The Montreal Canadiens’ best player this season is clearly Nick Suzuki. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind. True, it’s about as dubious a distinction as being first in line to try out a new model of a bulletproof vest, with almost nearly as much chance at getting unnecessarily hurt. But it is undeniable all the same as the All-Star Game rapidly approaches.
So, no, Suzuki’s play this season has admittedly been far from eye-opening… unless you count the fact he’s one of only two Habs (David Savard) to play in all 35 games, even through the latest pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. For that reason alone, he probably deserves recognition for the annual NHL All-Star Game, scheduled for Feb. 5 (for now anyway).
Suzuki and then Slim Pickings
Still, Suzuki’s seven goals and 12 assists, for 19 points, lead the Canadiens. They’re respectable numbers at the very least, when close to nothing about the 7-24-4 Habs has been respectable this season. Just a few reminders:
- A league-low 2.09 goals scored per game
- A 29th-ranked 3.66 goals against per game
- A league-low 10.5% on the power play
- A 28th-ranked 72.8% on the penalty kill
Sure, the aforementioned injury bug has contributed to the Canadiens’ on-ice woes. For just two examples, neither No. 1 goalie Carey Price (recovering from surgery) nor captain Shea Weber (retired for all intents and purposes) are available. However, when Jeff Petry, the team’s best hope to pick up the slack in the latter’s absence, has just two assists in 27 games, it speaks to the team’s struggles as a whole: The Habs couldn’t hit a target in Duck Hunt, if the screen were frozen. At least, it raises the stakes for whoever gets to go and compete in the All-Star Skills Competition, right?
With all that in mind, here’s another sign of how badly this season has gone: Chris Wideman, the Canadiens’ projected seventh defenseman heading into 2021-22, co-leads the defense in scoring with nine points in 23 games. The decent point-per-game clip notwithstanding, if Wideman is leading your defense in scoring it’s a sign that well, your season is not going as expected… although the team’s record should be hint enough to that effect.
You can probably see where this is going. Rumors are circulating that Wideman will end up representing the Canadiens at the All-Star Game, with NHL.com slotting him in (although the list is by no means official; In fact, they had revisited earlier selections of theirs, where Suzuki actually made the cut). The final rosters will be announced the evening of Thursday, Dec. 13, but, even so, it’s a bad omen.
It should be pointed out those initial NHL.com picks had been released on Dec. 11. Wideman, who understandably left the team for the birth of his child last month (from ‘Canadiens Notebook: Christian Dvorak out indefinitely with injury,’ Montreal Gazette, Dec. 16, 2021), has literally only played one game since that point, against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 12, the team’s first the pause.
So, to put it bluntly, he’s done very little if anything to establish himself as more of an All-Star candidate than Suzuki since then. If you’re instead punishing Suzuki for scoring just a single point since then, keep in mind, were it not for a five-game stretch in mid-November, when Wideman scored six points, he’d have just three in 18 games. Put simply, Wideman is not having an All-Star-caliber campaign. He had an All-Star-caliber week and a half.
Suzuki vs. Wideman for All-Star Consideration
All due respect to Wideman, who is having a decent comeback season after having played in the Kontinental Hockey League, he should not be named to the supposed mid-season classic. There’s a way around it too. To open up a spot at forward for Suzuki, instead of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who also have goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy penciled in, could send defenseman Victor Hedman. Or, instead of Lucas Raymond, the Detroit Red Wings could send fellow-rookie Moritz Seider.
Yes, an All-Star nod is in one way a reward for players, some of whom may actually appreciate the opportunity to showcase their skills. That’s likely Wideman, who will realistically never be recognized like this again. However, in that same vein, it’s also a showcase of the league’s elite. Wideman that isn’t. It may not be Suzuki either, but, with Price on the mend, he’s the closest thing the Canadiens have got.
Remember, this is a league that actively tried to get John Scott to bow out of the 2016 All-Star Game. Wideman obviously has skill. He may even flourish in the All-Star Game, especially seeing as Scott won MVP honors (after which the NHL disqualified minor-league players from the event). The point is, barring a campaign to actively circumvent the system, Wideman would never be voted in, because he’s not a player people generally want to see. It’s a harsh truth, but the truth it is.
Wideman’s obviously talented. You have to be at this level (just like Scott was). As a testament to that talent, Wideman’s proven himself capable of playing in the NHL this season and has likely earned another deal for 2022-23. If not with the Canadiens then elsewhere. However, it’s a simple question: given the choice between the two, Suzuki and Wideman, who would you prefer to see? One’s a 22-year-old, likely No. 1 center on the rise with the production to back it up. The other is a journeyman 32-year-old defenseman, who, prior to leaving for the KHL, spent the entire 2019-20 (admittedly pandemic-shortened) season in the American Hockey League.
Leading the Habs’ defense in scoring by itself shouldn’t be a qualifying factor to be the team’s sole All-Star representative. True, the event itself doesn’t mean much, but being named to the All-Star Game is a gesture, symbolic in so many ways. All the Habs and their fans have right now is hope for the future. Wideman quite possibly won’t even be with the Canadiens next season. He deserves attention during free agency. Suzuki meanwhile encapsulates the above notion perfectly. He deserves this.
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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.