Top 5 Canadiens Disappointments So Far in 2022-23

Normally speaking, there’s going to be disappointment to go around when so little goes according to plan. In the case of the Montreal Canadiens, who are exceeding expectations, with a playoff spot within reach after they finished last in 2021-22, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Many were anticipating a second straight NHL Draft Lottery pick, with an outside shot at a second straight selection at first overall, after Juraj Slafkovsky last summer. In retrospect, with the Canadiens at 12-11-1 following Saturday night action, three points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, they were clearly in line for somewhat of a course correction.

Juraj Slafkovsky Montreal Canadiens 2022 Draft
Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It remains to be seen if it’s an overcorrection so far or not, with all the signs pointing to a regression to the mean the other way. Even so, it’s fair to say the Canadiens have been a pleasant surprise from a performance perspective.

Related: Canadiens Filled to Brim with Pleasant Surprises in 2022-23

However, whenever you’re just four points out of 15th spot in the Eastern Conference, there are going to be disappointments all the same… regardless of which side of the rebuild debate you fall. Here are the top five:

5. Jake Evans’ Production

To a degree, Jake Evans can’t be blamed for the Canadiens’ increased depth up front. Whereas he’s getting 13:46 per game this season, playing primarily with Slafkovsky and Michael Pezzetta, he played 15:36 per game in 2021-22, primarily with the likes of Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Anderson.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans – (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

It was expected Evans would break out to a certain extent last season, going on to score 13 goals and 29 points. Few should have expected him to build on that production in 2022-23 in all fairness. However, posting a meager two assists in 24 games (zero goals), the lowest clip at which he’s produced in his career by far, is an undeniable step back.

Ultimately though, as a seventh-round pick and a projected bottom-six forward, Evans’ ceiling was never seen as all that high. It’s a sad reality, but he’ll probably be under constant pressure to produce to justify his spot in the NHL. With the Habs’ organizational depth at center being fairly extensive at this point in time, Canadiens fans are in a position where whatever Evans gives them is more so gravy than anything else. The Canadiens need him to score more so for his sake than theirs.

4. Juraj Slafkovsky’s Deployment

If the worst thing Canadiens fans can say about Slafkovsky’s rookie season is they want to see more of him, maybe things aren’t going as badly as some may have initially anticipated. However, as he’s getting just 11:16 per game, the lowest amount of ice time on the team, with exception to Pezzetta, it’s enough to make one wonder if he’d be better off in the American Hockey League. Then you look at how the Laval Rocket are underperforming at 7-12-3 and maybe you reconsider.

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In any case, it’s easy to understand the concern on the part of Habs fans. Rushing Slafkovsky to the NHL wasn’t a necessity and, with all of the team’s first-round picks from 2006 to 2018 no longer with the team, the Canadiens are opening themselves up to serious second-guessing, maybe regardless of what they do.

Juraj Slafkovsky Team Slovakia
Juraj Slafkovsky with Team Slovakia – (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

They’re not going to please everyone, that’s for sure. However, it’s important to note that general manager Kent Hughes absolutely needs to hit on Slafkovsky. That isn’t just because he went out on a limb picking him over the center they arguably needed in Shane Wright. It’s also because, based on how things are going this season, they’re unlikely to get a mulligan in the form of another high pick.

So, the general desire for Slafkovsky to be handled the right way is understandable, whether it’s getting more minutes in the NHL or AHL. Him getting as few minutes as he has so far simply wasn’t on many people’s bingo cards.

3. Justin Barron’s Development

Defenseman Justin Barron can still turn into the Canadiens’ solution on the right side on defense. However, after he joined the Habs after having gotten acquired in the Artturi Lehkonen trade, it’s hard to look at how well the likes of Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj are doing on the left and not grow concerned over the former’s development.

To be clear, Barron is still just 21 years old and his future remains unwritten, with a large degree of untapped potential as a first-round pick back in 2020. However, for the Canadiens to give such a large vote of confidence to their other young defensemen, keeping them on the team even following the returns from injury of Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson? It speaks to the Canadiens not seeing the same quality of play in Barron’s game.

Justin Barron Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Justin Barron – (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

To somewhat walk back the life-or-death seriousness of the sentiment, Barron does lead all Rocket defensemen with 12 points through 21 games. With six goals so far, he’s already scored more than the five he did in the AHL in 43 games with the Colorado Eagles last season. So, there’s been progress.

However, if you look at what Lehkonen’s doing with the Colorado Avalanche, with 18 points in 22 games, there’s an unavoidable sense of regret over what could have been. Remember, Lehkonen was just a restricted free agent. The Canadiens didn’t need to trade him, especially considering they were able to take on Sean Monahan’s $6.375 million hit. However, from a practical standpoint, they needed a right-handed defenseman more than another winger. In other words, they still need Barron. He just needs to do his part.

2. Canadiens’ 17.8% Power Play

Technically, the Canadiens are doing a better job on the man advantage than last year, scoring at a 17.8% success rate. However, that’s a low bar if there ever was one, seeing as last season the Canadiens were second from last at 13.7%, with the man advantage being a perennial problem for the Canadiens for literally the last half-decade.

Things came to a head in a 4-0 shutout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 29. The Canadiens obviously also went scoreless on the power play, despite six opportunities, including a 55-second two-man advantage to start the third period, when they trailed 1-0. Instead of evening things up, the Habs gave up two quick goals once the power play expired.

Even if overall expectations were low this season and you’re of the belief it’s not a big deal that the man disadvantage is costing the Canadiens games, it ranks as high as it does on this list because it needs to be addressed eventually. With the Canadiens having as much firepower as they do up front, at least when healthy, it isn’t unreasonable to hope for more out of the power play this specific season.

When head coach Martin St. Louis goes so far as to admit the power play is a work in progress, you know it’s a real cause for concern (from “With power play unplugged, Canadiens seek new outlet,” Montreal Gazette, Nov. 30, 2022). Even so, St. Louis suggested it’s a matter of staying healthy and having the same weapons available so as to develop chemistry,

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

St. Louis cited the likes of injuries to Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin as reasons for the power play’s failure to launch. However, all due respect to Drouin and Hoffman, but, if you’re depending on either one of them to get the power play going, when their respective tenures with the Canadiens have hardly been synonymous with high-powered offensive production or enduring success in any shape or form, you’re in for a huge disappointment.

1. Jonathan Drouin’s Injury Woes

In Drouin’s case specifically, he’s been with the Canadiens since 2017-18. In only one season since has the team’s power play ranked in the top 15. That was his first season as a Hab (21.2%; No. 12), when he got 3:16 per game on the man advantage, scoring four goals and 22 points in the process. In his defense, even if the power play’s effectiveness hasn’t been the same since, neither has his deployment. Still, when something hasn’t been working out for this long, like Drouin hasn’t in Montreal, it’s time to call it and move on, especially as he’s on an expiring deal.

This season was supposed to be different for Drouin. He was supposed to put it all together, finally. However, he ran into all-too familiar injury problems, having played just 12 games so far. He hasn’t played a full season for all intents and purposes since 2018-19. Perhaps what’s more of a concern is when he has been in the lineup he’s only scored four assists.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

It’s readily apparent Drouin is no longer in the team’s long-term plans. However, if his production continues to stay as underwhelming as it has, the chances of the Canadiens being able to recoup some of their losses at the trade deadline fall dramatically. It’s approaching the point at which where the Canadiens just have to count them, regardless of the return.

Drouin remains a target of generally unjustified criticism. However, that’s on the hype his arrival first generated and how the through-and-through winger was initially put in a position to fail, billed as a potential top-line center, i.e., the player the Canadiens had needed for the better part of a generation, but, sure… no pressure whatsoever on the native son.

He remains one of the Canadiens’ most underrated players, because of his talent, but, compared to, say, Hoffman and Evgeny Dadonov, expectations heading into this season were significantly higher. He’s failed to deliver, pure and simple, and with the Canadiens expected to stick to their guns and stay sellers at the trade deadline, it’s an issue.

Truth be told, it would be an issue regardless of the circumstances, because, if Drouin’s not producing, he’s not exactly helping any hypothetical push for a playoff spot either. All that’s left is the hope he can get healthy for his sake and salvage his career with his next contract, with whichever team he signs.

Canadiens fans should hope for that outcome. Just because it hasn’t worked out in Montreal doesn’t mean it can’t elsewhere, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. It also doesn’t mean Habs fans aren’t entitled to look back on his time with the Habs for what it was: a major letdown. It’s a fairly obvious assessment, with Drouin’s season so far taking the top spot here for a reason.