The Montreal Canadiens put together probably their best 20 minutes of the season against the Vegas Golden Knights in their last outing. They of course unfortunately lost the game despite outshooting the Golden Knights 20-1 in the first period, after which they had a 2-0 lead.
Some may say the Habs are finding new ways to lose, but, for fans looking for positives to grasp following the team’s 3-10 season so far, it’s at least a glimmer of hope. True, the time for moral victories has long since past for the Canadiens to realistically salvage the 2021-22 season, but, if it’s all you’re getting, you hold on for dear life.
Here are the top five:
5. Carey Price’s Return
The exact circumstances surrounding what prompted him to seek help have yet to be explicitly stated. Regardless, his health is obviously a priority and it’s an indisputably good thing that he’s out of the program. Also indisputably speaking? Price makes the Habs better. So, his return can only have positive ramifications on the season’s outlook.
Granted, his return is unlikely to have the biggest impact, relative to those of other injured Canadiens. It’s nevertheless a sign the Canadiens are getting healthier and are in a position to finish the season stronger than how they started. An admittedly low bar, but it is what it is.
4. Jonathan Drouin’s Resurgence
In much the same vein, Drouin returned to the lineup this season after taking a leave of absence in late 2020-21. It was revealed just prior to 2021-22 that Drouin suffered from anxiety and insomnia for years. Few outside the organization knew for sure at the time of Drouin’s departure, with the situation causing concern he was on his way out of the organization.
It should be noted, in such an instance, trading Drouin would not have fetched a sizeable return, as his value would have been very low. It would have really only served to give him a change of scenery. Thankfully none was ultimately needed.
Drouin has already matched his two-goal output from all of last season and has seven points in 11 games. It’s perhaps not the production the Canadiens had anticipated when they first acquired him for Mikhail Sergachev, but he’s resurrected his standing on the team as a key component of the team’s forward group, tied for second in points. That was really the best-case scenario that could have realistically materialized.
3. Mike Hoffman Coming as Advertised
In contrast to Jonathan Drouin, who’s only under contract until 2023, Mike Hoffman just signed this past summer and has one additional season on his deal.
It has the potential to be more of a bargain at a cap hit of $4.5 million (compared to Drouin’s $5.5 million), with Hoffman already living up to expectations. After all, he’s scored a team-leading four goals in 10 games (one assist) and has a co-leading two power-play goals.
It is a fairly modest amount to be leading the team, but it would put Hoffman on pace for over 30 goals in an 82-game season, which is in line with his career up to this point. Granted, Hoffman is 32 and is not necessarily guaranteed to keep this up over the next three seasons, but his play up to this point is at least a source of cautious optimism for the future.
2. 2022 NHL Entry Draft
It’s time to call a spade a spade. Barring divine intervention, the Canadiens are not making up for their start to the season to make the playoffs next spring, prompting a legitimate argument that general manager Marc Bergevin should tank the rest of the season to secure a higher draft pick.
Some fans consider the word dirty, which is their right. However, it’s no dirtier than bathwater, with a fresh start being a necessity in order to put this team on the right path forward. So, it’s a strategy worth considering, with the 2022 NHL Entry Draft being rife with high-end talent, especially up top. After all, despite the Stanley Cup Final run in 2021, the Habs have been mediocre or worse during the regular season for five of the last six seasons. It’s time for something a bit stronger than a simple retool or reset.
Whisky works fine with regard to the immediate future (but in moderation, to be clear). It’s easy to get carried away thinking of the early-season swoon in which the Canadiens find themselves. For some perspective though, 2021 was by all accounts a weak draft year… or at the very least one in which teams were drafting partially blind due to the pandemic.
In other words it was a crapshoot and the Canadiens chose a great season to earn the second-to-last first-round pick as runners-up. They maybe could have used it more effectively, but, ultimately, if 2021 was the season to go on a run, 2022 is a season to do just the opposite. With the Habs themselves hosting the 2022 Draft, things are arguably working out as they should, looking at the big picture. There’s at least some solace to be had, if you look at it that way.
1. Nick Suzuki… Just Nick Suzuki
Admittedly, draft picks aren’t sure things, even high ones, especially in the Bergevin era. So, why not focus on relative certainties.For example Nick Suzuki seems on track to earn every penny of his new eight-year, $63 million deal (which only comes into effect next season), with a team-leading 12 points in 13 games so far.
It’s worth pointing out up until recently Suzuki was one more Habs forward struggling to put up points. He only notched his first one, an assist, in Game 5. He only scored his first goal at the start of his current three-game point streak, prior to which he had a mere five points in 10 games. Now, he’s scored goals in three straight games for the first time in his career and has 12 points in 13 games… a far cry from just a week ago.
Not everyone can be Suzuki, but it should at least instill confidence that other Habs are just a few games from getting it going too. If the Habs tanking is out of the question (it shouldn’t be), there’s at least reason to believe they can turn it around sooner rather than later and start competing for a playoff spot.
There’s little use putting lipstick on the pig that is this Habs’ season at this point, though. In order to realistically make the playoffs they would have had to turn things around a few weeks ago. However, if you’re of the belief the Canadiens are better served making a late push for one of the final spots, that’s still very much possible. If on the other hand, you believe a high pick is the way to go, that’s conceivably in the cards too.
However which way the rest of the season plays out, the Canadiens have their No. 1 center inked for the prime years of his career. They’ve been looking for decades for one, so, to have one locked up should be enough to justify a breath of relief. In spite of everything else, that has to be a comforting, no?
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.