Can you feel it in the air? It’s electric. It’s palpable. We can almost smell the hockey gear as the NHL is set to start its 2021 season on January 13th. Finally! And to make things even more exciting, the battle for supremacy in Canada will be on the line. Canadian teams will all face each other eight to ten times this upcoming season, creating inimaginable rivalries from coast to coast. Fans from each fan base will be going at it as players will rapidly learn to hate each other. No sponsor will complain about the interest generated in this division as fans will be glued to their TV screens!
No one is more excited about the NHL returning to its activities than Montreal Canadiens’ fans. Why? Because team General Manager Marc Bergevin has finally spent to the cap limit. He was able to do so because he reached the point in his reset where he could add key pieces to the young players starting to join the team and be key contributors. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov are all expected to have an impact this year.
A new look
Due in part to his team’s performances in the last COVID-Cup playoffs, Bergevin decided that it was time to make a push forward. Here’s a sample of the work that he has done since the end of the last playoffs:
|Max Domi||5’10” – 192 lbs||Josh Anderson||6’3″ – 222 lbs|
|Charles Hudon||5’10” – 190 lbs||Tyler Toffoli||6’0″ – 197 lbs|
|Dale Weise||6’2″ – 196 lbs||Corey Perry||6’3″ – 205 lbs|
|Christian Folin||6’4″ – 204 lbs||Joel Edmundson||6’4″ 215 lbs|
|Alexander Romanov||5’11” – 185 lbs|
|Michael Frolik||6’1″ – 190 lbs|
|Jake Allen||6’2″ – 203 lbs|
The only regular roster player that the Canadiens have lost is Domi. While the jury is out about Anderson’s impact compared to Domi, whom he was traded for, Bergevin has added four quality regulars in total.
Huge lineup and depth improvement
The Canadiens did very well in the playoffs. They not only beat Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but according to most around hockey, they were the better team against the Flyers in spite of their loss. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi took huge strides, even bumping Danault down to the third line. Here were the most often utilized lines in the last playoffs:
Tatar – Suzuki – Gallagher
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Lehkonen – Danault – Byron
Belzile – Domi – Weise
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Ouellet – Mete
With the new additions up front, the third line wingers are bumped to the fourth line. Also, towards the end of the playoffs, Drouin and Suzuki found some good chemistry. Now compare this to the projected line-up, what Claude Julien has been using during this short training camp:
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Lehkonen – Evans – Byron
(Frolik – Poehling/Weal – Perry)
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov
(Ouellet – Mete)
Anderson brings the same speed Domi had, but he’s much bigger and meaner. While he doesn’t possesses Domi’s stick handling, he has a much better shot in addition to the size to create room out there for himself and his linemates. He will also drop the gloves if or when need be. Danault finds back his linemates with whom he has the most chemistry with in the past few seasons. Kotkaniemi has always had chemistry with Armia and he now has a goals’ scorer with him as well in Toffoli. The fourth and fifth lines are pretty evenly balanced and the players on them can easily be interchangeable. They can also all move up and down the line-up on any given night, providing the coaching staff with tons of flexibility.
Edmundson was top pairing with Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues, a big improvement over Kulak, who is bumped to third pairing. Last year’s third pairing is bumped out of the line-up, as Romanov is far superior to Ouellet. So the defense is hugely improved and both newcomers are extremely physical and punishing.
Allen is miles ahead of Lindgren (or Keith Kinkaid), which will allow Price some much needed time off in this very compressed schedule with lots of travel time. We saw what a rested Price can do in last year’s playoffs.
Proof by the numbers
The Canadiens were 19th in NHL by scoring 2.93 goals per game. The players gone tallied a total of 20 goals all year last season. Toffoli alone had 24 goals last season and the newcomers had 42 goals in total. And that’s counting Anderson with his 1 goal in 26 games, while we all know that he’ll score many more than that. Montreal allowed 3.10 goals per game, good for 13th in the NHL, and they have vastly improved their defense and goaltending.
The team’s Achilles, most times, was its special teams. Ranking 22nd in the NHL on the powerplay (17.7%) and 19th on the penalty kill (78.7%) was simply not good enough to contend. With the elements added to the roster, chances are the team will improve on both fronts this upcoming season.
The Habs were one of the best teams at even strength last season and with the new players in place, they should remain a force at five on five. So do the math… if they allow fewer goals and score more, it will result in more wins. We’re not talking about small improvements at all positions here. It’s not too farfetched to expect many more wins.
Lack of respect
Most media outlets outside of Montreal are putting them towards the bottom of the standings in the Canadian division, particularly those located in Toronto. Yet, they’re all giddy about the addition of older and less mobile guys the Leafs have added to their line-up. Fans from other teams also have the Habs way down. Considering what they’ve done in the playoffs and the new additions, those reactions are rather mind boggling.
Something tells me that many people will be surprised when this team hits the ice. They might need a few games to get their chemistry working, but this year’s Montreal Canadiens is the best that I can recall since the 1993 season. Not top heavy, but well balanced throughout the line-up and quality depth ready to chip in when called upon. If media and fans from other teams get stunned by this Canadiens’ team, Habs’ fans sure won’t be. Let it all begin… Go Habs Go!