By Bob Trask – The Montreal Canadiens are putting the finishing touches on one of the worst years in franchise history. They currently sit 31st overall are destined to finish among the bottom three teams in the standings. While that will put them in an enviable position at the draft table, what are the chances of the team challenging for a playoff position next year? Let’s take a look at some comparables.
When you look at the top 16 teams in the standings, the average number of goals scored by these teams to date is about 260. Low man on the list is Dallas who have scored 219 goals in 75 games. By contrast, the Habs have scored 183 goals in their first 75 contests.
At a bare minimum, the Canadiens need to improve their offensive output by about 40 goals and preferably by something closer to 80 goals.
There doesn’t seem to be any elite scorers in the organization who are ready to join the team next year. Any improvement will have to come from a group effort. Fortunately we are seeing some of that under Martin St. Louis.
Defense and Goaltending
It is difficult to completely separate these two facets of the game when determining where the strengths or weakeness are but we can look at the raw numbers.
Again, using the numbers posted by the top 16 teams, the average number of goals allowed per team so far this year is about 215. Toronto, Edmonton and Minnesota have been the most porous defensively with each allowing 235 goals. But they have offset that by scoring 295, 264 and 281 goals respectively. Montreal has allowed 295 goals. In order to be competitive Montreal needs to improve that goals against by at least 60 goals and preferably 80 goals.
A return of a healthy Carey Price would go a long way to achieving that goal but the defensive squad next year could be woefully inexperienced compared to most playoff bound teams.
In order to get an overall picture, looking at the goal scoring differential among the top 16 teams gives us a better idea of how many more goals a team needs to score than it allows. The average among these teams is +46 and only two teams among the top 16, Dallas and Los Angeles, have allowe more goals than they have scored. In their cases the difference is minimal with Dallas at a -2 and Los Angeles at a -4
The Canadiens sit at a mind-boggling -98 on the season. Just to catch up to the weakest of the bottom 16 teams they need to improve that differential by almost 100 goals and to reach the average they need to improve by a whopping 150 goals.
Outlook for 2022-23
Given these grim statistics the outlook for next season looks mixed at best. Even a #1 overall pick like Shane Wright couldn’t be expected to turn this ship around by himself and, in any event, the odds are against the Habs winning the draft lottery.
A couple of astute trades, a solid free agent signing and rebound years by some of the struggling veterans could change the picture but all three of those things are unlikely to happen in one off-season.
The Habs may have to look at 2022-23 as a development year for a host of young players while keeping enough veterans around to provide leadership and stability. If that is the approach that general manager Kent Hughes takes decisions will have to made on which veterans best fill that role, which prospects are ready for promotion and who might be targets among UFAs and potential trade acquisitions.
Given that, our expectations for the team need to be reasonable. A solid improvement in both offense and defense would result in a climb in the standings but to earn a playoff spot a lot of pieces would have to fall into place.