The Montreal Canadiens Have Set The Bar Pretty High After Reaching The 2021 Stanley Cup Final
The Montreal Canadiens shocked the world in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. After knocking out their rival Toronto Maple Leafs via a 3-1 series recovery, the Habs were already a feel-good story. They were far from done, however, as they went on to sweep the Winnipeg Jets and upset the Vegas Golden Knights. Unsurprisingly, their luck ran out as the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to reclaim the Stanley Cup in a 5-game series. An incredible run begs the question: can they do it again? Or even go all the way? The return to old division formats is a big damper, but let’s see what Montreal has going for them.
This forward group had a lot to like in the playoffs. There is some skill, ferocity, and even a dash of star power. It was a coming-out party for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield in particular. GM Marc Bergevin deserves some flowers for picking up two young studs like them. As well, there is some pretty good depth from lines 1-4. Josh Anderson should have a better regular season in his first full season as a Canadien. Fingers crossed that Jonathan Drouin is doing better, as he is also a difference-maker for this team. For this season at least, replacing the young Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Christian Dvorak should be seen as an improvement. The bottom six has a bit of everything, with guys like Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia parts of the engine that keeps this offense going. The forward lines should resemble the following:
Toffoli – Suzuki – Caufield
Drouin – Dvorak – Anderson
Hoffman – Evans – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Paquette – Armia
For some weird reason, I am bullish on this group. There’s scoring ability on all four lines, along with some physicality and defense to boot. Mike Hoffman might not be the player he once was, but will still produce with middle-six and powerplay minutes. Tyler Toffoli was a clutch performer in the playoffs and has earned a spot on the top line. As well, Paul Byrons’ return to the lineup in a couple of months will only help if anything. I’m not saying that they’ll repeat the magic of last year, but this is a pretty darn good offense if you ask me.
The defense, however, took a step back. Captain Shea Weber put forth a heroic effort in the postseason, but it’s now possible he may never play another game in the NHL after some serious injury concerns. Replacing Weber with David Savard is a downgrade, to say the least. He was good for Tampa’s run to the cup but does not have anything close to the locker room intangibles that the former Nashville Predator has. The pickup of Chris Wideman, who has not played an NHL game since 2019, is also questionable. However, there is some upside. Jeff Petry is still great in his later years, and Joel Edmundson should round off a solid top pair. Alexander Romanov should continue his transition from hot prospect to a regular in the lineup. Ben Chiarot provides depth and physicality on the third pair. The defense corps will likely appear as:
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Savard
Chiarot – Wideman
It wouldn’t even be a shock to see Romanov on the top pair by the season’s end. The 21-year old has plenty of potentials and could be handed the keys to the defense with Weber’s departure. These three pairs may not be as eye-popping as the forward lines but should be able to get the job done.
Carey Price is still Carey Price. He was excellent throughout the 2021 playoffs, but ultimately let down against a simply superior team in the Final. Barring any shock, he should still be one of the top 5-10 goalies in the league for 2021-2022. The only concern should be with injuries, as Jake Allen is an okay at best backup at this point.
I still expect this Canadiens team to make the playoffs. However, jockeying with the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Panthers, and Lightning is a pretty tall order. We have seen how this team plays with their back on the wall, but it’s not the playoffs yet. Dominique Ducharme will have to keep his team focused and hungry every night if they want a chance in the tough Atlantic Division. They have the talent to get it done, but do they have the consistency? The Habs barely squeaked into last year’s playoffs. However, if the offseason additions play as advertised, then it’s very possible that the Montreal Canadiens have another solid season.
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