It felt like a very long year, but 2022 is finally coming to an end. It was one that brought significant change for the Montreal Canadiens, and with so much change it also brought hope for the future. The past year saw the franchise move on from its former captain, Shea Weber, trading his contract to the Vegas Golden Knights, while also placing franchise cornerstone Carey Price on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), knowing that neither player will likely play an NHL game ever again.
The year brought on more injuries depleting a lineup and a franchise starting a rebuild. It also handed fans a disappointing 32nd-place finish in the standings, followed by a first-overall pick in the Entry Draft for the first time since 1980. As a result, Habs fans rode a roller coaster of emotions. A new year brings renewed hope for a fanbase that has embraced a rebuild. This is a look ahead for some resolutions for the Canadiens as they enter 2023.
Canadiens Veteran: Brendan Gallagher
For Brendan Gallagher, the resolution is simple. “Stay the course”. While it sounds simple, there is more that goes into that. This won’t be a goal for him to score more. He had a career-high of 33 goals in 2018-19 but has not come near that total since. No, at 30 years of age, his best seasons of goal production are behind him, but he can still be a 20-goal threat. More importantly, he will need to remain a stabilizing force on a line, providing two-way play, and also leadership in the room.
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Gallagher will need to find a way to continue to impact the game with his energy and work ethic but do so without regular rotations onto the LTIR. His smashmouth style of play, combined with his size (5-foot-9, 183 pounds), doesn’t help that cause. With his $6.5 million contract running until 2027, he will need to find a balance in his game to remain healthy for as long as he can. Heart and soul players like him can be an essential part of a rebuild, showing the youth that there is more value in a player battling for team goals than it is for an individual playing to add to personal statistics.
Montreal’s Misunderstood Player: Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin’s resolution is another that sounds simple but will take a herculean effort. “Focus only on what you can control”. For him, skill and talent have never been in short supply. What he has had to deal with however is expectations. Not just the ones he places upon himself, which he can control, but also the ones heaped on him due to his being a third-overall pick in the draft, to being acquired in a trade in return for the Habs’ top prospect at the time, Mikhail Sergachev, who has since blossomed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But also, the expectations by the media and fanbase to become the next great local star.
For Drouin, it is important to focus on each day, and only on his performance. With no goals and five assists in only 18 games played, production will be helpful, especially if he can continue to play well defensively. He is in a contract year, and if he doesn’t avoid injuries, and help the team by producing, all while showcasing himself, he may not get more than a professional try-out (PTO) offer from an NHL team. That would be a shame to see a good person and skilled player’s career end too soon.
Canadiens Head Coach: Martin St. Louis
For head coach Martin St. Louis, it’s a resolution that he seems to have already embraced, but it does bear continuing. “Think outside the box”. His arrival as coach of the Canadiens was some outside-the-box thinking by the general manager (GM) Kent Hughes, who hired him knowing he had no experience coaching professionally. However, St. Louis quickly showed that he came prepared by giving the team some swagger and putting in place concepts that allowed them to play a more offensive style of game. With most “old school” coaches, it’s about playing a system, making the play more robotic for the players, and eliminating the advantages creativity and hockey IQ could provide. St. Louis has a different approach, instead of following a concept.
“I don’t really coach the players with the puck, I coach the four other players *without* the puck. The puck, that’s the present. The four other players, that’s the future.”– Martin St. Louis
Moving ahead in 2023, his approach to building confidence in the players is a key function of the rebuild. Some fans would argue it’s costing the team a few spots in the draft, moving the team further away from the top pick. However, his style has been helping the young players already on the roster to develop their games, to improve, and to do so with a team whose mindset is to compete in and win games. While they may not win as often as the players would like, being hard to play against, and competing against the best in the league can only help build their confidence going forward while also providing more experience for the youth.
Canadiens GM Kent Hughes
The Canadiens will enter 2023 with a new mindset brought about by the work done by Hughes. For the first time in modern NHL history, the Canadiens are in a rebuilding phase. For Hughes, the resolution is to “Manage Expectations”. When he arrived in February of 2022, the Canadiens were in a free fall, losing games by five or more goals regularly. Without stars like Price and Weber, it became obvious they needed a new core and Hughes went to work immediately, making unorthodox trades to gain top picks that have been applauded by the fan base.
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With the team performing above expectations, and the need to continue to add picks and young players, his work is not done and may involve the trade of a popular player or two. His biggest task is not the management of the team, but of public relations. He will need to continue his patient and friendly approach while explaining (as much as he can share) his decision-making process. By remaining transparent with the media, he can manage expectations by controlling the message. Doing so will keep the fans appeased and involved in the process he has begun.
There are certainly many other New Year’s resolutions that could have been mentioned here. But in a year filled with complex and complicated issues, simplicity is an easier course to maintain. We all could benefit from some sort of resolutions heading into 2023, but most of all, I wish everyone a year filled with personal bests, happiness, and good fortune.