A Game of Lasts: Who’s Back, Who’s Not?

Well it has boiled down to this. All the suffering of a condensed 56-game schedule. The double-suffering of a stretch of 25 games in 44 days. Traveling from coast to coast. A head coaching change. A goaltending coach’s change. Add to that a few trades, a few injuries. A disappointing showing offensively in the playoffs… and lots of disappointments everywhere to be had. This sums up the Montreal Canadiens’ 2021 campaign and unless they can win three in a row, it looks like it could all come to an end way too soon.

Down three games to one in a series where they’ve only managed four goals in total in the first four games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, there are a lot of questions surrounding the team at every level. In fact, a lot more questions than answers right now.

The GM

There are a lot of decisions needing to be made, some more important than others. And there will be many people involved in the decision-making process. The first decision is possibly already made and that call belongs to team President Geoff Molson: the future of his General Manager. With rumours circulating that the two men have had discussions about his future already, Marc Bergevin‘s future as the team GM is in question. After all, every other hockey decision will have to be made by him or a newly appointed General Manager.

With a growing number of disgruntled fans pointing the finger at his GM, one would think that Molson won’t wait too long after the team’s elimination to announce his decision. Bergevin has done an outstanding job since the summer of 2018 and his past summer’s additions have all be great to the team. But his trade deadline additions have all been huge deceptions. Whatever the decision, Molson MUST resist the pressure from a few fans and media to put Patrick Roy in any position of power and I trust that he knows that.

Expansion and Coaching staff

Dominique Ducharme

For one, the Expansion Draft is coming and the Seattle Kraken are chomping at the bit to select a player from 30 teams, only Vegas being exempt (another NHL ridiculous rule). Who will the Canadiens protect and who will the Kraken select? The Habs’ list is likely almost done, but a new GM would likely want to revisit.

In late February, after a stretch of games where the team had a .333 winning percentage, Bergevin fired head coach Claude Julien and associate-coach Kirk Muller and named Dominique Ducharme as interim coach. With little to no practice time to work with, Ducharme was placed in a rather precarious position to try to “fix things”. Now with a week off before playoffs, he was able to work on his system, rest some players but the lack of offense in those playoffs aren’t working on his favour.

The Canadiens won’t lack good quality options to choose a head coach this off season.

NHL Draft

It’s unlikely that Bergevin would part ways with Trevor Timmins but a new GM could be tempted to put his own men in key positions. The Canadiens have another 11 picks in this upcoming Draft and with the unusual season where leagues were shut down or wouldn’t allow scouts and fans, this year will be an even bigger challenge for teams to determine their rankings. We can expects tons of surprises from this Draft, some good, some not so good. But having been in the playoffs, it is very unlikely that the team will be selecting a player who will have an immediate impact in the NHL.

Pending UFAs

The Canadiens have nine players with substantial NHL experience scheduled to become unrestricted free agents (UFA). They are:

  • Tomas Tatar
  • Phillip Danault
  • Joel Armia
  • Eric Staal
  • Corey Perry
  • Michael Frolik
  • Erik Gustafsson
  • Jon Merrill
  • Charlie Lindgren
Phillip Danault

Only four of these guys will (or should) be considered. After reportedly rejecting a $30 million contract offer in the off-season, Phillip Danault has shot himself in the foot. He had a horrible season (to his standards) and when looking a Jean-Gabriel Pageau play, there is no way that he can now hope to compare his position with the one of the Islanders’ player. If it weren’t for the language he speaks, I’m not even sure Danault would be considered, at least not anywhere close to the price he’s asking for.

Tomas Tatar also had a disappointing season and he was even made a healthy scratch this year. Ducharme was also going to do the same with his left-winger in the playoffs before the injury bug started hitting. For a while there, he was in consideration to be re-signed, particularly that the Canadiens are thin with left handed wingers. If he still is in consideration, one would think that his future will be at least somewhat linked to the future of Jonathan Drouin. Both left-wingers are the two best on the Habs at gaining zone entry with the puck, particularly on the powerplay.

Joel Armia is terribly inconsistent, which is his biggest downfall. Some nights, he controls the puck and he’s a hound on the forecheck. Other nights, we don’t see him at all. Big body up front is something the Habs don’t have too much of, but right handed shooters are a dime a dozen in Montreal.

With the season he has had, don’t be surprised if the Canadiens at least tend a contract offer to Corey Perry. Whether the veteran enjoyed his time in Montreal enough to return is the real question.

Future of Drouin

Drouin’s situation is very murky, to say the least. Mum’s the word in the organisation (rightfully so). What does the future hold for the Ste-Agathe native? Few outside the Canadiens’ brass know. But his situation is sure to have a huge impact on the decision-making this off-season. Will he return to hockey and if so, will it be in Montreal? Plenty of speculations in his case but like any rumour, if it’s not coming from the horse’s mouth, don’t believe the ass it’s coming from.

Elusive partner for Weber

Shea Weber

In my humble opinion, Bergevin’s two biggest fails (aside from the Karl Alzner signing and the Sergachev trade), has to do with being unable or unwilling to pay the price to address major needs in his line-up. Or at least, wait too long to do so.

For years, the Canadiens haven’t had a true first line centre. David Desharnais was put into that role, then Phillip Danault. This is not only on Bergevin as the issue was well before him. And he did try to lure some over the years, more notably Matt Duchene and John Tavares. Until he traded for Nick Suzuki and drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Shea Weber has been with the Canadiens since June 2016. In his first year, the Habs had an aging Andrei Markov as a good left-handed defenseman. But since then, Bergevin always found some cheap projects to try to play with Weber. I remember dressing a list of Weber’s partners over the years and it’s not pretty. There are a lot of good young left-handed prospects in the system but will Bergevin (or his successor) finally find a good skating, puck moving partner for his aging star?

A busy off-season

With all of the decisions needing to be made, this off-season promises to be a very busy one in the Canadiens’ organisation. Whether it happens in the coming days or later, big decisions must be made, decisions that will have a huge impact on the organisation for years to come. Rest to see who will be making them and when. In the meantime, all we can do as fans is to wait and see. Go Habs Go!

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