Collateral Damage Of a Stanley Cup Run

By JD Lagrange – As my colleague JAG so eloquently described it, the 2021 playoffs’ run by our beloved Montreal Canadiens was epic, to say the least. Wait, are young folks still using that term to describe how exciting and entertaining that run was for us, Habs’ fans? Next, I’ll turn my hat sideways and wear my pants halfway down my butt showing my underwear! Nah, let’s say that it was electric, breathtaking, heroic, impressive, stimulating, thrilling, mind-blowing, sensational…

But it came at a cost. In fact, this playoffs’ push that saw us so invigorated was the beginning of the end for not only our hopes, but for many people in the Canadiens’ organization. Shea Weber, Carey Price, Joel Edmundson, Paul Byron didn’t start the season

Carey Price had knee surgery after that playoffs’ run. He missed most of last season, coming back on April 15th. He played five games in total but the swelling in his knee came back, and according to Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes, he will likely miss the entire 2022-23 season. His career could very well be in jeopardy.

Much like his good friend and teammate Price, Shea Weber payed the ultimate price by playing with many injuries, including some very serious ones, for the hope of bringing the Canadiens their 25th Stanley Cup. The captain missed all season and is basically waiting to announce his retirement, due to injuries.

Joel Edmundson missed the first 57 games of the season. One of the four Clydesdales – as qualified by coach Dominique Ducharme – with Weber, Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry, he was monumental in the Canadiens’ playoffs’ push. His back took a beating for it.

Paul Byron‘s first game of the season didn’t come until January 30th. He played one game, missed a few thereafter. Today, he’s unsure about his future (hip)

Brendan Gallagher, a regular 30-goals’ scorer the past few seasons, only managed to play a total of 56 games last season. His production dropped to seven goals. He wasn’t the shadow of his old self,

Jeff Petry was relatively healthy but a combination of short rest, over-use, playing in a position (first pairing) he’s not cut for, missing his defense partner Edmundson and missing his family who stayed in the US to get help with the kids, all contributed to his worst season since joining the Canadiens.

Further, General Manager Marc Bergevin, Assistant-GMs Trevor Timmins and Scott Mellanby, as well as head coach Dominique Ducharme have all lost their job over that playoffs’ run. Well, they didn’t lose their job because they made it that far in the playoffs, but they sure did because of the repercussions and side effects, the devastating losses caused by that run. They too paid the ultimate price.

That Stanley Cup run came in like a tsunami. It swept everything with it, good and bad, putting us through a range of emotions only limited by our imagination and where we, Canadiens’ fans, stood on different topics. But it did leave a devastating mess behind it. Had the team been able to reach their goal, fans would all claim that it was well worthwhile. But because they ran out of juice against a team that was $18 million over the cap, many are left with a sour taste in their mouth.

So fans, members of the media, before you throw stones at any player, coach or GM, think about the sacrifices these guys have made for the Montreal Canadiens, the fans and the City of Montreal. They made us proud. They brought us feelings that we haven’t felt in years. And they came oh so close. Many paid the ultimate price to make it happen.

Be lenient, understanding and show a little bit of compassion instead of jumping on the bash train. “Oh but it’s their job” simply won’t cut it. It will only make YOU look bad.

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A Tale of Two Extremes

By Bob Trask – Over the past two years, the Montreal Canadiens teams have presented their fans with two extremes. In the 2020-21 season they clawed their way to the Stanley Cup finals and one year later they finished dead last and won the Draft lottery.

Which of these two teams most accurately reflects the abilities of those two teams? The answer is neither.

The Cup Run

While the Canadiens did reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2021, a lot of good things happened that allowed them to get there. It began with the divisional setup that allowed an 18th place team overall to earn a playoff spot. It continued with the elevated play of a few players (over a short period of time) and was abetted by some misfortune along with some less than stellar play by their playoff opponents.

In reality, the Canadiens were really only a middle of the pack team that got hot at just the right time.

The Disaster

The following season was a disaster on many fronts. A record for man games lost due to injury was a huge factor, especially when the majority of those lost games were due to the absence of key players like Carey Price, Joel Edmundson and Shea Weber. When you are beginning from a point of mediocrity those man games lost are devastating.

Carey Price and Marc Bergevin

Among those that played, more than one set new personal benchmarks for futility. That group included Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia. It is simply too much for a team that has already lost key player to injuries to also have key players missing in action.

On top of all that, the Habs began the season in disarray. Jesperi Kotkaniemi bolted for Carolina, leaving the center ice position up in the air. Last minute transactions to acquire Christian Dvorak, David Savard and Samuel Montembeault meant trying to integrate three new faces into the lineup at the last minute. The controversy swirling around these players had to have had an impact.

The final element was the coaching situation. Dominique Ducharme had a deer in the headlights look about him. After a successful playoff run the previous year, the expectations were high that the team could repeat. It seemed like he almost knew that he was doomed and made some questionable decisions in order to overcome the odds.

By the time Bergevin was fired, the fate of the team was more or less sealed and they staggered along until Martin St-Louis was hired to replace Ducharme.

The Climb Back

The real Canadiens of the past two years were probably somewhere between these two extremes. Good fortune one year, followed by misfortune the next year, exaggerated the success and the failure of each edition.

Anticipating the level of success the team might enjoy in the upcoming season is difficult. Almost the entire defense corps that started the last season is gone, the status of Carey Price is unknown and much of the starting lineup is still to be determined.

The atmosphere around the club, however, seems both more stable and more positive than it has in years. There is a new level of transparency (honesty?) with Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes as the helm. There is also a new level of enthusiasm with St-Louis behind the bench.

When all the factors are combined, this edition of the Canadiens will likely be significantly better than the 2021-22 team but are unlikely to repeat the miracle of the 2020-21 team that reached the Stanley Cup final. The team is on a journey back to respectability and with any journey there will be bumps along the way. But with all the new faces it should be an exciting ride.

Best guess: A fun-filled 75 point season is a reasonable target.

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