Montreal Canadiens fans can look forward to plenty of recurring themes this 2021-22 season. Many are already taking shape. For example: injuries, more injuries, time spent on injured reserve and who might end up replacing those injured players, just to name a few. However, perhaps that plays into the most recurring theme of them all: uncertainty.
The optimism at the start of 2020-21 has paved way to an air of anxiety regarding the Canadiens’ prospects for 2021-22, in spite of the Stanley Cup Final run last summer. Before the Canadiens can even worry about whether or not they can defy the odds and get that far again though, they and their fans will likely find themselves pre-occupied with the following five questions:
5. Is This Bergevin’s Last Stand?
As has been well-documented, 2021-22 is general manager Marc Bergevin’s last year under contract. He reportedly has a three-year extension on the table, but, according to the team, there won’t be any updates on Bergevin’s contract status until the end of the season, effectively leaving fans to twist in the wind.
Bergevin’s had a polarizing tenure, which has mirrored the up-and-down nature of the Canadiens’ year-over-year success rate: two sets of seasons in which the Canadiens won at least one round, bookending three out of four seasons in which they didn’t even make the playoffs. It all culminated with the magical run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Looking at it that way, it’s hard to see the Canadiens failing to offer Bergevin an extension, contrary to reports. However, when he says simply that he’ll honor the last year of his contract, asked if he’d like to stay on, it at the very least paints a portrait of a man who’s prepared to take on another challenge, whether it’s with the Habs or not.
Whether he stays or goes is a legitimately big deal. Every single move from this point on will be looked at under a microscope from different perspectives, whether it’s right long term for the organization, if he or someone else is in charge. The funny part is one gets the sense he and the Habs already know and they’re just messing with everyone, no?
4. Can Caufield Capture Calder?
Cole Caufield had a stellar debut last regular season, going on to play a critical role on the Canadiens last playoffs. It should then surprise no one that Caufield, who still qualifies as a rookie, is one top candidate to claim the Calder Memorial Trophy, as arguably the likeliest Hab to win an award as a result.
Even so, expectations should be tempered. The last Hab to win the Calder was Ken Dryden. Granted that will be 50 years ago by season’s end and it almost seems written in the stars. Of course, it will also be 50 years ago in the context of a league with now 32 teams. Mathematically speaking, a Hab should have won another by now.
So, needless to say it’s a tough trophy to win. Whether or not Caufield’s up to the challenge will be the subject of a few debates between now and the end of next season, but, even if he isn’t, it doesn’t take away from the talent he has. He’s still just 20 and has plenty of growing pains ahead. Should he stumble, no one should lose sight of the big picture, that he has an important part to play on this team for a long time to come.
3. How Long Until Price Recovers?
Carey Price shocked the hockey world when the Canadiens announced he had entered the NHL’s player assistance program, which means he’ll be away from the team for at least 30 days. Bergevin did admit it could be longer though, in which case the Canadiens will be under the gun from a goaltending perspective.
Obviously, the Canadiens signed Jake Allen for this purpose, maybe not these specific circumstances, but to take over for Price and give them someone in whom they can trust. Allen gives them that, but not necessarily for the long haul, as he failed to find consistency as a No. 1 with the St. Louis Blues.
For the short term, the Canadiens are in good hands with Allen. Beyond that? Cause for concern not just in nets, but of course also regarding Price’s health. He’s entitled to take the time he needs (and should), but it’s a fair question to consider simply out of concern for his health.
2. Will Weber Pull a Kucherov?
The Canadiens have publicly conveyed serious doubts Shea Weber will ever play again. Meanwhile, in private, some conspiracy theorists are opining this is all part of a master plan on the part of the Canadiens to circumvent the salary cap and get relief in the form of his $7,857,143 hit. Nick Suzuki just re-signed for (around) that amount, so it must be true.
One of the tamer theories is that Weber will simply be ready to play again come the playoffs, similar to what Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning did last season. Kucherov, of course, infamously missed last season on long-term injured reserve only to get activated for the playoffs and lead the league in scoring as an ex-Hart Memorial Trophy winner. Of course, for that to happen, first the Habs need to make them. Easier said than done.
Right off the bat, the Canadiens will be in tough to replicate last season’s 5-0-2 start with so many key players injured. Take away that one scorching stretch and the Habs miss the playoffs altogether.
So, the question becomes: Are the Habs a better team overall than they were last season? Then, even if they are and outpace last season’s edition the rest of the way, are they in a position to make the playoffs as part of a reformed Atlantic Division featuring the dominant Lightning, regular-season-warrior Toronto Maple Leafs, upstart Florida Panthers and always-tough rival Boston Bruins?
Related Link: Top Obstacles in Canadiens’ Way of Making 2022 Playoffs
Throw in the Detroit Red Wings, who swept the Habs back in 2019-20, and the Ottawa Senators, who went 6-3-1 against them last season, and it’s not like there will be many easy inter-divisional games. Maybe four total (all coincidentally against a single, as-of-yet-unnamed team).
Ultimately, under the current format, with strong-on-paper Metropolitan Division teams with which to contend for the two wild-card spots, nothing is guaranteed, even for a Stanley Cup runner-up. As evidenced by that run though, anything can happen. Therein lies the charm of the NHL season. God knows, it’s not the injuries.
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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.