With all the uncertainty surrounding the NHL with the COVID-19 pandemic, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is still preparing to complete the season and possibly award the Stanley Cup in September.
The different scenarios that have been presented would all involve the Montreal Canadiens in someway. How could these different scenarios change the season for the Habs?
What We Know
So far, all we know is just plans the NHL has to resume the season. The plan at least right now is to have players start a mini-camp in their home rinks by mid-May in hopes to resume the season by the first of July. The Prime Minister of Canada has stated that the players would have to follow strict quarantine rules if the season were to resume.
Certainly at a strict minimum, anyone who arrives from another country will have to follow all the rules of quarantine in an extremely strict manner, but we’re not there yet in our discussions with the NHL.– Justin Trudeau (Associated Press) May 3, 2020
If the season were to resume, it would be held in four “Hub” cities, with three games being played a day at each arena. The hopes of this would to finish the season and then have the playoffs finished by the end of September.
The NHL also plans to still hold the NHL draft in June before the restart of the season. The league would use a different lottery, similar to the 2014 season, picking just one winner who can only move as high as four spots, while also using teams’ winning percentages to determine the draft order.
This would allow Montreal to draft no higher than fourth if they win the lottery. Teams could also rework any trade that was made that had conditional draft picks involved.
When the season was stopped, the Canadiens found themselves 10 points out of a playoff position with 11 games to play. They had lost three straight games and dealt with injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, and Victor Mete. Nick Suzuki had one point in his last nine games, while Philip Danault only had one goal since Jan. 15. The reality was starting to set in that they would miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Now that the season is on pause it gives more time for the injured to get healthy and the Habs to regroup. Its been almost two months since the suspension of the season, and both Drouin and Tatar could return when the season resumes. Mete on the other hand is dealing with a fractured ankle and will probably not be available. The return of these players will give the Canadiens much-needed offense and added depth when the season resumes.
Needing 10 points in 11 games just to tie the other teams isn’t enough. The Canadiens would have to win at least 10 of their remaining games and still hope other teams falter. Having a full bench of their top players would help, but 20 points would still only get them 91 points, where they would likely need 93 to make the playoffs. Restarting the season would not benefit the team at all and they would likely still miss the postseason unless a miracle happens.
Another theory going around is for the NHL is to forgo the rest of the season and have a tournament-style playoffs where 24 teams make the postseason with a playout round to start. The teams would be seeded by winning percentage with the top two teams from each division automatically in the round of 16. The playout round could be the best three of five games, while the rest of the playoffs would follow the normal best of seven formats.
This theory would be very beneficial to the Canadiens as it would allow them to make the playoffs. If they performed well, they could make it beyond the playout round and maybe the Final, if you’re optimistic. If everyone is healthy, the Habs have a good chance to get into the round of 16; however, the depth of the team is too weak to make a strong push to the Final. Then again, anything can happen once the team makes it to the dance.
The NHL is still looking at doing the draft on schedule, only virtually instead of in person. This is to the dismay of Habs fans and the city of Montreal who was supposed to host it this year. The draft wouldn’t be normal at all, especially if the league does manage to go ahead with the season or playoffs.
The league has a plan in place where there is only one winner—the teams would be placed in order of winning percentage lowest to highest for the non-playoff teams, and the last-place team is guaranteed to only drop one spot. If the Canadiens were to win the lotto, they could only move up four spots in the draft, meaning they would have no chance at drafting Francophone superstar Alex Lafreniere.
The biggest issue for the Canadiens would not be where they draft, but what moves they could make to strengthen the team. The Habs have 14 picks this season with five in the second and third rounds. These picks could be used to acquire top players or prospects from cap-strapped teams. They could use the picks to help acquire a bad contract along with a top-six player or trade multiple picks to acquire a player. With no players or contracts available at the draft, it would be hard for any team to make a hockey deal or even move up in the draft for a better spot.
What’s the Best Outcome?
With all the different theories and scenarios that could play out, the Canadiens could be left revamping their entire offseason, or if nothing happens they could continue on as normal just probably later in the year. Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said at the deadline to watch for big things coming in June.
It will be hard for big things to come if he can only move picks at the draft. If the season starts again, the team doesn’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs—they pretty much have to win every game. But, hey, it’s still a chance. If the draft happens the way the NHL is proposing, then the worst the Habs could do is pick eighth while the best they could do is fourth—either way, they get a top-10 pick.
It doesn’t mean it won’t change, but for this period, what you call the deadline, which is most of the time a rental market, we haven’t changed our plan. But as June approaches and cap space is either… or expiring contracts… you put more teams in the mix if you want to make hockey trades. So we’ll look at that also. But for now, our core group hasn’t changed.– Marc Bergevin (from ‘Why a June draft would foil the Canadiens’ ability to put the reset in overdrive,’ The Athletic, 05/04/2020)
The best-case scenario for the Canadiens would be for the league to have the 24 team playoffs with the draft happening in June. This way they could not only make the playoffs, but also still get a top-10 draft pick. If you’re very optimistic, then it’s conceivable that the Canadiens could pick fourth overall while also\winning the Stanley Cup. That may sound like something crazy but in a year where we almost had WWIII, a worldwide pandemic and now Murder Hornets, is it really that far fetched?
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.