Montreal Canadiens Are Still Close to Contending

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… and the Montreal Canadiens, as one of the league’s most valuable teams, are far from broke.

Look to the Future, not the Car-Crash Present

They have the means to turn this around sooner rather than later… just not this season, with Carey Price still far from returning (in all hope). Looking up and down the roster for who should stay and who needs to go, three things are clear:

  1. The coaching staff is conveniently, for them, located on a different page altogether.
  2. These specific Habs e are not legitimate contenders. Rumors have it you have to actually have a shot at a playoff spot to be considered as such. However, before Captain Obvious gives Max Pacioretty a run for his money, it’s just as clear that:
  3. This team should be doing better than it is currently with just a .500 record (24-24-4 entering action Saturday).

Granted, in retrospect (and logic), their 9-0 start to the season was unsustainable, but there is no way—other than Price missing three quarters of the season apparently—the Habs are not a playoff team.

The Canadiens have elite players in their primes at each position (when healthy), reasonably decent depth and a prospect pipeline that is at the very least average relative to those of other NHL teams. When not being rushed into NHL action due to injury at the big-league level, those prospects are even key to what is undoubtedly a bright future for this organization.

As Soon as Next Season

Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien – (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Hell, if this season continues to play out like a B horror movie—predictably, with a cast simply going through the motions at this point—they’ll probably add significantly to that pipeline come the next NHL Entry Draft, which only bodes well for this team, potentially for as soon as next season.

All of this points to the nuclear option being unnecessary. The Habs don’t need to blow it all up. Oh, sure… certain members can stand to be ushered onto a firing range. However, for all intents and purposes, this team has the parts in place to get back on track right away.

At the end of the day, this team is almost exactly the same as the one that earned three straight 100-point post-lockout seasons in a row and had been on pace for a fourth this one before it all hit the fan. Granted, just prior to the lockout, the team finished third from last. However, they also took the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination the year immediately before that one.

What the Montreal Canadiens Need

All this goes to show the Canadiens are not necessarily in an irreversible organizational tailspin. This season, like 2011-12, is in all likelihood an outlier. They can get back to where they need to be in 2016-17, with another Alex Galchenyuk to show for their frustration, with Galchenyuk himself, in spite of the criticism, doing quite well at his age for a future No. 1 center.^tfw

Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk
Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

If you then eliminate that No. 1 center from the list of things the Habs need (an admittedly pretty big “if”), plug Nathan Beaulieu in as Andrei Markov’s potential replacement as the team’s No. 2 defenseman moving forward and move the latter down to the third pairing, all of sudden this team doesn’t look half-bad… or as it does every game these days. Thankfully, looks can be deceiving.

Ultimately, in addition to a presumably new head coach, the Habs’ needs entering next season are the same as they were entering this current one. There is perhaps only one addition, or, more accurately, one consistent hole that continues to be left unfilled despite management’s best (incompetent?) efforts: The slot on the right on the second line.

Ideally, the Habs would get a first-liner to push Brendan Gallagher down the depth chart, with several options available via free agency this coming summer. The weak Canadian dollar (and players getting paid in American) may even help offset the language and tax issues that the Habs usually have working against them.

Normally throwing money at problems is one surefire way to guarantee they reappear, but you also have to play to your strengths. Right now, money is admittedly one of Montreal’s only ones, but give it time. It shouldn’t take too long.