New website, new identity, new branding, moving away from Habsterix, so I figured why not change an old format to a new one? This is a “new” column, replacing the old “Top Cheese” which you may be more familiar with. It’s basically a collection of random thoughts on a variety of topics, more often than not about the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL, but not always. In this edition, we will touch on topics such as a recap of the Habs’ COVID Cup participation, some of Marc Bergevin‘s potential agenda items for the off-season, the development of some young players, the effect of COVID-19 on the said development, the future of Claude Julien behind a NHL bench and more… Please feel free to share and as usual, comments are always welcome.
Back in March, the Canadiens weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and Bergevin was preparing to evaluate his players in order to make decisions in the summer months. COVID-19 put a wrench in everyone’s plans and the NHL, needing the viewership, decided to go with a 24 teams tournament-style Stanley Cup playoffs to have Montreal, New York (Rangers), Chicago and Minnesota’s fan bases watching.
The Canadiens shocked the hockey world by winning their best of three series against the Eastern Conference fifth ranked team, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby. As we know, they went on to play the Philadelphia Flyers, a team they’ve outplayed for the most part in the series but ended losing the luck battle in six games. The stars of the COVID Cup for the Habs were:
- Carey Price: 1.78 GAA, .936 Sv%
- Shea Weber: 5 Pts, +3, 25:17 TOI/GP
- Ben Chiarot: 2 Pts, +2, 23:07 TOI/GP
- Jeff Petry: 2 GWG, 25:27 TOI/GP
- Nick Suzuki: 7 Pts, +3, 19:11 TOI/GP
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi: 4G, +4, 13:53 TOI/GP
What’s most unfortunate for the Canadiens is that by being there, they were helping the NHL get some viewership and, by the same token, gaining some much needed revenue. Over a 71 games season, the team was 24th overall at the time the activities stopped and players were going through the motions before enjoying their summer. But because they won one “qualifier series” against the Pens, the Habs lost their chances at drafting local talent Alexis Lafrenière.
Worse, they also lost their 9th pick overall! They will, instead, be drafting 16th at the next NHL Draft. It’s Gary Bettman‘s way of saying: Thanks Geoff (Molson), and here’s a worse pick to show my gratitude. Yes, for the NHL, a best of three series is a better way of gauging a team’s needs than a 71-games season! It’s not the first time the league makes stupid decisions and it’s likely not going to be the last…
Even during the regular season, there were some questions regarding Max Domi‘s future with the Canadiens. After an outstanding first year in Montreal, which saw him explode with 72 points including 28 goals, Domi has fallen drastically this season. He had 44 points and was minus -3 in 71 games this season. There were a lot of questions as to if he would join the team for the COVID Cup and none would have held it against him had he opted out, being a higher risk due to his type-1 diabetes.
As it turns out, he would have bailed out and it wouldn’t have changed much for the team as he was a non factor in the two series. Domi managed only three points, all in one game against Philadelphia, and was minus -2 in the playoffs. We can wonder what happened with him but the bigger question is to know if he has played his last game with the Canadiens.
Jonathan Drouin was a different story. After a slow start against the Penguins (one point in four games), he managed six points in the six games against Philadelphia and seems to have found good chemistry with rookie Nick Suzuki. Often the fans’ scapegoat, Drouin has silenced a few of them with his performance and he likely earned himself another chance at showing that he will be the player the Canadiens were expecting when trading for him with the Tampa Bay Lightning. As it stands right now, the Bolts appear to have won that trade and at 25, it will be do or die for the enigmatic winger.
Ryan Poehling was on the lips of many during this tournament for a couple of reasons. Many wanted to see him get into the line-up and it was painful to see that Alex Belzile was playing while the former first round pick wasn’t being given a chance. With the way Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were performing, it would have been nice to see if Poehling could follow suit but he was never given the opportunity.
I was told that he showed up at camp in horrible shape and that was the reason why he was being taught a hard lesson. During the last game against Philly, La Presse reporter Mathias Brunet all but confirmed what I was told. Here’s hoping that the young man starts taking his career seriously as he might not be with the Habs much longer if he doesn’t. I mean when your GM is in better shape than you…
Another key player for the Canadiens was a non-factor during these playoffs and that’s a bit alarming. Unless he was playing with an undisclosed injury, Tomas Tatar only contributed two goals in 10 games and like Domi, both goals came in the same game against Philadelphia. In the last game against Philly, he did have a few scoring opportunities though, hitting the crossbar on one of them.
Still, with the young guys starting to show some promise, one has to wonder if Bergevin won’t be tempted to gauge his value on the market, as Tatar enters the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. With the salary cap staying still, his $4.8M cap hit (Vegas pays $500k) could be interesting considering his production.
Jeff Petry has once again proven his worth for the Canadiens. He has one more year left to his contract at a $5.5 million cap hit and according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletics and TSN, Bergevin wants to extend him.
“The plan is to wait until the offseason to examine the situation… my guess is we’ll see a Petry extension before the puck drops on the 2020-21 season.”
Claude Julien had a scare and a stents implant in his artery. While not necessarily life threatening, it is a very serious matter. Admittedly, every situation is different but my father had a few put in and his stamina isn’t what it used to be. Let’s face it: coaching the Montreal Canadiens isn’t a stress-free job and I personally would be shocked if he returned behind the bench.
The Habs could very well offer him a position of consultant or something less stressful and if that’s the case, the search for a replacement will begin shortly. Kirk Muller has done pretty well in replacement but my mind is set on another assistant-coach instead, Dominique Ducharme, as speaking French IS a requirement for the job and that, whether people want to accept it or not.
Not one, but two young centres have stepped up during this COVID Cup for the Canadiens. We’ve touched on Nick Suzuki already, but let’s not forget Jesperi Kotkaniemi. As if his four goals weren’t enough to convince everyone but Tony Marinaro of TSN 690, he is 5th in hits during the playoffs, some of which were bone crushing checks. Some people wanted Bergevin and Trevor Timmins to draft Filip Zadina for his scoring ability. Others wanted them to select Brady Tkachuk for his physicality. They decided to pick a guy who has both in Kotkaniemi.
It seems like Alexander Romanov has enjoyed his time in the bubble with his future teammates. The Canadiens had posted on Twitter a video of him giving a good bodycheck to a teammate in practice but for whatever reason, they removed it. They did however put some video of him smiling and having a good time. It will be interesting to see where he fits in next year but I’m convinced of one thing: even as a rookie, he’ll be a huge improvement over Xavier Ouellet who played every game in the playoffs!
With the news that the Big 10 is postponing their Fall Football season, a decision for the NCAA to do the same or not with their Division One hockey programs is imminent. As Canadiens’ blue chip prospect Cole Caufield had committed to returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Big Ten Conference, a postponement of the season could change things for him and for other prospects in the same situation.
With recommendation from the Canadiens, Caufield would have a couple of choices: he could turn professional and sign his entry level contract with the Canadiens, giving him the opportunity to try out for the NHL or be sent down to Laval, or he could join the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League. Stay tuned…
At the 2016 Draft, the Canadiens had their sight on Pierre-Luc Dubois and they tried trading up to select the Ste-Agathe-des-Monts native, to no avail. We know the rest: the Columbus Blue Jackets made him their first pick, the third overall that year. With his Entry Level contract over, Dubois is now a restricted free agent and it seems like the relationship between him and his controversial coach, John Tortorella, isn’t at its best.
Just recently, we saw Tortorella yell at him and have a fit on the bench, forcing the young man to turn around and yip back at his coach. Seeing that Bergevin and the Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet just last summer, one can wonder if they would be tempted in trying to use the same tactic with Dubois…
So there you have it folks. Much work to do for Marc Bergevin between now and the puck drop for the 2020-21 season, including preparing for the expansion draft next summer. It should be a busy couple of months in the NHL and while the playoffs have been very positive, the Canadiens have some serious work to do. For a list of dates and events, check out this link. Go Habs Go!