By JD Lagrange – The Montreal Canadiens have officially entered the off-season back on April 30th. In years past, the team had a solid core and fans were wondering what would be added to it in order to move forward. There were more answers than there were questions. It’s not so much the case entering this off-season, the first under new management, as there are just a few certainties and a whole lot of moving parts.
If Kent Hughes found trade deadline challenging, he’s up to a very tough and busy summer. Here are 10 questions he is faced with, or that fans are left wondering about:
1- What about Carey Price?
Carey Price has reportedly received a second opinion about his knee and the news isn’t good. It was apparently suggested to get another surgery. So we’re back at square one: no value in a trade due to the uncertainly of his health and future, and no further ahead when it comes to the goaltending situation in goal for the Canadiens. Will the Canadiens go with Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault after the disastrous season they’ve just been through? It’s doubtful. Expect Hughes to get an insurance policy help Allen if Price can’t go.
2- Will Jeff Petry be traded?
Petry averaged 0.16 points per game under Dominique Ducharme and after Cole Caufield, he had the biggest improvement stats-wise, producing 0.70 points per games under Martin St-Louis. Hughes has met with his defenseman after the season ended and it doesn’t seem like Petry had a change of heart. He’ll likely be traded and with his improved play, it should be not only easier to complete a trade, but to get some value for him. It would also shed some key salary off the team’s cap.
3- Do they really want to go with a young defense?
Jordan Harris did quite well, as did Justin Barron before getting hurt. Kayden Guhle faired well at camp last season. But will the Canadiens dare go with such a young defense, considering that Alexander Romanov is only 22? It is doubtful, particularly if they decide to trade Petry. Expect either a UFA signing – I’m a big John Klingberg fan but Kris Letang is also rumoured – or a veteran defenseman coming through trade. The younger ones will be going back and forth between Montreal and Laval.
4- How will they be shedding salary cap?
My colleague Bob Trask looked at the possibilities offered to Hughes when it comes to unloading some much needed salary cap space. Here is a list of the Canadiens’ top paid players, which includes Nick Suzuki’s new contract kicking in next season.
5- What about the future of Jonathan Drouin?
Here’s another guy who hasn’t been able to stay healthy since being acquired by the Canadiens, and it’s been worse the past two seasons. Mental health, physical health which included a wrist surgery on both wrists. Drouin has one year left to his contract. My personal feeling is that the guy could benefit from a fresh start elsewhere, particularly that the Canadiens wouldn’t mind unloading his $5.5 million cap hit. But I could see them hanging onto him to see what he can do under Martin St-Louis. Worse case scenario, they could trade him as a trade deadline rental.
6- The status of the current assistant-coaches?
The coach said being satisfied with his coaching staff. But considering the way special teams have been going, the way the defensive coverage was lacking, it is my opinion that St-Louis needs a more veteran assistant-coach with head coaching experience to help him out with defensive coverage system in their zone and neutral zone.
7- Who will be wearing the captain “C”?
In spite of what some people (from the outside) want you to believe, this dressing room is not lacking in quality leadership. There are a few very good candidates to receive a letter on their jersey next season. At the end of the season, St-Louis had high praise for Brendan Gallagher. Joel Edmundson is a quality veteran with tons of good leadership qualities. Josh Anderson sports the “A” for Team Canada at the World Championships and has shown leadership qualities since with the Habs. Up until recently, I was thinking that Nick Suzuki needed some maturing but I have since changed my mind. He could very well be given the “C”.
8- Who will they target on the UFA market?
Kent Hughes said wanting to be a player on the UFA market. Just recently though, he tempered his comments saying that he would be unlikely to pursue any of the top UFAs. Strategy? Realism? Time will tell. If traded, he did say wanting to replace Jeff Petry for an equivalent veteran defenseman and those don’t come cheap. What about his former clients Patrice Bergeron and Kris Letang?
9- Who could be potential trade targets?
A while ago, we touched on the possibility of adding a few younger NHL established players who are rumoured to be available around the NHL. As the Winnipeg Jets are at a crossroad, I would add the name of Pierre-Luc Dubois to a relatively extensive list which includes players like Vitali Kravtsov, Filip Zadina, Travis Koneckny, Maxime Comtois and Ilya Samsonov, amongst others. My new colleague JAG goes further by suggesting a homerun like Leon Draisaitl. The Canadiens have the assets to do something substantial by acquiring someone NHL ready but still young enough to help for years to come.
10- Could they pull a stunt at the Draft?
The NHL Draft will be held in Montreal and the Canadiens hold the number one pick. The scenario is Cinderella-like, where the script seems to be pre-written. The vanilla version being that Kent Hughes would announce the selection of Shane Wright. But the gap between the top-5 players isn’t as big as it’s been in recent years and while Wright is first on most lists, it’s not by a wide margin. This creates some controversy amongst some media and the fan base. Would the Canadiens dare making a splash at the Draft in Montreal? It would take a lot of guts!
As you can see, this off-season won’t be like the ones we’ve seen in the past 10 years or so. Even when Marc Bergevin made some substantial changes, he was trading away a Subban, or a Pacioretty. But never were there that many question marks. If the combo of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes know where they’re going, the same cannot be said about the fans. Even with more promised transparency, there are too many questions, too many moving parts, for us to try to determine what will happen this off-season. We can, however, expect a busy summer and with the season we’ve all been through, the summer moves should be more exciting than watching them play has been.