Just because 2017 was a bad year for the Montreal Canadiens, it doesn’t mean it was all bad. As we cheers to a better 2018, here’s a countdown of the top moments that made Habs fans jump out of their seats in unison (and not to scream at the television):
5) Jonathan Drouin Gets Acquired
The Jonathan Drouin trade may not look very good right now. After all, Mikhail Sergachev, the blue-chip prospect going the other way who had been slotted in to replace Andrei Markov, has more points than not just Drouin, but every Habs player (23).
Let’s not forget how most felt about Drouin once he was acquired, though. That’s even before you take into consideration how Drouin and Sergachev are still young and it can be years before a true winner of the deal is declared.
We’re not declaring the winner of the trade, in other words. We’re commemorating the moment at which it was announced and how, almost collectively, Habs fans celebrated that an ultra-talented local boy had just been acquired and was poised to become the franchise’s next great star.
In a vacuum, general manager Marc Bergevin even made the right decision, trading for the (slightly more) proven asset on the upswing for the prospect who had yet to establish himself. Granted, vacuums suck, but, still, almost every other GM would make that trade time and again. Unfortunately, Steve Yzerman is one of them, just on the other end of it.
4) Carey Price Gets Nominated for the Vezina
Maybe goaltender Carey Price didn’t deserve the Vezina Trophy nomination he received. The numbers all seem to indicate the votes he got were more for his reputation than the .923 save percentage he put up last season, which was poor relative to the personal standard he had set for himself since 2013-14.
In fact, over a large portion of last season, from late December 2016 to mid-February 2017—a quarter of the season—Price allowed 61 goals in 19 games with a lowly .897 save percentage to show for his trouble… or more accurately head coach Michel Therrien’s trouble. Therrien got fired after the last game in that stretch.
It was enough to give outside observers the slight impression Price was doing it all on purpose. The coincidence at the very least gave detractors of the much-maligned head coach a good laugh. And then this season started, Price posting a 3.00 goals-against average and .906 save percentage up to now.
No one’s laughing anymore.
The nomination helped give fans the temporary illusion that maybe, just maybe, Price was going to be all right and was back to his old self. It also may have helped reinforce that same mindset in Bergevin’s mind, before the GM signed him to his new eight-year, $84 million extension, which may end up crippling the team for much of the next decade unless Price re-establishes himself as one of the best goalies in the world.
This is why the Canadiens can’t keep nice things. They crash back down to Earth and break Habs fans’ hearts in the process.
3) Michel Therrien Is Let Go
Rejoicing in someone’s misery is never a good thing, but there’s little denying most fans were jubilant when Therrien got fired. New head-coach Claude Julien’s 16-7-1 record down the stretch last season seemed to prove what most had suspected, that Therrien had lost the room… again.
Mid-season swoons have been a trademark of Therrien-coached teams, and that’s saying nothing of how each elimination loss while he was at the helm of the Habs was humiliating.
In 2002, during his first stint here, the Habs lost in the second round to the Carolina Hurricanes with the deciding game ending 8-2. In 2013, the team got upset in Round 1, succumbing to the Ottawa Senators in six games, with that deciding game ending 6-1.
One year later, against the New York Rangers in the third round, the Habs mustered just 18 shots on goal in the deciding sixth game, including just five in a third period they entered trailing by the lone goal in what ended up a 1-0 shutout loss. The next season, the Habs got just one more shot on goal, 19 overall and 6 in the third, in a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
Ultimately, his Price-centric system just wasn’t getting it done. One theory is, after an entire season of dumping and chasing the puck over and over again, the Habs just didn’t have enough in the tank to deliver when it mattered most unless everything went right. By the end, nothing was. With Price struggling (see No. 4), the team went 1-5-1 to start February. They were shut out three times over those seven games, with the one win coming against the hapless Arizona Coyotes.
Bottom line, he had to go. And it’s only now, after Bergevin has retooled the defense on the fly for the worse and Price is getting even less support, that some are choosing to look back fondly on Therrien’s time here as greener pastures.
The Habs may be 16-18-4 right now, but there’s good reason to believe they’d be worse with Therrien behind the bench. If you ever find yourself forgetting how bad things were, think instead of how great it felt when you heard the news of his firing back in February. They should bottle that stuff up.
2) Alexei Emelin Gets Drafted
From one coach leaving to a (too) heavily relied-upon defenseman getting drafted away… When Alexei Emelin was left unprotected for the NHL Expansion Draft, only the most optimistic Habs fan believed he would be selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Emelin, along with Tomas Plekanec, had been contributing to a tight cap crunch that was projected to hamper the team’s efforts to re-sign free agents like Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov. Here was a grossly overpaid stay-at-home defenseman that, for some reason, had been played alongside Shea Weber on the team’s top pairing, almost as if to try and justify his huge cap hit.
When Therrien got fired, Julien turned to Markov down the stretch to take Emelin’s spot alongside Weber with encouraging results. That left Emelin with the bottom-four minutes he had actually earned and a $4.1 million cap hit he hadn’t. So, naturally, like Therrien, he had to go, but the Habs were stuck with him barring a miracle. Cue the cinematic score.
Little did fans know what Bergevin had in store. He not only reportedly tried to re-acquire Emelin from Vegas, leaving most fans aghast at the sheer prospect. Then he signed Karl Alzner for more money to replace him, leaving most fans wishing he had. Thankfully, that precarious cap situation of Bergevin’s is no longer an issue. It’s an embarrassment instead.
Hearing that the Habs have investigated trying to get Emelin back from Vegas. Not sure if they'll proceed, however…
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 28, 2017
Knowing what we know now, obviously it would have been better had, say, Plekanec instead of Emelin been taken. But don’t forget Vegas selecting Emelin meant the Habs got to keep the also-unprotected Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr. That’s something.
1) Victor Mete Makes the Team
Whenever a player exceeds expectations and makes the team out of training camp, it’s a big deal. For example, just a few short years ago, Tomas Fleischmann earned a one-year deal after signing a professional try-out agreement. When it’s a young player who was recently drafted though, it captures the attention of the entire city.
Nineteen-year-old defenseman Victor Mete was that player this past season, as the youngest defenseman to make the team out of training camp since… well, Mikhail Sergachev last season. We don’t need to be making comparisons between the two, though. That could get depressing quick. Still, whereas Sergachev got sent back to junior last season. Mete stayed. Paired primarily with Weber he was getting significant minutes too.
Of course, he’s since been sheltered drastically, seeing his ice time drop to below 10 minutes per night on occasion. His decreased responsibility probably contributed in large part to the team deciding to loan Mete to Team Canada for the World Juniors. That doesn’t take away from the accomplishment. It shows the amount of potential Mete has. If his future is bright, it gives hope for the Habs overall, starting as soon as 2018.
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 covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.