also made the Canadiens’ roster to start the season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The 2022 first-overall pick faced considerable scrutiny and criticism from pundits and fans for his play during training camp and preseason games. His improvement over the course of that period garnered him at least a nine-game regular-season tryout.

After that, the Canadiens must decide if they’ll keep Slafkovsky on the roster for the season or send him to their AHL affiliate in Laval. If he’s sent down before his 10th game, the first year of his entry-level contract won’t count against this season and will slide to 2023-24.