The Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from competing in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive year, finishing 28th in league standings and guaranteeing a top-seven selection in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. While the window is officially closed for this year, Habs fans will keep up with the playoffs and how they unfold.
Some may hop on the bandwagon of a specific team to toot their horn and cheer them on, while others may actively root against specific teams and hope for their downfall. There’s no right or wrong way to watch the postseason when your team is no longer participating, but there is a third option to be a part of the playoff madness while continuing to wear the colours of the Canadiens.
Of the 16 teams joining the dance, more than half of them will be icing players formerly affiliated with the Canadiens in a variety of different roles. Among the bunch, here are five notable players who once played for Montreal that fans can root for in the 2023 Playoffs.
Artturi Lehkonen – Colorado Avalanche
At last year’s trade deadline, the Canadiens were among the most active teams, wheeling and dealing to acquire assets for players in an attempt to rebuild for the future. Artturi Lehkonen was one of the casualties of this effect, taking off to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick. General manager Kent Hughes also retained 50 percent of Lehkonen’s contract, which would expire at the end of the season.
Lehknonen registered six goals and nine points in 17 games with the Avalanche, becoming a solid secondary scorer who had an impact on the team with his two-way play. He amassed eight goals and 14 points in 20 games during the playoffs that year en route to a Stanley Cup victory and will have a chance to repeat that accomplishment this year. Making the Stanley Cup Final this year would make it the third consecutive year Lehkonen makes an appearance.
Phillip Danault – Los Angeles Kings
After the 2020-21 season, Danault departed Montreal in pursuit of a salary he earned through his stellar defensive play. He was a key contributor to the Canadiens’ push during the 2021 Playoffs and stood on top of the world after making the Stanley Cup Final on the same day as Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the National Day of Quebec. The Quebec-born native was acquired by the Canadiens in 2016 from the Chicago Blackhawks for forwards Thomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise.
Danault and the Los Angeles Kings will take on the Edmonton Oilers in the opening round of this year’s playoffs, and it will be no easy task. On a positive note, Danault’s defensive awareness and ability to shut the neutral zone down will come in handy against the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Alexander Romanov – New York Islanders
In his sophomore season with the Canadiens, Alexander Romanov did everything to impress management. A young, sturdy defenseman, he matched his speed and quick thinking with an appetite for heavy hits. The team may have seen its better days in the 2021-22 season, but Romanov found ways to get the Bell Centre crowd rocking. That was until his surprising trade to the New York Islanders at the 2022 Entry Draft in a move to eventually acquire forward Kirby Dach.
Statistically, Romanov made improvements as a member of the Islanders and became a big part of their regular season success. Unfortunately, he won’t play in Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes after sitting out for the final five games of the season due to injury. If he can return to the lineup quickly after a full recovery, Romanov should be a player to watch out for, even if he doesn’t end up on the scoresheet every night.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Carolina Hurricanes
A player that will oppose Romanov and the Islanders is former Habs’ first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi, representing the Hurricanes in this year’s playoff picture. Kotkaniemi played in three seasons with the Canadiens, bouncing up and down the lineup in an attempt to create chemistry with anyone until an offer sheet from Carolina snatched him away. Montreal’s disinterest in matching the deal earned them a handful of draft picks but lost them a quality young forward in the process.
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After fulfilling his offer sheet contract, Kotkaniemi re-signed with the Hurricanes on an eight-year deal that pays him a pinch under $5 million annually. He rewarded the team with his best season statistically, making him a versatile player that gives the Hurricanes excellent depth and the secondary scoring the Hurricanes can utilize in the playoffs.
Tomas Tatar – New Jersey Devils
The Canadiens acquired Tomas Tatar in a package, along with prospect Nick Suzuki and a draft pick, for former captain Max Pacioretty in 2018. Although most of the focus centered on the future of Suzuki, who eventually became the team’s 31st captain, Tatar brought his element to the table. Scoring 25 goals in his first season with the club, the man nicknamed “Tuna” helped the Canadiens reach the postseason in two of the three seasons he took part in. He also scored a career-high 61 points in 68 games during the 2019-20 season.
Entering free agency in 2021, Tatar signed a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils that paid him a generous $4.5 million per year. The team did not make the playoffs in the 2021-22 season, and Tatar struggled to a 30-point finish in 76 games. Things made a turn for the better when the team made significant improvements in the offseason, turning them into buyers and acquiring notable forward Timo Meier.
As the NHL playoffs begin Monday night, Habs fans are not at a shortage of former players to cheer on. By the end of the postseason, it’s more likely than not that someone who once represented the Canadiens will lift the Stanley Cup as a member of a new organization time will tell who that player or players may be.