With training camp just weeks away, the Montreal Canadiens have many unanswered questions regarding players and their lineup. These questions range from who will make the team out of camp, and who will be on the team by Christmas to who will have success, and who will flounder. Here is a look at the five most pressing questions going into the start of this season and how the outcome might turn out.
1. Will Slafkovsky Make the Canadiens?
Everyone is asking this central question, and there is an easy short answer: yes. The response is quick and easy, but it’s still a bit of a complicated situation. Juraj Slafkovsky is the Canadiens’ first overall draft pick from this summer’s Entry Draft. A Slovakian star who, at only 18, helped lead his country to a bronze medal at the Olympics and was their top player at the World Championship. There is no doubting his skill, and his size is more than enough to have him at least start in the NHL. This is where things get complicated: Slafkovsky is not used to playing on North American (NA) ice and is one of many wingers the Habs have in their lineup to start the season.
If the Canadiens start him in the NHL, which is the most likely scenario, the question becomes what line he plays on. Many fans would love to see him on the top line with newly-minted captain Nick Suzuki and goal scorer Cole Caufield, but throwing him into the fire right away could hurt his confidence and development, which is something no one wants. If they start him on the third line, he could be losing out on valuable scoring situations and ice time, potentially stunting his production; but would also give him the benefit of not facing other teams’ top lines. They could start him with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Laval Rocket until he gets used to the speed of the pro league and the size of NA ice. My best guess is he starts in the NHL on the third line and works his way up to the first line. It may not be within this season, but he will be there sooner than later.
2. Will the Canadiens Acquire a Right-Handed Defenseman?
The Canadiens have a deep pool of quality defensemen in their system, the only issue is that they are primarily left-handed. Right now, on the Habs roster, they have David Savard, Chris Wideman and rookie Justin Barron on the right side of the defence. Barron is also a huge question mark to make the lineup with only seven games of NHL experience under his belt. Montreal does have options with left-handers that can play the right side, like Corey Scheunemann, Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson, but Edmundson and Matheson will probably not move from the left side.
That leaves the Canadiens with few options to round out the right side and have three quality defencemen there, but do they need three quality ones in a year they are not expected to do much? No, they don’t, but if Barron isn’t ready for full-time duties in the NHL, it wouldn’t hurt to have a low-cost defenceman to play on the second or third pairing or if they want, make the big splash and get a top pairing defenceman, which is likely not going to happen. I suspect the Habs will get a defenseman either off waivers or on a professional tryout (PTO) if they feel Barron isn’t ready. They have more than enough assets to trade for one, but I don’t see them using one this early to fill a hole that isn’t a top priority at this time. Unless of course, it’s to dump a salary or clear up a roster spot for a young forward to make the team.
3. Will The Canadiens Trade a Forward Before Christmas?
The Canadiens currently have 16 forwards listed on their roster. In a perfect world, they want to start the season with 14 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies, meaning two forwards may not make the opening day roster. They also have a couple of young forwards in Laval that are close to making the jump to the NHL in Jesse Ylonen and Rafael Harvey-Pinard. Unless a move is made, they will either lose someone to waivers or have to bury a pricey contract in the minors, two things the Habs won’t want to do. They will have a couple of players on injured reserve (IR) to start the season – newly acquired Sean Monahan and Paul Byron. Monahan could miss the first 3- 5 weeks while Byron’s status is up in the air. He could be out until Christmas or be ready to play on opening day; his injury remains a mystery.
To clear some room, something will have to give and a trade is the most logical way to fix it. Notable names that could be moved out include Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia, and Christian Dvorak. The Canadiens also have four unrestricted free agents (UFA) on their team whose contracts expire at the end of the season. Monahan, Byron, Jonathan Druin and Evgeny Dadonov will all probably be moved by the deadline, creating tons of room.
It’s possible one of the UFAs could be forced out early, but that won’t help with cap space next season, and their value could be worth more at the trade deadline. If a player is moved, there is a high possibility it will be one of three contract players mentioned earlier. Either way, it’s almost inevitable that a player or two will be traded before Christmas.
4. Will Jake Allen Re-sign With the Canadiens?
With the news of Carey Price out for the season and possibly the rest of his career, the Canadiens are in a hole when it comes to their goaltending in 2022-23. Jake Allen, the starter this year, is a UFA at the end of the season and may not be returning to the team. If this happens, that leaves the Habs with Samuel Montembault and Cayden Primeau as the only signed goalies in the system. It is unknown if Primeau will be ready for full-time NHL action next season, and Montembault is far from a regular NHL goalie. If the Canadiens want to start moving forward in their plan to be contenders, this situation could stall them for quite some time.
Allen said he enjoys being with the Canadiens and understands they are going through a transition period; his current contract has him earning $2.85 million per season, which is very team friendly but was signed back when he was only here to back up Price. If he decides to re-sign and knows his workload will be more significant, Montreal will have to give him an increase, which could be what keeps Canadiens general manager (GM), Kent Hughes from having Allen return.
The fact Allen is a UFA and could bring in an excellent return at the trade deadline is another reason he may not be back. The free-agent market for goalies next season is pretty slim, so it could make sense to sign him to a short-term deal in order to hold the Canadiens over until one of their prospects is ready, or they can acquire a good starting goalie for the future. I suspect he will be traded at some point this season for assets, and they will find goaltending elsewhere. Having said that, the two sides are in talks and there is still a chance Allen re-signs.
Some of these questions have obvious answers yet are still complicated situations; in others, the answer isn’t so cut and dry. All we can do as fans and media is wait and see what happens as the season unfolds – some players still believe they can make the playoffs. If that’s the case, maybe no one moves, although I wouldn’t bet on that and the odds are the Canadiens will be in the bottom ten of the league, but not as far down as people might think.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.