If you follow closely the Montreal Canadiens, you understand why the team struggles with consistency from time to time. Even though Max Domi’s emergence in a new system forged a great (and unexpected) start to the season, the problems eventually became clearer and one particular issue arose: the team’s blue line is atrocious and could prevent the team from being competitive, from now on.
There’s no doubt that Shea Weber is one of the league’s top defenseman, but you can’t be successful when your left side consists of Brett Kulak, Mike Reilly, Victor Mete, David Schlemko and Jordie Benn. None of them are suited for a job next to Shea Weber on the first pair, and it’s arguable whether one of them is even a decent second pair defenseman.
Take the last couple of games, Mike Reilly has been struggling mightily while Victor Mete has been playing solid hockey with the Laval Rocket (AHL). But can he keep it up in the NHL?
Brett Kulak has had some good flashes with Weber but isn’t exactly an ideal partner and will be scratched tonight as the Canadiens face the Colorado Avalanche.
Claude Julien has had to make some changes to the team’s system before the season started. So far, we’ve seen a fast-young group that benefits from a dynamic zone entry/exit system. Although there’s an issue with that: the forwards set a pace that the defensemen struggle to follow. The general lack of mobility from the D core slows down the rhythm and has hurt the team on the scoreboard more than once.
Although there may not be any magic solutions to this problem, I feel like the Montreal Canadiens aren’t that far away from a good playoff run.
Price, Forwards Can Lead the Way in the Playoffs
It’s cliché, I know.
But making the playoffs gives you a chance at winning a Stanley Cup.
If the playoffs started today, the Habs would go head-to-head with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts would not go down easily, as they’ve shown in the past. Claude Julien’s team would need to play their best hockey and should work very hard for an upset to take place.
The forward group seems fit for a long playoff run and Carey Price can explode into beast mode at any given time just like Holtby did last season to earn his first Stanley Cup ring. The only two goaltenders to win the Stanley Cup and the Vezina trophy the same year (since 2000) were Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas, so you shouldn’t worry about Price’s problems in the regular season. Success in the first 82 games doesn’t guarantee you anything, and vice versa.
The worry is, as I cited earlier, the defensive core. A legitimate left-handed defenseman that can skate could bring a much needed positive change to this team’s composition.
Now there isn’t an abundance of good left-handed defenseman available on the market, but if you can by any chance snag one from a struggling team, you need to take a serious look at it.
Doing that would give the Canadiens a 2017-18 Golden Knights type of look.
The Underdog That Does Some Damage
Every year, in the NHL, there’s a Cinderella story. Sometimes you hate it, sometimes you love it, but it becomes the season’s turning point. That’s what happened last year when the overachieving Golden Knights reached the Cup Finals, against all odds.
Of course, you must consider the energy the Vegas locker-room had, as it played a big part in the team’s playoff success. But looking at it from another point of view, Vegas did not have a great team, nor did they have a solid blue-line. They were the type of underdogs to get that status because of their roster AND because of their low expectations.
Keeping that in mind, let’s do some visualization. Let’s say, in a very hypothetical world, Bergevin gets Jake Muzzin at the trade deadline or any other deserving left-handed defenseman.
The Canadiens (barring any injuries) could have the following roster heading into the playoffs
Drouin – Domi – Shaw
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Armia – Chaput – Peca
Muzzin – Weber
Mete – Petry
Kulak – Juulsen
On paper, is that much worse than what the Knights looked like in game one against the Kings, last spring?
Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith
Neal – Haula – Touch
Tatar – Eakin – Carpenter
Nosek – Bellemare – Carrier
McNabb – Schmidt
Theodore – Engelland
Merrill – Miller
Isn’t it similar? Even if Muzzin is out of the equation and replaced by Reilly, the Canadiens look much better than usually portrayed by the media. That’s the point I had in mind before I started writing this article.
Bergevin Should Not Sacrifice Prospects, Picks
The belief is that in order for it to be worth getting into the playoffs, you must be competitive, thus acquire additional significant pieces.
Sure, it wouldn’t hurt. But is it necessary?
The Canadiens are in no rush and can still count on multiple prospects looking for an NHL spot in 2019, 2020 and 2021. You shouldn’t sacrifice any of them for the sake of having a good playoff run: it’s not even related.
The key is to have faith in the current group. I don’t think Marc Bergevin is blind. In fact, he’s aware of his team’s defensive woes. He will eventually make a move to fix them, but you shouldn’t be pissed if the guy’s name is not Jake Muzzin and if he didn’t sacrifice Ryan Poehling or a first-round pick.
If Montreal takes a playoff seed and gets through the first round, anything is possible and they could go on a long-run that would benefit the team’s chemistry and help Jesperi Kotkaniemi get much-needed playoff experience.
But if they don’t, so what. Remember they weren’t supposed to be good this year.
Have faith in the process and don’t rush things. The future is bright.