Other Canadiens Season Preview Articles:
- Must-Watch Players at Training Camp
- Defense Pair Predictions
- Forward Line Predictions
- 2021-22 Season Predictions
- Top Prospects to Watch at Rookie Camp
In the interest of full disclosure, no one should realistically expect the excitement of the upcoming 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens season to match that of their latest playoff run. Barring another Stanley Cup Final appearance next postseason, the Canadiens will indisputably be in tough to replicate the degree to which they captured the imaginations of everyone in the city.
Nevertheless, there will be no shortage of drama, starting with regard to how they fare, bouncing back from their five-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here are the top five storylines Habs fans are likely to follow this coming season:
5. In Line for a Stanley Cup Final Hangover?
Probably the cure for a hangover that’s the most fun is a little hair of the dog. Unfortunately, for the Canadiens, that means reaching the Final all over again, which is easier said than done. Remember, the Canadiens stumbled to last season’s finish line and entered the postseason with the least points of any team that made the playoffs.
A return to the Atlantic Division certainly won’t help the Canadiens’ chances in that regard. Arguably the top obstacle in the Habs’ way of so much as making a return playoff appearance, returning to the Atlantic means regularly facing the Lightning, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Don’t forget the Ottawa Senators, who gave the Habs fits all of last season, or Detroit Red Wings, who did the same, the season before.
Hardcore Habs fans will point to their playoff success and the fact they started out 2020-21 5-0-2 as proof that there’s untapped potential there. However, there’s little disputing the Canadiens aren’t the same team they were at the start of last season due to numerous departures.
4. Danault No Longer Front and Center on Top Line
Phillip Danault will be missed, but his contract demands certainly won’t. The defensive specialist, who has finished in the top 10 in Frank J. Selke Trophy Trophy voting in each of the last three seasons, obviously left for the Los Angeles Kings, signing a six-year, $33 million deal. As Danault never scored more than 13 goals in his career, it’s probably one of the better non-signings of Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s executive career.
Nevertheless, Danault was not only the top defensive forward on the team, but also the top face-off guy and the center of the No. 1 line for all intents and purposes, in between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. With Tatar also gone, there’s obviously a huge hole up front that the Habs must hope Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi will fill, as each presumably moves up the lineup as the team’s new top-two centers.
It will be more so business as usual for Suzuki, who’s been attracting attention from opposing teams as if he were the No. 1 center already. However, assuming Kotkaniemi is given the second-line assignment, a great deal more will be expected from him. How will the team as a whole fare?
3. Savard Steps In for Weber
For all intents and purposes, Shea Weber is gone at least for this coming season due to potentially career-ending wear and tear. While his performance last regular season didn’t live up to expectations, the impact of his potential retirement on the Canadiens will result in ripples in the locker room and lineup, based on the leadership he would bring to the table and the minutes he would munch on the ice when healthy.
Bergevin signed David Savard to at the very least take Weber’s spot on the right side. One has little choice but to logically deduce Weber’s spot beside Ben Chiarot is Savard’s to lose, too. Nevertheless, replacing Weber will likely be done by committee. That won’t stop everyone from constantly comparing the two, bringing into question why Savard signed with the Habs in the first place.
After all, Montreal is not exactly the most forgiving place for native sons, to which Jonathan Drouin will attest, the whole situation surrounding his ability to get his career back on track being yet another storyline to follow. Considering the sensitive nature of Drouin’s absence last season has never been explicitly stated (arguably for good reason), the Drouin situation just missed out on making this list, for the record.
In any case, Savard should at the very least bring decent defensive awareness to the role, which is good, considering, by the end of last season, Weber’s offensive numbers had decreased significantly. If Savard can competently help keep the puck out, he’ll effectively be doing what he’s being paid for, but that won’t necessarily stop unjust criticism from coming his way.
2. Caufield Chases the Calder
Cole Caufield is objectively one of the front runners for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie heading into the 2021-22 season. In fact, Caufield is the likeliest Hab to take home hardware next season as a result. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing by any stretch, but how his season unfolds is something everyone will consequently be watching.
To temper expectations somewhat, Caufield merely didn’t look out of place in the top-six role he filled beside Suzuki to end the regular season and into the playoffs. He of course demonstrated an inherent ability to contribute in the clutch. However, his five points (four goals) in 10 regular-season games and 12 points (four goals) in 20 playoff games is just a decent starting-off point in terms of production. It likely won’t be enough to win the Calder.
If Caufield can take his game to another level, and there’s little to indicate he won’t develop to a greater extent following a summer of training, the rookie race will get awfully intriguing awfully fast for Habs fans. After all, Caufield would give them their first Calder since Ken Dryden won the award in 1972.
It admittedly wouldn’t make for as great a story as Caufield joining Dryden as having won the Stanley Cup (and Conn Smythe Trophy in the latter’s case) before the Calder, but there’s no need to get picky. Ultimately, a Stanley Cup simply wasn’t in the cards for this team. As a call-back to point No. 5, that just makes how everyone on the roster responds to the heartbreak all the more noteworthy.
1. Bergevin’s Last Stand?
The response arguably starts at the top and Bergevin’s hasn’t been all that impressive, all things taken into consideration. To be fair, his offseason last fall was always going to be hard to replicate in terms of how well each of his moves panned out and to a certain extent his hands were tied with Danault’s contract demands and Weber’s injuries.
However, the Canadiens are nevertheless a weaker team now than at the start of the Stanley Cup Final. Add to that the self-inflicted embarrassment of picking Logan Mailloux at the NHL Entry Draft, which owner Geoff Molson called an error in judgment, and Bergevin hasn’t done himself any favors heading into the final year of his contract.
That isn’t to suggest anything should be taken away from him for having put together a Stanley Cup Final team. In fact, an extension is reportedly on the table for Bergevin as we speak. It comes down to whether or not he wants to re-sign though after what will be 10 seasons, many of which were tough, on the job in a market that expects its team to compete year in, year out.
After the Canadiens unexpectedly made the playoffs in 2020 and surprised everyone by taking the Philadelphia Flyers to six games in the first round, Bergevin to his credit built on that success. In truth, a second-round appearance would have been enough to potentially set up something special this coming season, before his deal expires.
In that regard, Bergevin was admirably ahead of schedule. However, if this is his encore, Bergevin could conceivably be going out with more of a whimper than a bang. There’s admittedly n entire season left to play though, and anything can happen. If the Bergevin era is indeed drawing to a close, what it lacked in year-to-year consistency, it more than made up for in entertainment value based on the controversial moves alone.
In that respect, Bergevin has not disappointed. If history is any indication, he’s got one or two plot twists coming before the actual end, whether it’s this coming season or beyond.
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 written for such publications as 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 cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.