Having watched the Glory Days of the 70’s dynasty, having lived the 1986 and 1993 Stanley Cups, I’m from the old school. You see, I strongly believe that the best way to build a contender is from the net out. A good (if not great) goalie, a strong defense, and some guys up front defensively responsible but who can also put the puck in the net in a timely fashion is, in my humble opinion, the best recipe.
The Canadiens have always been solid in net when they’ve won their 24 Stanley Cups. From Georges Vézina, to George Hainsworth, Bill Dunham, Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley and Rogatien Vachon. I personally lived the days of Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and now Carey Price. Even José Théodore won the Hart and Vézina one year wearing the Sainte-Flanelle. Just have a look at the Habs’ chronological goaltenders’ timeline and you’ll see for yourself.
And then on defense, you had studs back there to help those goaltenders out. Butch Bouchard, Jean-Guy Talbot, Doug Harvey, Ken Reardon, Jacques Laperrière, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway, Chris Chelios, Andrei Markov and just recently Shea Weber are just a few names that come to mind.
One doesn’t have to look only at the Canadiens to realize that this is the best formula. The Tampa Bay Lightning have won the last two Stanley Cups and while they were well over the cap last year, they still had Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal with Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on defense.
Montreal seems to be in a good position for the future. In net, the Canadiens have a lot of hopes on Cayden Primeau as he continues to develop at the AHL level. But we’re talking about a late bloomer here, a former 7th round pick in the 2017 Draft. Three more goaltenders are young but have tons of potential. They will need several years of development before making it to the NHL. They are:
- Jakub Dobes
- Frederik Dichow
- Joe Vrbetic
The prospect pool on defense, particularly on the left side, is deep both in numbers and in quality. In no particular order:
- Mattias Norlinder
- Kaiden Guhle
- Josh Brook
- Gianni Fairbrother
- Otto Leskinen
- Jordan Harris
- Jayden Struble
- Logan Mailloux
- Arber Xhekaj
- William Trudeau
- Dmitri Kostenko
- Daniil Sobolev
With the way this season is going, it seems like the Habs will be benefiting from some great picks and with what is said to be a deep Draft, they could potentially use some of their 11 picks to further deepen their prospect pool.
The problem for the Canadiens, particularly on defense, is short term. We see how poor the Habs’ defense is right now. Without Shea Weber, they’re in deep trouble. While those prospects are developing slowly into NHL caliber players, the team has nothing to fill the gap. And even when those young men start trickling into the NHL, fans and media alike should avoid making the mistake of thinking that they’ll immediately be impact players. They’ve done it with Alexander Romanov, they’re doing it with Cole Caufield right now. Yes, they will develop into great NHLers but to expect that kind of impact in their first couple of seasons is a stretch at best.
The biggest issue is on the right side of the defense mostly, short to mid term. Josh Brook has been injury prone and at the time of writing this, he’s still on the injured reserve. Logan Mailloux isn’t even playing hockey right now, suspended until at least Christmas by the OHL. Sobolev is still playing junior while Kostenko is in the VHL, a level down from the KHL. Habs’ management MUST try to get an impact right-handed defenseman for 3-5 years to fill that gap to help out Jeff Petry.
In net, the Canadiens have all their eggs into the Primeau basket. As Carey Price ages, they’re hoping that Primeau will be ready to be a number one in the NHL. Otherwise, they’ll be patching holes until, hopefully, one of the other goalie prospects is ready.
As soon as he chose to play the final year of his NCAA career, we knew that the future of Harris with the Canadiens was in jeopardy. In spite of Harris’ reassurance and Marc Bergevin’s optimism, the odds are against Montreal to be able to sign him after the young man’s season. I mean, why would he do that when, a few weeks later, he can negotiate with any team he wants to? What would be the incentive, the rush? Would you? I sure wouldn’t. I’d wait to pick and chose where I want to play. It’s unfortunate as with Guhle and Norlinder, he’s likely the most NHL ready defense prospect on the team. It doesn’t mean that the Habs have no chance in signing him, but the odds of doing so prior to him testing free agency is, in my opinion, a pipe dream.