Have Expectations Changed with the Montreal Canadiens?

The tradition of winning in Montreal is unrivaled in the NHL. The Canadiens were the standard for winning as teams would cast an eye of envy towards the organization as legend after legend skated their way into the record books and into the hearts of hockey fans the world over.

But the Habs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993, a far cry from decades prior when fans were spoiled by dynasties and hall of famers. The salary cap and having 30 teams makes the Cup even harder to win, but the Habs are a team that other clubs don’t try to copy when it comes to the on-ice product anymore. It begs the question of whether the expectations have changed in Montreal.

1965 Stanley Cup Winners Montreal Canadiens
1965 Stanley Cup Winners Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk vs. David Desharnais

When Pierre Gauthier was fired and Marc Bergevin came in as general manager, it appeared the organization was on the right track to becoming a winning team again. The team has won more under Bergevin the past three seasons, but there are questions to whether management is doing everything they can to ice the best team possible.

The Habs drafted Alex Galchenyuk with the intention of him being the franchise number one centre the team has lacked for many years. It’s not unusual for junior centres to become wingers at the next level, but Galchenyuk produced at a much better pace when placed at centre before being taken off after only 10 or so games. The team has been loath to give Galchenyuk any responsibility as they continue to treat him with kid gloves.

David Desharnais gets a lot of hate from fans, but the coaching staff is to blame for how he is utilized. I can’t see any other organization in the league putting Desharnais before Galchenyuk, as Galchenyuk has produced just as much but with less minutes both at even strength and on the power play. Desharnais gets generous minutes that give him every opportunity to put up points as he is given heavy offensive zone starts, plays with Max Pacioretty and gets lots of power play time.

Teams will typically give offensively talented youngsters Desharnais-like minutes so it’s a head scratcher why Galchenyuk isn’t given the chance.  Galchenyuk is no worse than Desharnais defensively and considering his age, defensive lapses are normal. It’s no wonder that with such a tight leash that Galchenyuk’s confidence plummeted by the time playoffs rolled around. Certainly he shares responsibility in the fact he hasn’t produced as expected, but the fact he did everything he could to prove he can play centre with the best forward on the team and still be demoted is discouraging.

Questionable coaching and a putrid power play

Bergevin praised the work of Michel Therrien and the coaching staff, but loyalty could be clouding Bergevin’s judgment. The team won games but how they won them is not a recipe for long term success. Anyone can see how crucial Carey Price was to this team as he stole way too many games for this team. Even PK Subban said that they need to make Price’s job easier.

The team has players who can score but often they are not utilized to do so. The system promotes dump and chase but with goalies being able to handle the puck and teams faster to get back, puck possession is key in today’s NHL. But Montreal doesn’t promote that kind of system. It is one thing to be loyal to your coach but when it’s clear issues are evident to anyone who watches the team, you have to step back and evaluate it. Montreal ranked near the bottom in most categories such as goals scored and puck possession while the power play was inexplicably bad all season long.

On the other hand, if the Canadiens didn’t care about winning, Bergevin wouldn’t have signed Jeff Petry to his new six year deal. If he didn’t care about the future of the club, he wouldn’t have trusted Trevor Timmins and the scouting staff in picking Galchenyuk. Bergevin has done some good things in his time as GM. Unfortunately, some of the things he says goes against the club’s motto of “no excuses” and is sometimes a little too generous when doling out undeserved praise.

Handling expectations

The Montreal Canadiens could never repeat their glorious past by putting together dream teams like they did in the era of the Richards, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy, but it doesn’t mean the expectations to win the Stanley Cup every year should waver. Bergevin would be a fool to waste the prime years of Price and Subban and continue to muddle along until the top prospects are ready to fill holes on the roster.

However, Bergevin has shown a pattern of holding his cards close to the vest, so he could easily could go against everything he said in his year-end presser and make a big splash this summer. Fans are desperate for a championship and having a superstar goalie and defenceman in their primes just makes them hungrier. The fans expect a winning team. Let’s hope the organization agrees with them.