It will likely be another hard 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens season, at least in the standings. Even if Habs head coach Martin St. Louis made things more bearable for fans down the stretch, a playoff spot will be hard to come by once again.
With that in mind, Canadiens fans probably tried to soak in this 2022 offseason, during which they held the No. 1 overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft (Juraj Slafkovsky), as much as possible. Thankfully, it’s still not over.
There’s still a lot for Habs fans to look forward to this offseason, assuming 2022-23 officially begins with the start of training camp (for the purposes of this piece). Here are the top three:
3. More Canadiens Moves to Come?
One way or another, the Canadiens are likely going to have to make additional moves this offseason. To illustrate, they’re right up against the salary cap, with Kirby Dach still having to be signed as a restricted free agent.
True, there’s a chance Paul Byron could end up being put on long-term injured reserve to make room. However, according to general manager Kent Hughes there’s also a chance he’ll be ready for training camp.
Consider how the Habs are operating under the assumption goalie Carey Price will be ready to go with his long-term health in question too. They don’t want to devote his cap space elsewhere only to have to scramble to make room if he can actually go in the end). So, it stands to reason they would follow the same strategy with Byron, especially seeing as they’ll have to clear the space eventually when he returns.
Furthermore, once Dach signs, the Canadiens will have a projected 15 forwards in line to make the roster out of training camp. That includes both Jonathan Drouin, who’s injured right now, and admittedly Slafkovsky, who could theoretically make the team out of training camp.
It doesn’t mean Slafkovsky will (or even that he should). Still, there’s little denying the vast majority of first-overall picks do make the NHL right away. If the Canadiens do envision that being the case, someone will have go, to make room for a seventh defenseman and keep them under that 23-man roster limit.
The Canadiens may not have their mind made up yet, as it stands to reason it all depends on how Slafkovsky does in training camp. Nevertheless, with a prospect like Jesse Ylonen knocking at the door too, it makes good asset-management sense for Hughes to preemptively get rid of an unwanted contract. Otherwise, he risks having to later, negotiating from a position of weakness, no less. If Hughes can, making another trade on top of the blockbuster Dach acquisition this offseason is the way to go.
That goes double if the Canadiens want to add via free agency, meaning adding salary without losing an asset. As alluded to in the previous paragraphs, they’re unlikely to sign a forward because of the logjam up front, but on defense things aren’t so concrete, with as many as three rookies projected to make an impact on the blue line this coming season: Justin Barron, Jordan Harris and Kaiden Guhle.
All that to say, Hughes may be tempted to sign someone who remains an unrestricted free agent, to add some insulation for his young guns on the blue line. Ex-Hab P.K. Subban would fit the bill in at least certain respects, especially from an entertainment standpoint. However reacquiring him may not make sense for what the Habs are looking to accomplish this season: not necessarily compete, but rather simply add leadership to help bring along their younger talent with as much ice time as possible.
2. New Canadiens Captain
The New York Rangers just made Jacob Trouba their next captain, prompting Canadiens fans to ask what about us? The Habs didn’t have an on-ice captain last season, with Shea Weber having “retired.” Now that his deal has been traded away, they’re expected to name a replacement. Hughes has confirmed as much in the past.
Now, will the Habs follow the Rangers’ lead and do so in the lead-up to training camp instead of during (which would disqualify it from consideration for this list in principle)? Maybe not, in all honesty.
For example, Weber got named captain back in October 2018, after all the team’s exhibition games had been played. Brian Gionta meanwhile got named captain in the middle of the team’s exhibition schedule back in 2010. Sandwiched in between both of them, though? Max Pacioretty got named captain before.
So, there are no hard and fast rules here, as the Trouba announcement would reinforce. What fans can most certainly look forward to during the offseason between now and when a decision is finally announced though is the debate as to who it will be.
Some say Brendan Gallagher. Some say Nick Suzuki. Everyone says “finally,” regardless of who will actually get it, even if a larger focus this season will be on what the players even younger than Suzuki will be able to accomplish.
1. Habs Rookies at 2022 Prospects Challenge
One event that should be circled on the calendars of Canadiens fans everywhere is the 2022 Prospects Challenge. Hosted by the Buffalo Sabres, the 2022 edition of the annual rookie tournament officially makes the cut-off point for this piece, running from Sept. 15-19 before training camp opens for all intents and purposes.
More importantly, it will presumably give fans their first chance to see Slafkovsky in exhibition action (in a Canadiens uniform). Other potential Habs prospects to keep an eye out for at the tournament include Guhle, Slafkovsky’s countryman and fellow 2022 first-round pick, Filip Mesar, and Joshua Roy, who broke out last season to lead the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring at just 18 years of age.
Needless to say, the future, even the very short-term future over the next few months, is looking very bright if you’re a Habs fan.
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.