“Cole Caufield will win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year with 30-40 goals”… “David Savard will replace Shea Weber who was bad last year”… “Mike Hoffman will score 35 goals with better players”… “Jonathan Drouin will have 70+ points now that he’s in a good place”… “Alexander Romanov is ready to play in a Top-4 role after last year’s experience”… “Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be easily replaced by Ryan Poehling who had a great AHL season”… Sounds familiar? It’s Montreal. It’s hockey. It’s the NHL. It’s the Montreal Canadiens… and it’s fanboyism.
Oh this doesn’t happen only in Montreal, far from there. You listen to Leafs’ fans and this is their year… as they said it was last year, and the year before, and the year before that. You see, fans think the team’s young guys will progress immensely. They look at the players on their favourite team’s roster and see the potential. They place expectations based on what they see in them. They see ‘best case scenario’ instead of reeling back their expectations to a reasonable level. This is not a knock against fans, it’s natural to do so. But those high expectations are the ultimate reason why fans get upset and rage at players for not meeting what those fans had in mind.
What is realistic?
Reality is that Caufield will be playing at the highest level of his career, against the best players in the world, with the travelling and gruelling 82-games schedule. He too will hit the wall comes January or February. Teams will adapt to him, to his style, to what he likes to do and they will defend against it.
Reality is to acknowledge that while Weber didn’t have a great season, he was also given the toughest assignments, the toughest lines to face. Meanwhile, Savard was facing second and third pairing assignments, most times sheltered from those top-end players. Talking even strength here, of course. Thinking that he would be as efficient in a more prominent role is setting yourself up for disappointments.
Being realistic is realizing that Hoffman has other good players ahead of him on the left side, guys like Drouin and Toffoli (who has been transformed into a left-winger). It’s realizing that on the powerplay, the Canadiens can still count on Anderson, Gallagher, even Armia. It’s also understanding that right now, the Canadiens only have two relatively offensive centers in Suzuki and Dvorak.
Trying to predict a player’s season – or a team for that matter – is not a perfect science. You have to hope that they stay healthy and that they build chemistry with their teammates. You have to hope that they don’t slump or have an off-season, which unfortunately happens in players’ careers. But let’s give it a try. In order to do so, you have to look at the best case scenario and bring it down a notch or two.
Caufield: 20 goals should be the goal for him. But mostly, learn, gain experience and progress his game with and without the puck, both in the offensive zone and on the defensive aspect of his game. Forget the Calder. If it happens, great. Back in 2004, Andrew Raycroft beat Michael Ryder for the Calder Trophy and we say who became the better player.
Hoffman: If he can score 25 goals, the production lost in Tatar being gone, the Canadiens should be in good shape. More so, if he can score half those goals on the powerplay, it will go a long way in helping the team having more success on the man advantage. But he needs to stay healthy.
Savard: Ideally, he would be a third pair defenseman who helps kill penalties and used late in games to help protect the lead. Right now, he’s pencilled in on the second pair and as we’ve discussed recently, that could be a huge issue for the team. With his ice time between 18-20 minutes, he should do fine.
Drouin: He looks like he’s having fun playing. But how long will this last? How long before fans and media turn on him (again), particularly if he doesn’t score goals? Last season, before taking his leave, he told reporters that there are two columns in the points totals, meaning that he led the team in assists. He was right. Here’s hoping that what we’ve seen of him, Dvorak and Anderson translates to season’s success for the line. Otherwise, fans and media will revert back to their old habits. If he can get back to 55-60 points, it would be good.
Romanov: Ideally, he should start the season on the third pairing with Savard but with Joel Edmundson injured, Richardson and Ducharme are trying to see if he can take on a bigger role in the meantime. He will make mistakes, he’s young. Can the Canadiens live with those mistakes? The goal should be for him to average more minutes than he did last season, and to improve on his decision-making, particularly in his own zone.
Poehling: Fans and media are all over that kid. Yes, at 21, he is still a kid. But because he was a first round pick, and because of the need the Habs have at centre, the expectations placed on him might be totally out of whack. But that’s not HIS fault. It is true that he hasn’t shown much so far at camp and maybe he’s not ready for a regular NHL role yet. But those who claim that it’s this year or never for him are totally off track. The key is for him to continue improving, developing. As the NHL is not a development league, he might have to start in Laval. Here’s hoping that he has the right attitude if it happens. Otherwise, he could be trade bait.
With such high expectations, fans will ofter over-shoot when it comes to team success too. The Canadiens are in a very tough division. They have Tampa Bay to contend with. They have Toronto in that division. The Florida Panthers are a much improved team this year. Counting the Bruins out would be a huge mistake. Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings made some key moves on the off-season and should be much more competitive. The Senators are also improving and they’re always play the Habs really tough. And the Sabres… well, that’s a different story.
I have the Habs finishing fifth in the division, behind, in order, Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston. I definitely could be wrong but what worries me most is the Habs’ defense. They’re deep up front but in order to score, they need the defense to be able to break the cycle in the defensive zone, give that puck to the forwards and ultimately, keep the puck out of their own net. I’m not sure they have what it takes to do so… not without another top-4 puck-moving right-handed defenseman.