You won’t find goalie Carey Price on the list of injured Montreal Canadiens players, which is ironic because he’s the one the Habs miss the most without question. However, with Price having unofficially announced his retirement for all intents and purposes, he’s obviously unavailable, which is an issue when you’re giving up a 24th-ranked 3.50 goals per game.
Of course, considering Price only played five games in 2021-22 due to a variety of factors, giving up an average of 3.63 goals, we’re talking about a healthy Price, who isn’t suffering from debilitating knee issues. That’s admittedly far from possible, with Price unexpected back… like at all.
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Nevertheless, when you’re otherwise lacking a No. 1 goalie in your organization, it makes you think, namely about how the Canadiens maybe took Price’s elite goaltending for granted when he was readily available. With the Canadiens running into injury problems for the second straight season, it also makes you think how different things could be, as the Habs struggle in the standings.
Related: Top Reasons Why Canadiens Are Suddenly Struggling in 2022-23
Things obviously aren’t as bad as last season, when the Canadiens set a record for man-games lost. However, the injuries are piling up, with the following five injured players ranked in order of the biggest projected impact they’d make for the positive, if they were healthy:
5) Paul Byron
To be blunt, the Canadiens are probably making better use of Paul Byron’s $3.4 million in cap space with him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR; alongside Price), than they would him, if he were healthy. After all, the Canadiens are above the cap without LTIR, and Byron only played an average of 12:36 in the 27 games he got in, in 2021-22.
At his peak with the Canadiens, Byron had been getting 16:08, in 2017-18, the second season in a row he scored 20 goals. However, with the Habs having greater depth up front these days, even with all the injuries, there’s a good chance the Habs would only be able to give him a fourth-line role.
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As a result, Byron’s cap hit is simply too rich for what he’d bring to the table. As primarily a penalty-kill specialist, Byron wouldn’t be of much use right now, especially seeing as the PK isn’t the special-teams unit that’s in dire straits currently (for a little foreshadowing).
4) Brendan Gallagher
There was a time not too long ago when there was a case to be made the Canadiens needed a healthy Brendan Gallagher more than Price back. When Gallagher was producing like a top-line winger, that might have even been true. Unfortunately, Gallagher’s production has fallen off a cliff since the 2021-22 season, with only 32 points in his last 78 games, including eight points in 22 games this season, last playing in November due to a lower-body injury.
This season was supposed to be different for Gallagher, in that the longer offseason following the non-playoff finish in 2021-22 was going to give him time to heal. And, truth be told, Gallagher had been making a difference for the better when he was in the lineup, from a play-driving perspective.
However, in terms of time on ice, Gallagher was still tied with Mike Hoffman as head coach Martin St. Louis’ eighth-most-used forward (14:21), over a half-minute lower than the still-goalless Joel Armia. Armia is admittedly useful in the right context and so is Gallagher, but that utility unfortunately is not what it once was, especially not at his $6.5 million cap hit.
3) David Savard
Defenseman David Savard, now on IR, places as high as he does on this list not due to analytics, which still say he’s at the wrong end of the ice more often than not. He’s No. 3 here, because of how he plays on the right side on defense. Players like that are just in short supply right now, at least on the Canadiens.
Savard does provide value in terms of blocked shots. However, it should be pointed out that, if you’re blocking shots with so much frequency, the puck is in your zone a lot. It does speak to Savard’s deployment, with so few of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. However, that in turn speaks to his skill set, which doesn’t really align with general manager Kent Hughes’ vision for the team, which is an offensive-minded hockey club.
Keep in mind, Savard, like the two players ranked lower than him on this list, were inherited by Hughes. Based on that fact and Savard’s style of play, it’s unlikely he stays past with the Habs past his current deal, but, in the meantime, he does provide leadership and a body in the lineup where one is sorely needed, at least when he’s healthy.
2) Sean Monahan
Take the Canadiens game against the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 5 as proof of Sean Monahan’s value. With him in the lineup, the Canadiens built up a four-goal lead, including one care of Monahan himself. With him taken out of the lineup in the second period due to injury, the Canadiens lost 7-6 in overtime.
Monahan hasn’t played since due to a lower-body injury, which of course is unfortunate, but there are some benefits to the situation. For example, the Canadiens are of course without one of their top scorers, but it’s also given the Habs a chance to give their projected second-line center of the future in Kirby Dach more time down the middle.
Seeing as Monahan arguably shouldn’t be in the Canadiens’ plans past the trade deadline, they should be giving Dach as much time at center as possible, even if only to properly assess his proficiency playing the position. However, if Monahan isn’t playing, he’s not exactly building up his trade value, with the Canadiens eyeing another first-round pick in 2023. The way Monahan was playing, he gets them that pick easily.
1) Mike Matheson
Defenseman Mike Matheson’s only played 10 games with the Canadiens this season, so it’s hard to get a perfect read on how valuable he is. However, now that Matheson’s out indefinitely, the Canadiens are out one more hypothetical weapon on the power play, and it can use all the help it can get, with the man advantage ranking last in the league at 13.7%.
With six points in 10 games, Matheson’s proving, albeit over a small sample size, he can be a boon to the power play. That’s at least the plan, with Matheson having gotten a team-leading 3:45 per game on the man advantage. The trick is just getting him in for enough games to have hopefully a lasting effect.
As the centerpiece for the Canadiens in the Jeff Petry deal, Matheson isn’t going anywhere. They’ve logically got high hopes for him, even if by most accounts Matheson is at least a slight downgrade. Petry admittedly struggled last season with the Habs, but he came on with the hiring of St. Louis to the point that he still represented a top-pairing right-handed defenseman, especially on the Canadiens. That’s Matheson’s projected role, just on the opposite side.
Matheson’s left side may be somewhat crowded, with young defensemen like Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj each proving on a regular basis they figure into the future in a big way for this team. However, at just 28, the same can be true of Matheson, who provides some otherwise-lacking veteran leadership (from an offensive standpoint). In that sense, Matheson’s the most valuable of all currently injured Habs.