Much like they’ve been shut out time and again this season, the Montreal Canadiens will likely be shut out from the NHL Awards come the summer. And justifiably so. The Habs are in the midst of a last-place season, at least at the halfway point.
So, any preseason optimism a Canadiens player or two would be in line for awards? Long gone, with a playoff spot a mere pipe dream at this point. That only goes for official NHL awards, though. There are still honors to be handed out, even if some of them constitute fairly dubious distinctions:
Defunct Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award
The MBNA/MasterCard Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award was an actual award, given to the goalie with the best save percentage in the NHL. Two Canadiens actually won it (Jose Theodore and Cristobal Huet) before it disappeared from existence after the 2006-07 season.
Normally, you would expect the Vezina Trophy to go to the best goalie, but “best” seems like a generous descriptor in this instance. So, it probably makes the most sense to single someone out based on cold, hard numbers and Samuel Montembeault is that person, with an admittedly average .903 save percentage.
It’s still the best on the team and a career-high for Montembeault, who deserves recognition for stepping up as the team’s de facto No. 1 in the face of less-than ideal circumstances. A depth goalie for all intents and purposes, Montembeault’s been solid as of late and, while he may be the butt of many jokes regarding the state of the team’s goaltending, he’s done better than can be expected playing for 2021-22 edition of the Habs.
Mark Messier Leadership Award
From a one-time real award to a fake one altogether, the Mark Messier Leadership Award goes to the Canadiens player who has displayed superior leadership on the team, perhaps putting them in line to become the new captain of the team as soon as next season.
Unfortunately, the team’s leadership core has been decimated by injury. Current captain Shea Weber is effectively retired. Paul Byron has yet to play this season. Jeff Petry has played like a shell of his former self. And Ben Chiarot has got one foot out the door as a likely trade candidate.
That leaves Brendan Gallagher, Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli, really. Suzuki is somewhat of a practical selection as he just signed an extension with the team to stay until 2030 (at least). However, he’s 22 and it’s probably best not to put so much pressure on your team’s best offensive player and avoid a Max Pacioretty situation all over again. Toffoli’s not a bad option, but he may not be a long-term solution, as his contract expires in two seasons… and he may not even last past this one.
Ditto for Gallagher, but you have to believe his bad contract will hinder any potential trade out of town. True, he’s only played 25 games and hasn’t produced anywhere close to how he has in the past, but no one else really displays the leadership he does on a regular basis, saying at times what few others will. He’s your winner.
Trophy to Player Most Likely to Win Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy
You heard it here first, Jake Allen won’t repeat as Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner. The award typically goes to the team’s unsung hero and, with Allen having played just 24 games so far, he’s unlikely to receive much consideration, much less so due to his 5-16-2 record, .901 save percentage and 3.15 goals-against average.
Montembeault’s a likelier choice. Even so it’s hard to give someone kudos for winning just two of 17 games, even if the losing record is more so representative of the team in front of him. So, it’s logical to move outside the crease this season.
Assuming he stays past the trade deadline, Artturi Lehkonen is the only real choice. He brings it every game and is criminally underrated. Sure, his finishing ability needs work, but that’s true of everyone on a team with the 32nd-ranked offense. In fact, Lehkonen has the third-most goals on the team. Granted, that equates to six, but who’s counting? Seriously, for your sake, don’t count. Learn from my mistakes.
If, on the other hand, Lehkonen gets traded, the award probably goes to rookie Michael Pezzetta, who’s established himself as a fan favorite and candidate to stick with the Habs past 2021-22. Prior to this season, few if any outside the organization knew who he was. Then he had a good training camp, followed by his first games in the NHL due to injuries throughout the lineup. He hasn’t looked back, seizing the opportunity to earn a regular spot with 28 games played to co-lead all farmhands (Ryan Poehling). There’s likely more where that came from next season.
Eddie Shore Award
The Eddie Shore Award normally goes to the best defenseman in the American Hockey League. Probably fitting to hand out an award with the same name considering the current state of the team’s defense.
Coincidentally, two regulars on the team, Chris Wideman and Sami Niku, are real-life past winners, which kind of goes to show how AHL success doesn’t necessarily translate to the NHL. Wideman’s had more success this season and, considering he had been rumored at one time to be the Canadiens’ All-Star Game representative, he might make sense. However, it’s important to point out Wideman hasn’t had an All-Star-caliber season (which is representative of all Canadiens). Even though he leads Habs defensemen in scoring, six of his 10 points came in a span of five games back in November. So, he had an All-Star-caliber week and a half.
Instead, give it to Alexander Romanov, who ironically can’t even play in the AHL. If he does get sent down, he has the option of going back to Russia, care of the European assignment clause in his contract.
Now, no one’s saying Romanov has been great this season, but his seven points are right up there (with other Habs defensemen obviously). And his play has been more consistent than that of other Habs defensemen, also compared to how he played last season. In other words, he’s shown improvement, which is a rarity.
Best Rebound Season (Seriously) Award
Yes, it’s true, at least one Canadiens player has had a better season compared to 2020-21. Jonathan Drouin takes the title here, as arguably the only player who’s produced in line with expectations. His six goals and 14 points give him 20 total in 32 games, whereas last season he had just two goals and 21 assists in 44 games, before he had to step away from the game to deal with mental-health issues.
As a result, him just being healthy is a huge boon to the Canadiens. Granted, he’s currently out with a physical injury, but when he’s been in the lineup he’s produced. Drouin may not be living up to the initial hype after he first got acquired for Mikhail Sergachev, but he has quietly been putting together a decent season. He deserves some credit for that.
Player Who’s Impressed the Most Award
Subtly different from the “Best Rebound Season (Seriously)” award, this one goes to the player who’s impressed the most (in case you weren’t able to guess). That’s not Drouin, though.
While Drouin’s had a decent season by his standards, no one can really say he’s wowed anyone. Think Pezzetta, who may not have the same point totals, but has displayed a great deal of heart to just get to this point.
True, Pezzetta’s four goals and two assists won’t win any real awards, but his grit will at least win him a roster spot in theory moving forward. If he can’t win the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, this one has his name all over it. In fact, it might be better just to name it after him. Less confusion that way.
Most Disappointing Season by Someone Who’s Played as Many Games as Petry
It would be easy to recognize the likes of Gallagher, Toffoli, Mike Hoffman, Josh Anderson and Christian Dvorak (and just about everyone else) for this award. But, during a season ravaged by injury, you have to give the benefit of the doubt in some cases. In others, there needs to be a cut-off point where you just accept a player’s season for what it is: bad.
That cut-off point is *looks at team stats* let’s say 35 games. Coincidentally, defenseman Jeff Petry just qualifies for this award. Amazing. His five points? Not so much. A season after earning James Norris Memorial Trophy votes, Petry has struggled to lead the team’s defense as its undisputed No. 1 in Weber’s absence.
That isn’t to say Petry’s a lost cause. Up until now, he had been getting better with age. And it’s unlikely that in the span of just a few short months his skills have declined this much. So, Petry can still realistically be part of the solution. He just needs to be better. Everyone knows he can be though, which is why there’s legitimate reason for optimism he can turn it around.
Award to the Injured Player Canadiens Miss the Most
Never before has there been such a hotly contested award with so many names from which to choose. Now, there’s a case to be made the Canadiens miss goalie Carey Price the most, but, on a team that can’t score, he can only do so much, especially with the defense that would be playing in front of him in such a sad state of disrepair. Enter Joel Edmundson.
No, Edmundson can’t be relied upon to score regularly. However, he can theoretically help Petry. As a go-to defense pairing last season, the two of them put up great underlying numbers to the point that it makes one wonder maybe he’s the secret to Petry regaining his form. It’s the only thing that makes sense. And, if Petry gets going, suddenly the defense as a whole is competent. Maybe the power play too. Or is that just wishful thinking?
Edmundson’s been out since the start of the season, first with a family matter, then with various ailments. There’s no timetable for his return. So, verification on the legitimacy of this award will possibly have to wait until next season. No point rushing him (or Price) back at this point.
A Rookie of the Year Award Caufield Will Actually Win
Remember when Cole Caufield was considered a favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy? Well, in retrospect, the expectations were unrealistic to say the least. While Caufield performed admirably last regular season and postseason, all his production had suggested was that he was a legitimate NHL player, but far from elite, at least at this point of his young career. And the Calder tends to goes to elite scorers.
At 21, Caufield’s still got time to develop. That shouldn’t be lost on anyone, especially seeing as Jesperi Kotkaniemi, also 21, having been labeled a bust by many, has gone on to enjoy modest success with the Carolina Hurricanes. Plus, for what it’s worth, Caufield still leads all Habs rookies in scoring with eight points.
Of course, leading all of a team’s rookies in scoring is generally as impressive as being the best dressed at a pool party. However, with so many injuries and so many rookies making their debuts this season, it is at least a little noteworthy. It would at least be noteworthy if Caufield weren’t leading them in scoring anyway. But he is.
Pezzetta definitely has a case to win it instead, but scoring typically dictates awards like this. It’s Caufield’s award to lose… for real this time.
Likeliest Undeserving All-Star Game Representative
This one’s for all the marbles, the equivalent to the Hart Memorial Trophy for all intents and purposes. Now, similar to the Calder, the All-Star Game is a popularity contest. Still, leading the Canadiens in scoring or not, Nick Suzuki is the only option to go on behalf of the Habs.
That doesn’t make Suzuki’s season a good one though. It’s only been half-decent with 24 points in 42 games. And last time anyone checked it wasn’t the All-Half-Decent Game… although you could definitely argue it’s even worse. That’s in large part because the quality of participants gets watered down by legacy selections and the need to have one player from every team.
This is one season in which the Canadiens don’t deserve to have anyone at the event, but, in true participation-trophy spirit, every team must be represented… which is what made the notion Wideman would get selected so ludicrous. On a one-year deal after returning to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League and likely to go elsewhere as a free agent, Wideman isn’t a player Habs fans want to watch.
To his credit, Suzuki is. Objectively speaking, he’s a great player and the greatest of the bunch this season, potentially for years to come. He may not be a deserving All-Star Game participant, but seeing him play on an actually good team should instill confidence in the future. It may not be a pure hockey game and hard to watch in general, but, to be fair, it’s kind of par for the course this season for Habs fans.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.