Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is unlikely to play this 2022-23 season, making a playoff appearance almost an impossibility. In turn, the priorities of the Habs, who were rebuilding after a last-place finish, must be adjusted, especially in the eyes of those who anticipated the Canadiens turning things around immediately. It’s just not going to happen without the face of the franchise.
So, success is going to be measured differently in 2022-23. In some ways, what’s bad is good and vice versa. For the Canadiens’ purposes, players who are underrated simply have more to contribute from a long-term perspective. Players who are overrated? Bring ’em on.
For what the Canadiens should at the very least be looking to accomplish, i.e., rebuilding the right way, that means no shortcuts. It means giving ice time to your prospects, but not rushing them all the same. It means not necessarily accepting losses as an everyday occurrence, but accepting them as a necessary evil and learning experiences all the while. It also means embracing the following overrated Habs as key to the process, as the teams as a whole seemingly tries to secure a second straight high draft pick. Here are the top three:
3. Josh Anderson
For the last few seasons, Josh Anderson has been a power forward on a Habs team otherwise bereft of them. He brings speed, physicality and scoring ability, just not enough in the case of the latter to warrant the untouchable label many plant on him because of the toolkit he possesses.
However, Anderson, despite being an imposing 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, is also 28, and unlikely to take his game to another level at this point in his career as a 20-goal scorer and 0.5-point-per-game player. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, players like Anderson are obviously very useful… valuable on the trade market too.
General manager Kent Hughes actually mentioned the value Anderson has when discussing the first-overall selection of Juraj Slavkovsky at the NHL Entry Draft with the media. The degree of demand Anderson is in across the NHL served in part as justification, picking the Slovakian power forward, i.e., “everyone wants one of these guys, us too. Now we have two.”
Anderson’s $5.5 million cap hit may be fair now. However, in a few seasons, when he’s exiting his prime if not out of it altogether and the Canadiens might be looking to contend again? It can realistically end up being a drag.
So, maybe Anderson isn’t overrated now per se. As a result, he takes the lowest spot on the list. However, he is overrated for the Canadiens’ projected needs once they’re done with the rebuild, especially with Slafkovsky now in the picture.
2. Chris Wideman
Defenseman Chris Wideman certainly had a successful return to the NHL in 2021-22. After playing in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, Wideman co-led all Canadiens defensemen with 27 points (Jeff Petry), this one.
Not bad by any stretch, especially seeing as expectations had been for him to simply end up in the running for the role of a seventh defenseman. However, a general lack of depth on the back end and injuries, with Petry playing just 68 games to lead all right-handed defensemen, opened the door for Wideman to get played in an expanded role.
Wideman obviously didn’t let it slip through his fingers. He got played a defensive corps-leading 2:29 per game on the power play. In scoring 12 points on the power play to also lead all Habs defensemen, he showcased his puck-moving ability as a one-time Eddie Shore Award winner in the American Hockey League (2015). As a result, he secured his next contract, a two-year deal at a team-friendly $762,500 per.
In that sense, for what he brings to the table, it’s a beyond-worthwhile deal. Perhaps that’s why Wideman seems to be seen by some as underrated, with NHL.com actually having had him in the running for an All-Star Game spot last season. That spot obviously went to Nick Suzuki, as it should have, instead.
The idea of Wideman being anything other than a depth defenseman on a playoff team should be nipped in the bud. He isn’t, as proven by the fact that, in spite of all his power-play ice time, he still only earned 14:53 per game overall, which ranked 13th of 14 defensemen (Mattias Norlinder), including just three seconds on average on the penalty kill. On the injury-ridden Habs, of all teams.
That’s a flag. Thankfully though, based on his cap hit, Canadiens management seems to be under no illusions as to what they’re getting. Wideman’s a stop-gap measure to help bridge the present to the future, little more.
The Canadiens get a defenseman with some experience to help fill out the roster and Wideman gets a regular shift in the NHL. Anyone thinking Wideman has untapped potential, is looking past the fact he was technically on his eighth team since 2018-19 last season, is now 32, on the verge of exiting his prime production years and likely to regress in 2022-23.
Wideman obviously has a few things going for him in that the Habs are currently constructed as an offense-heavy team and that could help him pad his numbers. However, for a team that is expected to be light on goaltending and defense, it’s very telling that Wideman with just 245 games of NHL experience is going to be one of its veteran leaders. Ultimately, the biggest thing Wideman has going for him is that he and the Habs found each other, because they’re a perfect fit based on their respective needs.
1. Samuel Montembeault
There were times Samuel Montembeault looked impressive last season. It was arguably just impressive to see him battle through a wrist injury night after night in relief of Carey Price and Jake Allen, who, between them, played 40 games.
It’s obviously not a recipe for success when your third-string goalie ends up getting the lion’s share of work, which is what happened, with Montembeault playing a career-high 38 games. For some context, Montembeault turned pro in 2017. Prior to last season he had played in just 25 NHL games.
For many, the sudden bump Montembeault got was interpreted as a sign he is on the verge of becoming the Habs’ goalie of the future. However, on the team’s depth chart, he still finds himself below Cayden Primeau in terms of his ceiling, and Primeau still has large question marks surrounding his long-term NHL future.
The simple fact of the matter is Montembeault, going on 26, hasn’t had success in the NHL up to this point. He may in the future, but Montembeault getting as much work as he did last season certainly had very little to do with his .892 career save percentage. Ditto for the reasoning behind his new two-year deal.
Look at it more as a reward or back hazard pay for getting thrown to the wolves every night. Montembeault, got the work he did because they needed someone with NHL experience and letting Primeau continue to develop in the AHL as much as possible made the most sense. That was logically why the Habs made the mid-season acquisition of Andrew Hammond, after which Primeau got sent back down to the Laval Rocket (while an injured Montembeault kept getting regular starts).
That dynamic still holds true now. That’s why expectations for where the Canadiens will finish in the standings are so low, as they seemingly prepare to go with a goaltending tandem of Allen and Montembeault to complement a largely inexperienced defense.
In the end, Allen has proven to be a superior backup, but an unreliable No. 1. The 35 games he got in last season were a stretch and his effectiveness took a hit. He ended up with a 9-20-4 record with a 3.30 goals-against average (GAA) and .905 save percentage (SV%). In contrast, Montembeault put up a record of 8-18-6 with a 3.77 GAA and .891 SV%. The league average was a .907 SV%. At Montembeault’s most impressive statistical stretch last season, he went 5-7-2 over 15 late-season games with one of .904. It’s kind of telling, all due respect to him.
In Montembeault’s defense, he was playing injured for a large stretch of last season. So, maybe he does have higher to go. Maybe he can reach Allen’s level at the very least. A lot was made of the Habs reportedly having had their sights on Montembeault back in the 2015 Draft when they first claimed him off waivers.
However, keep in mind Allen just missed out on making this list himself, with many hypothetical trade proposals recently surfacing, sending him every which way, with teams in need of a goalie paying through their teeth to acquire him. That’s just not going to happen. Allen is no savior. He’s the guy the Canadiens got, effectively giving up just a third-round pick, to rest the actual goalie to take them to the promised land.
With Price on the shelf (and maybe done altogether) the Canadiens are unlikely to trade Allen to say the least. Montembeault may have started the most games of any Habs goalie last season, but that was kind of a worst-case scenario. Allen is still the go-to, but Montembeault at least proved he can be a workhorse if necessary. His effectiveness may still be a work in progress, but it’s just not a priority in 2022-23. The next few seasons he’s under contract will go a long way to determining if he ever gets to where he needs to, but right now he’s right where the Canadiens need him to be.