Canadiens Still Have Lot to Look Forward to as 2021-22 Ends

Montreal Canadiens fans can officially check goalie Carey Price’s return off the list. Sure, Price lost in his season debut to the New York Islanders, but the game obviously wasn’t about points in the standings.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In fact, some may have felt there wasn’t a point at all to have the injured Price return this season. I mean, the Canadiens have long since eliminated from playoff contention and there are so few games left. Why not just run out the clock? Ultimately though, it’s good to see the goalie back healthy.

At the very least, Price getting back in form is something every Habs fan can appreciate, even if it’s for the purposes of a trade out of town this offseason, which is rapidly approaching. Nevertheless, there’s plenty left for Habs to look forward to down the stretch. Here’s the complete list:

End of 2021-22 Regular Season

Let’s call a spade a spade: The end of the 2021-22 regular season can’t come fast enough, it having been the disaster it’s been. Sure, there are still theoretically entertaining Habs games on the schedule. However, the season’s turned from more of a car crash from which you can’t look away to one where everyone’s received medical attention. You can now be reasonably sure everyone’s going to be all right. And, when it comes down to it, you see it for what it really is: an unattractive heap of metal whose sole purpose is to cause a traffic jam and keep you from getting where you need to go. In this case, that’s the end of the regular season.

2022 AHL Playoffs (with Laval Rocket)

While the Canadiens aren’t making the playoffs, the Laval Rocket on the farm are a different story. A better story, in fact. Maybe not quite Charlotte’s Web, but the main characters in this one are bound to be infinitely more interesting to Habs fans than a pig and spider.

The recently acquired Justin Barron had been a likely candidate to join the Rocket for a playoff run. Even though the defenseman’s recent injury has derailed that plan, there are still plenty of players to keep an eye, with the likes of one-time Canadiens call-up Rafael Harvey-Pinard leading the way, as the Rocket’s top scorer.

Justin Barron Halifax Mooseheads
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Justin Barron – (Photo: Halifax Mooseheads)

True, the Rocket haven’t yet locked down a berth, but they’re in prime position to, and it’s not necessarily about how far they get. Rather, it’s about dreaming about how far members of a relatively stacked farm system go in their respective careers.

2022 NHL Entry Draft

Now, this is why Habs fans suffered through this season, the chance at picking No. 1 overall. And, rest assured, the Habs need that high draft pick (even if it ends up not being first as they can realistically fall to No. 5, based on current standings and new NHL Draft Lottery rules). There will still be plenty of franchise-altering talent available at No. 5, though.

Related: Even Awful 2021-22 Canadiens Season’s Got Silver Linings

Of course, the Lottery comes first, as the initial part of the process to look forward to, with its date not yet set. Then the actual selection process, with the 2022 NHL Entry Draft scheduled for July 7(in Montreal). That’s obviously the main event, with the spotlight centered on top-prospect Shane Wright, who would fit very well into the Canadiens’ plans for the future.

Shane Wright Kingston Frontenacs
Kingston Frontenacs forward Shane Wright – (Brandon Taylor/OHL Images)

Ultimately, securing a center should be the priority, with Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi having left last offseason. If not a center, a right-handed defenseman with Shea Weber having “retired,” without a viable succession plan having been put in place for their No. 1 defenseman and Jeff Petry conceivably on his way out.

Jeff Petry Trade

Maybe not necesarily Price, but it’s becoming more and more likely Petry gets moved this offseason.

Petry’s obviously haven’t had the best season, but, realistically, considering the James Norris Memorial Trophy votes he got last season, it’s more likely an outlier than a sign of significant decline on his part. He’s still gone from potentially being part of the solution for the Canadiens to being part of someone else’s blue line.

Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the lead-up to the trade deadline, general manager Kent Hughes said they would try to trade Petry, which, while non-committal, is still a fairly big admission. Of course, Petry didn’t get traded at the deadline, but, as Hughes mentioned at his post-deadline press conference, that has more to do with logistics than lack of interest.

The Habs were able to retain salary on Ben Chiarot’s contract to facilitate a trade, but primarily because he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. Hughes explained retaining salary on Petry’s deal requires doing the same on each of his remaining three seasons under contract. So, the offseason, when teams have more wiggle room under the salary cap, is a safer bet for when a deal will go down.

Ultimately, you may fall into one of two camps. You may want to see Petry stay, as a defenseman who’s been a steadying presence and stalwart on the team’s blue line for parts of seven seasons, or see him go, as a two-bit bum who’s had the audacity to put together a less-than-stellar 2021-22 campaign (like everyone else on the roster). What a loser, to go from a Norris-caliber defenseman to not. Either way, you’re probably looking forward to some closure to this whole saga.

Free Agency

If Petry does go, you would need someone to replace him in the lineup. Enter free agency, starting July 13. It’s not a position the Canadiens can fill internally anyway, as no one currently in the organization is properly equipped or projected to so much as be capable of playing the role of a top-pairing defenseman on that side.

So, pending a Petry trade (which is increasingly realistic), Hughes should be in the market for a stop-gap measure at least. Maybe more with surfacing rumors in the background of Kris Letang joining his former agent in Montreal. There are other potential Canadiens free-agency targets too.

Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang – (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

True, the Canadiens are undergoing a rebuild, and that kind of runs counter to the notion of Hughes landing big-name free agents. However, it’s been reported that the Habs are planning on being aggressive come free agency. So, it’s shaping up to be an intriguing summer.

Martin St. Louis Contract Extension

One thing Hughes potentially has going for him during free agency, is the hiring of Martin St. Louis as interim head coach. In some respects, St. Louis is the biggest free-agency target of all for Hughes.

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s safe to say St. Louis’ exceeded initial expectations as a first-time coach and has started to win over critics Ted Lasso style. A key difference is St. Louis has a level of hockey knowledge of which some traditional head-coach possibilities can only dream. So, now that it’s become clear St. Louis is capable of connecting with players and, well, actually coaching, he’s the logical choice to become the next permanent head coach of the Canadiens, with Hughes himself saying he’d like to make it a reality. At this point, it’s St. Louis’ call.

Admittedly, the Canadiens entered last offseason under similar circumstances, with Dominique Ducharme needing a new contract as interim head coach. Obviously, that didn’t work out so hot, but a) there will be lower expectations for St. Louis than Ducharme following the Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, and b) there’s a novelty to having a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame head coach for the team.

Ultimately, it goes past that with regard to St. Louis. He’s less novelty and more practically speaking the right man for the job. Putting ink to paper should be a priority for the Habs, and something to which fans should look forward, not just for next season, but moving forward too.