Ironically, it took a season in which the Montreal Canadiens put together one of the worst starts in Habs history at 1-6 for them to finally beat the Sharks in San Jose in 2021-22.
Prior to Jake Allen shutting out the Sharks 4-0 to help the Canadiens improve to 2-6 on the season, the Habs hadn’t beaten the Sharks on the road this millennium. As much of an accomplishment winning in a single building for the first time in almost 22 years is, fans should see this game for what it was, though.
It’s perhaps a fluke the Canadiens went that long without winning in “The Shark Tank.” However, it was also somewhat of a one-off for the Habs to come away with the win when were significantly outplayed.
As such, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin should see the victory for what it was and do the right thing: Tank. Here are three reasons why.
3. Canadiens Last in Atlantic Division
Even with the win over the Sharks, the Canadiens remain last in the Atlantic Division, with a quarter of the points the leading Florida Panthers have (16). Granted, it’s still early in the season, but there’s an adage that says “You can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can miss them,” for a reason. It tends to hold true. With the Habs having banked just four of a possible 16 points with just a few days left in October, it’s hard to imagine a month to start the season going worse.
For the Canadiens to make the playoffs, they would have to leapfrog three teams at least, which is difficult enough. They also have to contend with teams in the Metropolitan Division, based on the current wild-card format. It’s entirely possible only three Atlantic teams end up make it, in which case the Canadiens will the Canadiens will have to realistically best two of the Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. That’s unlikely to happen, especially now.
Canadiens fans have obviously seen the opposite come true. After starting last season 5-0-2, the Habs just barely held onto a playoff spot down the stretch, and, in 2015-16, the Canadiens earned the best start in franchise history at 9-0. They then missed the playoffs altogether. So, crazy stuff does happen, but unfortunately the Habs have more in common with that 2015-16 team than their initial records may indicate.
2. Inadequate Personnel Without Price, Weber
That was the season Carey Price was limited to just 12 games after sustaining a mysterious injury early on. Circumstances are obviously somewhat different right now, with Price entering the player assistance program. The net result is the same though, in that the Canadiens don’t have their No. 1 goalie for an indeterminate amount of time.
Yes, the Canadiens have Allen, who’s undeniably more of a legitimate NHL goalie than Mike Condon was back then. However, they acquired Allen to be able to rest Price, not necessarily replace him. Granted, the thought process had been that the Habs could weather the storm with Allen in net until Price returns, but they haven’t. Far from it.
Doubters to the legitimacy of this argument may counter it by saying Price isn’t the same goalie he was to start the 2015-16 season, so who cares? And they’d be right. If you’re counting on a 34-year-old goalie like Price who peaked back then to salvage your season, you’re not in good shape, regardless of how great the guy played the past two playoffs.
Ultimately, with Allen taking over for Price down the stretch last season, the Canadiens didn’t do well. They held onto a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth. Right now they don’t even have one to hold onto, but the bigger point is the Canadiens were admittedly dealing with injuries back then. They’re doing the same right now, with both Price and defenseman Shea Weber out, the latter reportedly retired for all intents and purposes. The Canadiens just don’t have the horses to draw this carriage to the finish line in one piece. It’s time for some fresh blood.
1. Shane Wright
Look at it this way: The Canadiens picked the right season to go on a run to the Stanley Cup Final, with the 2021 NHL Entry Draft being a crapshoot after the first few picks. Due to a lack of games to scout thanks to the pandemic, teams were picking blind to a large degree.
Related: Canadiens Hypocritically Select Logan Mailloux with 2021 First-Round Pick
Of course, this is in no way an excuse for the Canadiens and Bergevin going the way they did with Logan Mailloux, but it does put everything in perspective. The Canadiens gave their fans a memorable couple of months that may not have ended the way they wanted, but would anyone really trade them in for anything?
If you knew ahead of time that the Canadiens were going to be putrid this 2021-22 season, but that they were going to reach the Final for the first time since 1993, wouldn’t you have taken it? Obviously, that’s not how these things work. In an ideal world, the Canadiens would have used last playoffs as a jumping-off point into an era of perennial success in the standings. Such a situation, while ideal, would have flown in the face of the issues that befell the team down the stretch last regular season and will continue to with the loss of Weber.
This team just isn’t built to contend with Price being as old as he is. Even if the Habs’ predominantly stay-at-home defense was put together to insulate him, it doesn’t take away from its inherent lack of mobility. Even with Nick Suzuki having a bright future as this team’s No. 1 center, its depth down the middle took a serious hit when they lost Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi last offseason.
So, as has been Bergevin’s official strategy over the course of his tenure, building through the draft is the only real option. Admittedly, it hasn’t gone smoothly up to now, with Bergevin’s top five picks overall leaving something to be desired. However, with the 2022 NHL Entry Draft being significantly stronger, if the Canadiens do tank they’ll effectively be guaranteed a great player. Not to mention a shot at Shane Wright, which would alleviate their issues at center, to put it mildly.
If last year was the year to go for it, which Bergevin did, this is the season to tank, especially considering the Canadiens’ current predicament: not being good. Of course, based on the not-too-distant past, the Canadiens have displayed an aversion to all-out tanking, preferring to retool on the fly. Tanking does not sell tickets, after all.
The Canadiens are not exactly selling out these days anyway, so it maybe the perfect opportunity for them to actually rebuild. While owner Geoff Molson may be salivating at the mouth at the prospect of actually earning ticket sales after an entire regular season of not being able to due to the pandemic, one way to look at the situation is the following: whoever’s going to Canadiens games would be going no matter the quality of the on-ice product after a year away, just for the experience.
There’s no way to prove the theory, but, regardless: In some respects the Canadiens can be forgiven for being bad this season because of last playoffs. Failing to address deep-seated issues that consistently plague their on-ice performance year after year, last season included? That cannot, or at least it should not be.
Yes, the Canadiens can theoretically turn it around and make the playoffs, but it’s unlikely with the team they’re icing night after night. If a trade is out of the question, the draft is the only option. For the draft to be a realistic option, the Canadiens must assure themselves of high draft pick. Bergevin tanking the season gets them there.
Of course, this could be Bergevin’s last season as Canadiens GM, with his contract set to expire. He may not want a fire sale to be his legacy. It doesn’t necessarily need to be though. It could be him putting this team on the right track on his way out. Besides, what’s the alternative? Based on how the Canadiens are playing, it’s missing the playoffs anyway.
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.