Here we are, in December 2021, days before Christmas, and the Montreal Canadiens are shut down, as are many other NHL teams. The NHL has announced that there will be no cross-border (Canada-US) travel and games are postponed. They fell short of doing the right thing, in my opinion, by postponing every team’s game, but hey, it’s all good. It’s in the name of money, which is more important than the health of everyone involved. Yeah, yeah, symptoms seem minimal, relatively speaking, due to the vaccine. But scientists don’t know yet the long term effect of getting COVID. Anyway, let’s focus on what we can control and talk Habs, shall we?
Before those games were postponed, Jeff Gorton was in the process of evaluating the new team he inherited, and dressing a list of potential GMs. As he won’t have players to evaluate for a while, here’s hoping that it will allow him to solely focus on the Hockey Operations off-ice.
Here’s what Gorton was and still is looking at: the Canadiens’ depth chart. He needs to figure out the team’s strengths and weaknesses, not only at the NHL level, but in the system. Then he will need to decide on which veterans he wants to keep and which ones he wants to trade. He may (or may not) want his new General Manager to be involved in this and considering that we are currently in the annual holidays trade freeze, he can draft his plan. At least draw a rough sketch.
I have put together a list of the Canadiens’ depth chart for your convenience. Of course, players can go up and down that list as you see fit or as time goes by. Also, players can change positions, particularly at the forward position. But this will give you a pretty good idea. Note that the players in bold are under contract.
|LEFT-HANDED WINGERS||CENTERS||RIGHT-HANDED WINGERS|
|Jonathan Drouin||Nick Suzuki||Brendan Gallagher|
|Mike Hoffman||Christian Dvorak||Josh Anderson|
|Artturi Lehkonen||Jake Evans||Tyler Toffoli|
|Paul Byron||Ryan Poehling||Cole Caufield|
|Mathieu Perreault||Cédric Paquette||Joel Armia|
|Michael Pezzetta||Laurent Dauphin||Jesse Ylönen|
|Rafaël Harvey-Pinard||Lukas Vejdemo||Alex Belzile|
|Joël Teasdale||Cameron Hillis||Jean-Sébastien Dea|
|Brandon Baddock||Jan Mysak||Alexander Gordin|
|Luke Tuch||Sean Farrell||Joshua Roy|
|Rhett Pitlick||Riley Kidney|
|Jack Gorniak||Oliver Kapanen|
As we can see, there is a lot of depth at center, and less on the wing. However, considering that it’s easier for a center to convert to wing than the other way around, it’s not as big of an issue as it might seem. Particularly that on a team, there are twice as many wingers than centers.
|LEFT-HANDED DEFENSEMEN||RIGHT-HANDED DEFENSEMEN|
|Ben Chiarot||* Shea Weber|
|Joel Edmundson||Jeff Petry|
|Alexander Romanov||David Savard|
|Brett Kulak||Chris Wideman|
|Sami Niku||Josh Brook|
|Kale Clague||Louie Belpedio|
|Xavier Ouellette||Logan Mailloux|
|Corey Schueneman||Dmitri Kostenko|
|Mattias Norlinder||Daniil Sobolev|
|Gianni Fairbrother||Arvid Henrikson|
There is quite a bit of depth – and quality – on the left side of the defense. Those who know me also know that I don’t like playing defensemen on their wrong side. It’s harder for them to keep the puck in the offensive zone (on their back hand), to pivot, to cut passing lanes, receive and make passes, and for tape to tape zone exits, even icing the puck while short-handed. It’s okay in a pinch, but not ideal on a regular basis.
For that reason, the Canadiens’ biggest need is on right-handed defensemen, particularly top-end talent to fill a huge void until the youngsters are ready to step up.
The Habs are in decent shape when it comes to netminders, and the timing of the development between them is also well balanced. Whether Gorton decides to trade one of Price or Allen remains to be seen, but at 22 years old, Cayden Primeau is getting close to being NHL ready. They also have some good prospects not under contract yet, playing in Europe.
Further, Marc Bergevin did a good job at stocking up on Draft picks the past few years and again this year, the Canadiens are scheduled to speak 11 times at the Draft table in Montreal next summer. And that’s not counting the picks the team could get for trading assets such as Ben Chiarot at trade deadline.
With that in mind, there are some busy days ahead for the teams’ new Hockey Ops’ head honcho. He does have his work cutout for himself and it has already started. As fans, we can only wait and see what his decisions will be, both for the next GM, Director of Amateur Scouting, and also on player-personnel. It may seem calm at the surface, but the volcano is brewing, preparing to erupt. Although any move requiring to trade significant salary will likely have to wait to the off-season, we should start seeing some of Gorton’s plan in the New Year.