The 2022-23 campaign won’t be so much about wins and losses for the Montreal Canadiens. The focus will instead be on progress, continuing to build a strong team culture and the development of the team’s young prospects.
Even though the Habs aren’t going to contend for the Stanley Cup this year or even fight for a playoff spot, several of their veteran players have a lot to prove this season and with the team amid a rebuild, their performances will dictate their future in Montreal.
It’s no secret that Jonathan Drouin’s career with the Canadiens has not gone as planned for neither the team nor the player since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning five years ago in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev. The 27-year-old, a former no. 3 overall pick, was supposed to be the Habs’ next big local star who could lift the fans out of their seats, but that just hasn’t been the case. Unfortunate injuries and a lack of consistency have halted any momentum he’s gained.
With one year remaining on his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, Drouin would do himself and the Canadiens a big favour if he could put together a good season. Not only would some steady offensive production help increase the numbers on his next contract, but it would also improve his value at the Trade Deadline should the Habs decide to move him for future assets. Plus, a return to form would give the Canadiens quite a bit of depth among their group of top-nine forwards.
Drouin has put up 45 points or more in three of his NHL seasons, including two with Montreal. He could bring some important secondary scoring to the lineup on a contender for their playoff run. But first, he needs to show that he still has the goods starting in training camp after recovering from another wrist surgery over the summer.
If Brendan Gallagher continues to play at the level he did this past season, his hefty contract will quickly become the most problematic one under the Canadiens’ salary cap. The 30-year-old has posted just 21 goals and 47 points combined over the past two seasons. A two-time 30-goal scorer, his body is starting to feel the effects of the wear and tear he puts on it every shift.
Still, general manager Kent Hughes understands and appreciates everything that Gallagher brings to the table beyond his offensive statistics. That’s why he’s making him a big part of Montreal’s rebuild, at least for the time being. He’s also a candidate to be the Habs’ next captain along with Joel Edmundson and Nick Suzuki. There’s no better role model than Gallagher for the team’s many prospects that will be coming through the system over the next few years. His leadership, work ethic, professionalism, and understanding of what it means to play for the Canadiens will be crucial for their development. That’s why management is hoping that an extended summer break to heal his body and get himself into top shape will rejuvenate him heading into this season.
Gallagher doesn’t have to be a 30-goal scorer, but he needs to find ways to bother the opponent to be at his most effective and find linemates that his style of play complements well. With some already starting to write him off, the pressure is on for him to prove that he can still contribute to the team he has played his entire career for.
Simply put, Carey Price needs to show the Canadiens and himself that he can still be an everyday NHL goaltender. Never mind how good he can still be, but can he play 45-50 games in a season without any extended injury layoffs? If not, both parties will have a big decision to make.
If he can handle the workload for the foreseeable future, then he must determine if he wants to pursue a Stanley Cup elsewhere or finish his career in a Habs uniform. If he does remain in Montreal, it lessens the urgency to find his replacement and provides a better picture of their current goaltending situation. With so many questions still unanswered, the Canadiens and Price need more clarity on his status to move forward, either together or apart for the first time in over a decade.
Proving their worth this season will not only benefit this trio of players and their uncertain NHL futures, but it will also allow Hughes to accelerate his roster transformation as he continues to usher in a new era for the Canadiens.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.