Saying that the Montreal Canadiens have let everyone down, from their fans, their owner, their General Manager, their coaches and themselves, would be stating the obvious. I guess we just did. From reaching the Stanley Cup finals to this? No one expected that, not even the most radical anti-Bergevin members of the media or fans.
Of course, there are multiple reasons for this huge drop in performances. At some point, the Canadiens had over $30 million on the injured reserve. That’s right, almost 40% of their salary was out of the line-up. Some have trickled in and out since then but the prospect of having Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen and eventually Paul Byron and Carey Price back has the coaching staff smiling, no doubt.
Worst case scenario
The team is all but mathematically out of the playoffs. It is statistically proven that just under 80% of teams who find themselves outside the playoffs by American Thanksgiving miss the Spring tournament. As it stands at the time of writing this, the Canadiens have the third worst points percentage of the entire NHL. Only the pathetic Arizona Coyotes and underperforming Ottawa Senators are worse than the Habs. Even expansion Seattle is slightly better. So if someone wants to believe in Montreal’s chances of making the playoffs, good on them. The positivity is commendable. But it’s very, very unlikely.
With key players coming back though, it is not unreasonable to expect the team to win at a faster pace than what we’ve seen through the first 20 games of this season. But here’s the deal. When they took the compensation for losing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer-sheet to the Carolina Hurricanes, they traded for Christian Dvorak in Arizona. Although he had to give up a first round pick, Marc Bergevin was smart by making it top-10 protected. This means that the Coyotes will be getting the better of the Carolina or Montreal pick, unless one of them is in the top-10 overall. In that case, Arizona would get the worst of the two picks.
As it stands, Carolina sits at the top of the NHL so we know that their pick should be worse than the Habs. But the Canadiens have a good chance at selecting in the top-10 as it stands today. This would result in the Coyotes getting the Canes’ pick. If the Habs start winning and position themselves outside the top-10, they would then have to give their pick to Arizona and have to select with Carolina’s pick! Ouch!
What to do?
I won’t pretend to have the answers, nor will I start asking for the Canadiens to liquidate anyone who could potentially help them win. That’s not in my DNA as a fan, nor is it in the players, coaches and GM’s DNA either. But they have to be smart and strategic about it. They will have to find creative ways to ensure that they don’t finish outside the top-10 somehow…
Whether it’s sitting injured players longer to ensure they properly heal, or rotate the fourth line into the line-up more, they must look at the big picture. Maybe they need to be smart with their call-ups and ensure not rushing young players like Cole Caufield, for example? Perhaps this season would be a good time to call up a few borderline players (instead of top prospects) to see what they have to offer?
Here’s the thing… Dominique Ducharme, even with a shiny new three-year contract in his back pocket, is fighting for his job right now. He wants to win big time. In his case, desperation calls for desperate measures so how do you convince him to play the fourth line, or young players, when he knows that doing so will result in losses… and risk his job? Tough call, isn’t it? Unless he has some guarantee that is job isn’t in jeopardy, I can’t see him wanting to do anything else but winning. And with his GM’s future in limbo, even he can’t promise that.
As painful as it is to say, the Habs need to lose some games too, even if they don’t keep losing at the same pace they have been so far. Finishing outside the top-10 would be a huge waste of an already horrible season.