We’re seeing it more and more on social media, many fans of the Montreal Canadiens are wishing that the team has a similar season next year in order to have a shot at drafting first overall at the 2023 NHL Draft. The prize? Connor Bedard, a 16 year-old North-Vancouver native, is absolutely tearing the WHL apart. In 62 games this season, he already has 51 goals and 100 points… and it’s not even his draft year!
While whichever NHL team lucky enough to get such a talent in the summer of 2023 will be extremely happy, the odds are against the Habs. At least, those odds won’t be as high as they are this summer. Yes, the timing sucks but there is no way the Canadiens finish as low next year as they will this season.
For one, Montreal beat a record (by a wide margin) of man-games lost due to injuries and COVID protocol. We’re not only talking number of players here, but the quality and importance of those players, and the amount of time they’ve missed. Hopefully, COVID and its variants won’t be as prominent in the NHL next season but the bad luck the Habs went through with injuries is unlikely to repeat itself.
Part of the injuries has been the fact that the Canadiens have not played a single game all year with both Carey Price and Jake Allen healthy. While Price just recently returned (he played one game so far), Allen has also missed considerable time due to concussions and groin issues. It is very unlikely that you will see a tandem of Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau, as we’ve seen this season.
The team has vastly improved since Martin St-Louis has taken over the head coaching job. While there are still plenty of things the team must work out, particularly their defensive zone coverage, St-Louis won’t be starting from scratch if he returns. Instead, he will be able to build on what he has started, which will allow the team to hit the ground running next season.
☞ Changes to come
Kent Hughes isn’t done changing this team to a younger, more skillful and faster style of play. Some veterans will be gone this summer and who knows who Hughes will be targeting both in trades and as UFAs. While he will have to clear cap space to be able to do so, he said wanting to be a player in the free agents’ market.
☞ 1st pick and prospects
The Canadiens should get a very player at the Draft this summer and it is possible that he could stick with the big club and have an immediate impact. But more than that, the prospects the organization has drafted since the reset of 2018 are starting to trickle in. Alexander Romanov and Cole Caufield are already starting to have an impact, while Ryan Poehling is in the NHL. Jesse Ylönen seems ready and others, like Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris, will be making a push.
☞ Much needed rest
The Canadiens had the most gruelling schedule at the end of last year. Then, they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, playing well into July. Players had less than a month to rest, then had to start working out and preparing for training camp. This year, they will have five months (May to September) before having to come to camp in October. They’ll be able to rest and better prepare for next year.
Some people are quick to jump to the conclusion that the Canadiens didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs last year and that the Stanley Cup run was a fluke. As you can see, their record this season was just as much of a fluke, but going against them this time. The likeliness of seeing the Canadiens do as badly next season as they did this year is a stretch. The reality is that in the past two years, if healthy, they were a middle of the pack team. In my opinion, the Habs will be fighting for a playoffs’ spot next season, making the odds of drafting Connor Bedard very slim. Mark my words.