After the Montreal Canadiens finished in last place in 2021-22, the bar is relatively low for 2022-23. That isn’t to say no one cares how the Habs will do. However, success will be measured differently than in the past.
So, in some ways, the Canadiens as a whole are underrated, with some of their issues stemming from a record man-games lost. If the Habs can get healthier, they may surprise at least slightly to the upside. In effect, the Canadiens were not as bad as their 22-49-11 record might have indicated, just like the below Habs may not be as bad as many may have been led to believe. Here are the top three Habs with an arguably unjustified reputation for being low on the totem pole:
3. Mike Hoffman
There’s no disputing forward Mike Hoffman disappointed in his first season with the Canadiens. He was brought in with the hope he’d help boost the power play, which finished at a 31st-ranked 13.7%. So, no dice there.
However, he did finish with a second-ranked 13 power-play points (behind Nick Suzuki, tied with Cole Caufield). It’s not exactly good, but, in the context of a last-place season, it isn’t horrible. And anyone expecting Hoffman to turn things around on his own hasn’t been paying attention to his career so far as a generally complementary offensive weapon. The same sentiment goes for the 15 goals and 35 points he scored in 67 games. Not eye-opening by any stretch, but hardly an indictment of the three-year, $13.5 million he signed with the Habs.
Ideally, yeah, the Canadiens would be able to unload his contract, because there is a logjam on the wings right now. As a result, he’s not necessarily needed right now. He’s also going on 33 with two years left on his deal. So, he won’t be useful a few years later either, when the Canadiens are theoretically ready to contend again. As such, he’s probably of most use in the form of futures that the Canadiens would get in exchange following a trade. That all just implies he holds value more for other teams besides the Habs, not that he holds no value overall.
2. Evgeny Dadonov
In some ways, Evgeny Dadonov is a victim of circumstance. When your team tries to trade you and gets the agreed-upon deal axed by the NHL because of your no-trade clause, you’re unlikely to come out of the incident smelling like roses. Doubly so if the hypothetical trade was a salary dump, like it was for the Vegas Golden Knights last trade deadline.
The implication is Dadonov wasn’t worth his salary in the eyes of the Golden Knights. Hell, maybe he isn’t, with a $5 million cap hit. However, as the Knights just traded away (an admittedly now-injured) Max Pacioretty, who has been consistently productive for them (and Dylan Coghlan), for future considerations, the saga should speak more to organizational issues than anything else.
Ultimately, what many of those trade reports failed to comprehensively document was how Dadonov had been in the midst of a rebound season for all intents and purposes. He scored 20 goals for the fourth time in five seasons since returning from the Kontinental Hockey League. The other, he notched just 13 on an offensively challenged Ottawa Senators team during the 56-game pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season. Over a full 82 games, he likely would have gotten close to hitting the high-water mark again.
Dadonov may have been a player the Canadiens took on in exchange for Shea Weber’s contract, but he’s not the pure cap dump you might think. With the deal, the Habs sacrificed short-term financial flexibility for more down the road, meaning the Canadiens are in a tighter spot cap-wise right now. So, Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes likely doesn’t make the trade for someone who’s completely deadweight. Furthermore, by shedding the contract of Weber, who’s effectively “retired,” Hughes has proven he can get out of tight spots.
So, trading Dadonov by the trade deadline should be child’s play in comparison. After all, contrary to popular belief, he is by all accounts a capable NHLer at the very least. He’s a legitimate middle-six forward, who, yes, may be on the decline, but still has something to offer potential suitors… even the Canadiens in the interim.
1. Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin simply hasn’t lived up to the hype with the Canadiens. However, he’s not the lost cause his detractors may think, as one of the most productive Habs forwards last season (when he was healthy).
That is admittedly a huge qualifier, as Drouin played in just 34 games (scoring six goals and 14 assists). However, he is poised to return healthy for training camp. In fact, Drouin’s likely poised for a great 2022-23, as he’s playing for his next contract as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Chances are good it won’t come with the Canadiens. However, he still holds significant value as a 27-year-old forward in his prime who has scored 20 goals and 50 points over full seasons before. His $5.5 million cap hit looks pretty good in that light.
Drouin’s obviously (and unjustifiably) come under fire for his decision to leave the Canadiens in 2021-22 out of concern for his mental health. Coupled with an initial price tag of Mikhail Sergachev, a young defenseman they could have sorely used the last half-decade more, Drouin’s tenure with the Habs could have gone smoother. That cannot be denied.
In retrospect, Drouin was not the native-son savior he was initially billed as upon his acquisition. No one should have thought he was, seeing as the first thing the Canadiens tried to do was make him their No. 1 center, when he was primarily a winger. That’s like getting concert tickets to see your favorite band, only to realize they’re for a cover band. No, they may not have been cheap, but, if they were really what you were looking for, chances are good they would have been sold out instead.
By the same objective token though, Drouin’s not a deserving punching bag either. What he is, is a top-six forward still with significant upside. It’s a shame he likely won’t realize it with the Canadiens, but there’s no good reason he can’t elsewhere (with a chance to earn the Habs a significant haul via trade beforehand).