A Study in Contrasts

By Bob Trask – There are no two teams in the NHL that represent a starker contrast the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. That contrast is limited to the on-ice performance from last season, the teams differ on many fronts.

Last Season

Despite falling short in the playoffs the Leafs put up 111 points in the regular season while the Canadiens finished with the 5th worst record, accumulating 68 points. The high-powered Leafs offense scored 47 more goals than the Canadiens and surrendered a whopping 85 fewer goals.

But last year is in the books and the path forward for the two teams remains vastly different.


The Canadiens have a stable, experienced management team that has been in place for 18 months; one that has had a chance to evaluate every aspect of the team’s operations and prospect pool. The Leafs are now without a General Manager, this even with the draft quickly approaching. They also have several contracts approaching critical status and free agents to deal with. It is a lot for a new GM to absorb in the next 5 weeks.

Advantage: Canadiens

Contract Status

Toronto has 15 players under contract for next season and $9 million in cap room. That leaves them with just over $1M per player, on average, to fill out their roster. The Leafs have at least 10 UFAs and RFAs with some of them being relatively important players

Montreal has 19 players under contract and a similar amount of cap space. A lot of that will be dedicated to a new contract for Cole Caufield, leaving them with a minimal amount to round out the roster – unless some high priced contracts are shed.

Both teams have LTIR candidates that could open up more cap space for them. For the Leafs, it is Jake Muzzin and his $5.625M cap hit; for the Canadiens it is Carey Price and his $10.5M cap hit.

The Canadiens may have some additional flexibility if they can move one or two veteran contracts to make room for potential UFA or trade acquisitions. In no specific order these are the contracts of Joel Edmundson, Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia and perhaps even Christian Dvorak. The Leafs have the bulk of their cap space tied up in the Core 4 and Morgan Rielly. Unless they drop a bomb, those players aren’t going anywhere, leaving the Leafs with limited opportunity to create additional cap space.

Advantage: Canadiens.

Roster Age

The average age of Leafs’ forwards is 28.4 years and 30.2 years for their defensemen. It seems unlikely they will get any younger in a sport that is increasingly becoming a young man’s game. The average age of the Habs’ forwards is 27.4 years and 26.4 years for their defensemen. These averages could drop even further if 2 or 3 of the veterans mentioned earlier are traded.

It is often suggested that players reach their peak at around age 28 and then plateau for a while. If that applies to team age as well, then it would be expected that the Leafs have plateaued while the Canadiens could improve with experience.

Advantage: Canadiens

Prospect Pipeline

The Toronto Marlies did outperform the Laval Rocket in the AHL last year, but that is a poor measure of each team’s overall prospect pool.

Once you get past Matthew Knies, Topi Niemela and maybe William Villeneuve, the caliber of Leafs’s prospects drops off considerably. Rodion Amirov and his health situation leave him as a question mark. Nick Robertson could still be considered a prospect but the under-sized forward has never played more than 38 games in a season since turning pro.

Even if Juraj Slafkovsky is excluded the Canadiens have Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, Kaspari Kapanen, Jesse Ylonen, Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman, Filip Mesar and Owen Beck as legitimate prospects at forward. Lane Hutson, Logan Mailloux, Adam Engstrom, William Trudeau and Jayden Struble head up a deep cast on defense. That is not including Nicolas Beaudin, Mattias Norlinder or Gianni Fairbrother, but in fairness, those three look like long shots at best.

At the moment, there is no comparison between the prospect pools but trades and the draft can change that quickly.

Advantage: Canadiens

The Draft

At the moment, Montreal holds 11 picks in the upcoming draft with their first pick coming at #5 and their second pick no later than #32. The team’s second round pick at #37 is almost equivalent to a late first round pick. Toronto’s first round pick, courtesy of the Boston Bruins, comes in at #28.

After exercising that first round pick, the next time the Leafs step to the podium will be for pick #154. The Canadiens have 8 picks currently available to them between #28 and #154. These are #31 or #32 (from Florida), #37, #69. #101, #110 (from Pittsburgh), #127 or #128 (from Vegas) and #133 and #145 (from Calgary).

Needless to say, this draft is heavily stacked in Montreal’s favor as compared to Toronto.

Advantage: Canadiens

Next Season

The top of the Leafs’ lineup is very talented and their goaltending situation looks better than Montreal’s. Having said that Toronto could struggle to match last year’s totals. The Canadiens’ lineup still has a lot of question marks with some big holes to fill but they should be on track to improve significantly over last year. It won’t be enough, however, to catch the Leafs.

Advantage: Leafs

Long Term Outlook

The management team of the Leafs has to choose one of two paths. They will either need to keep the Core 4 and Rielly intact to challenge or decide to go in a different direction entirely. Their choice will affect the long term outlook for the team. If they stick with the current core, they have a short window of opportunity before the depletion of the prospect pipeline takes affect. If they break up the core and can add key pieces through trades, they could remain competitive for a long time.

In other words, the picture is murky at best.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, have stressed a long term focus and have clearly moved in that direction. The current team is relatively young, the prospect pipeline is fully and the next two or three drafts already hold a lot of promise.

Advantage: Canadiens

Contrasts Reviewed

There is almost no aspect of the game where there isn’t a stark contrast between the Canadiens and the Leafs. The short term favors the Leafs but it should shift to the Canadiens over time. And for even more good news, the same contrasts with similar results could be applied to a comparison between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

Rivals beware! The Canadiens are on the hunt.

Hypothetical Draft – Canadiens

By Bob Trask – The Canadiens are flush with draft picks this year and there are several ways in which they could take advantage of that situation. This represents one of those potential approaches and in this hypothetical situation, I have Kent Hughes trading the first round pick he acquired from Florida in the Ben Chiarot trade and adding a second round pick through a draft day trade.

While it is unlikely to happen this way, it illustrates the kinds of choices that could be made at the draft table. With each player, the highest ranking and the lowest ranking that I was able to find for each has been listed.

Round One – Pick 5

Not much more can be said about Will Smith that hasn’t already been written by someone. I’ll leave it at that.

Will SmithMay 17/056’0172CR510

Round One – Pick 31 or 32

This pick is relinquished in a hypothetical draft day trade

Round Two – Pick 37

The Canadiens are almost certainly going to choose a goaltender early in the draft. It seems to be a strong draft in that regard and Michael Hrabal is one of the leading candidates.

Michael HrabalJan 20/056’6209GL2875

Round Two – Pick 50 to 60

This pick is acquired in a hypothetical draft day trade. Juraj Pekarcik is one of the youngest players in the draft and like many European players, he suited up for 6 different teams this year. He had a strong 16 game stint in the Slovakia U20 league and a very strong U18 international tournament.

Juraj PekarcikSep 12/056’2183LW/CL40102

Round Three – Pick 69

Like Peckarcik, Rasmus Kumpulainen is one of the younger players in the draft. He is a big body LW and had a solid season both in the Finnish U20 league and in U18 international play.

Rasmus KumpulainenAug 8/056’2196LWL5597

Round Four – Pick 101

Yegor Sidorov was passed over in last year’s draft, the winger from Belarus put up solid offensive numbers with the Saskatoon Blades this year, scoring 40 goals in only 53 regular season games and having a solid playoff run with 19 points in 16 games.

Yegor SidorovJun 18/046’0176LW/RWL115122

Round 4 – Pick 110

Jake Fisher played most of the season at the high school level and also had a short 12 game stint in the USHL. Fisher dominated at the high school level, amassing 34 goals and 63 points in 29 games for Cretin-Durham Hall. He has committed to Denver in the NCAA next season, a college that always seems to have strong teams and turns out good players.

Jake FisherMar 27/056’2187C/LWL77130

Round 4 – Pick 127

Anthony Romani is the first Canadian player in this list. Despite being one of the younger players in the draft, Romani has completed two full seasons in the OHL, putting up 43 points in 66 games for the North Bay Battalion this year.

Anthony RomaniJul 12/056’0179C/RWR147159

Round 5 – Pick 133

Nikita Ishimnikov is the first Russian player in this list. He is a big body RD who played primarily in the Russian Junior League (MHL) last year amassing 13 goals in 48 games.

Nikita IshimnikovApr 21/056’3196DR148148

Round 5 – Pick 145

Kaden Hammell would represent another addition to the Canadiens’ stable of RD prospects. He played 67 games in the WHL last year, splitting time between Kamloops and Everett. Between the two teams he managed to put up 26 points while taking 35 minutes in penalties.

Kaden HammellMar 12/056’2181DR143143

Round 6 – Pick 165

Late round picks can be used to take a flyer on a overlooked prospect. The Canadiens did it in 2021 with Xavier Simoneau, they could do it again with Kai Uchacz who was passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility. The Red Deer Rebel right winger had a breakout season after playing sporadically because of Covid shut-downs. He had 50 goals in 68 regular season games and followed that up with another 9 goals in 12 playoff games.

Kai UchaczJun 24/036’1192CR91172

Round 7 – Pick 197

As with Kai Uchacz in the 6th round, the 7th round pick can be used to choose someone flying under the radar. In this case, it is Martin Matejicek. The big defenseman had a solid season in the Czech U20 league and played a short stint in the Czech Division 2 league. He also represented is country internationally in the U18 age group. Matejicek is one of the younger players in the draft.

Martin MatejicekAug 5/056’2205DL215215


The ages of the players here range from those who are barely old enough to qualify for the 2023 draft to a couple who have already been overlooked in previous drafts. Because some of the youngest players chosen are not from the CHL, the Canadiens would have a long window to monitor their development without making a commitment.

There is no focus on one position among the choices other than the Canadiens will almost certainly select a goaltender at some point. In this list, the choice is made with a second round pick.

While it is unlikely that the Canadiens will select any of these players, this hypothetical list is designed to give you a flavor of how a draft can unfold. Most of us focus on the first two rounds of the draft but gems can sometimes be found in the later rounds. It will be interesting to see how the draft develops for the Canadiens and what kinds of choices Kent Hughes will make.