Looking Ahead is Promising

By Bob Trask – The mid-March view from Alicante, Spain.

As the season draws to a close we can look back and see how many players have missed games with injuries for the Canadiens and at the same time we can see how many players had the opportunity to get a shot at playing in the NHL. In a lost season that is a bit of a silver lining.

With all the players that have donned the Habs uniform this year we can look ahead at some of the possibilities for next year. One of those possibilities is that the team has one more tough year in front of them before they gel into contender status. And that could mean another promising year at the draft table in 2024. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Let’s take one step at a time and see what the team could look like in October.

Potential Lineup

Goal: Jake Allen, Samuel Montembeault

Left Defense: Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris

Right Defense: David Savard, Justin Barron, Jonathan Kovacevic

Center: Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, Christian Dvorak (or Sean Monahan), Jake Evans

Left Wing: Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky, Jonathan Drouin, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard

Right Wing: Denis Gurianov, Josh Anderson, Jesse Ylönen, Brendan Gallagher

Extra Forwards: Michael Pezzetta, Alex Belzile

On the outside looking in: Mike Hoffman, Joel Edmundson, Rem Pitlick, Joel Armia, Anthony Richard, Dvorak (or Monahan)


Joel Edmundson

There are a lot of caveats to this lineup. It is highly probable that Armia would replace Ylönen in this hypothetical lineup if he is not moved and that would leave Ylönen on the outside looking in. Hoffman and Edmundson could prove to be impossible to trade and that would have a domino effect at their positions. Drouin is penciled in here but seems unlikely to re-sign leaving a spot open for competition on the left side. But for argument’s sake, the roster could look something like this one.

The first thing that might strike you is that this lineup does not look a lot different from the current one that is trending towards a 70 point season and you would be right. However, two important factors come into play. One is a given and one is not.

What is given is that this lineup would have exponentially more experience than the one that started the NHL season, particularly on defense. What is not given is that it is unlikely that the Habs will suffer the same amounts of long term injuries to so many of their key players. It could happen but odds are that injuries will play less of a factor next year.

Still a Longshot

In the end, this lineup would be a long shot to contend for a playoff spot. It should be better than what we have seen this year but not enough better to reach the 90+ point mark. More improvements would be needed. But Hughes has preached patience and seems unlikely to try any shortcuts that could jeopardize his long term plans. While playoffs may be out of reach even for next year the foundations for long term success are methodically being put into place.

Roster additions

My hypothetical roster only includes players currently in the organization and even with that, the team does not look horrible. In fact, there are many elements on the team that look promising. It also does not include prospects like Sean Farrell and Emil Heineman who may be knocking loudly on the door.

I have purposely overlooked any potential additions to illustrate how the Canadiens could look no worse, and in fact better, than this year’s edition even if they subtracted veterans like Hoffman, Edmundson, Armia and others without getting anything in return.

What does that mean when it comes to how Kent Hughes may approach the situation? Will he try to replicate his deal for Kirby Dach or his deal for Mike Matheson? Or will he do both? Will he look into taking on another bad contract as he did in the Sean Monahan deal? Or will he look farther down the road and try to pick up more early round draft picks for 2023 and 2024? Will some of the glut of talent in the organization at left defense be used to sweeten deals and accelerate the rebuild process.

Potential Moves

My expectation, and it is only my personal guess, is that we will see Hughes try to add one forward with top 6 potential in an off-season trade. To me that means a young player who may not have lived up to expectations elsewhere but who has been identified by the scouting and analytics staffs as someone to target. Maybe he has already done that with the Gurianov addition but maybe he would like to take another swing at it.

Denis Gurianov

Last year Jeff Petry let it be known that he wanted out and Hughes included a solid young prospect in a deal to make it happen. With the success of that deal, I could see Hughes going to the well again in trying to make a deal for Edmundson, Hoffman and/or Armia. With the current crop of prospects and eleven picks in the upcoming draft the Canadiens are trending toward having more prospects than contracts available in the future. This points towards the possibility of a two for one trade (or maybe a couple of two for one trades) to strengthen the roster and bring more balance to the prospect pool.

In addition to all of this is the potential for free agent additions. Shedding big contracts and perhaps re-signing high priced veterans on expiring contracts to team friendly contracts could open up a ton of cap space for the Montreal GM. Last year he indicated a willingness to participate in the free agent market if the opportunity presented itself. It easy to believe that he has maintained that mindset.

It is not unreasonable to expect that the Canadiens could add two or three players over the summer by taking this approach.

Revisiting the Roster

Between potential trades and free agent signings along with the development of young prospects like Farrell and Heineman it’s easy to see why the hypothetical roster that I initially put forward will look completely different from the finished product. But a general manager has to start somewhere and a good place to begin is by identifying who may compete for spots, who won’t and who may be considered expendable when it comes to the next season. The next few weeks will tell us a lot about what Kent Hughes is thinking.

In the meantime I am going to enjoy a couple of more weeks of Mediterranean sun and watch the remainder of the season unfold.

Fantasy Lineup 2023-24

By Bob Trask – As Canadiens’ fans look toward next year, many have an idea of what the lineup should or could look like. Hypothetical lineups for those who expect the Canadiens to contend will look different from those who think another year at the bottom of the standings for the purposes of acquiring a high draft pick is the route to go.

My view is that it will be a transition year where the Canadiens will improve over this year but not to the extent that they will be Stanley Cup contenders. With that in mind, my fantasy lineup includes a handful of returning veterans and a couple of free agents to help support the younger players in their development.


The Canadiens will be in no rush to beef up their goaltending. It is more likely to be the last piece of the puzzle to be added so my two goaltenders for next year are penciled in as

  • Jake Allen
  • Sam Montembeault

Left Defense

With maturity this could become one of the core strengths of the Canadiens and after being pushed into the deep end of pool and not drowning, I can see youth taking over completely at that position. Which means no more Joel Edmundson.

  • Kaiden Guhle
  • Arber Xhekaj
  • Jordan Harris

Right Defense

David Savard is one of those veterans who I believe will return because of his leadership, his penalty killing abilities and they way he meshed well with Kaiden Guhle at the start of the year. This is also a position where I believe there is potential to add a free agent. Hello, John Klingberg… can you help our PP

  • David Savard
  • John Klingberg
  • Jonathan Kovacevic

Extra Defense

In today’s NHL even 7th defensemen get a reasonable amount of ice time and I believe Montreal might be tempted to go with youth over a veteran next season. Because they will need to eventually groom someone to take over from Savard and because Kovacevic may be their least used d-man going forward, Justin Barron may fill the role. Or maybe Barron plays the 3rd pairing with Kovacevic becoming the extra.

  • Justin Barron


Nick Suzuki is the only sure thing at center. Some want Dach at center and some see him as a RW while even more want Monahan and/or Dvorak gone. In a transition year, I don’t expect the surgery to be radical unless Monahan is traded for a king’s ransom. For the purposes of this fantasy lineup, I have returning to the team both as a mentor and a solid contributor. Than means Dach is moved to the wing and I don’t see Owen Beck earning a spot when he has junior eligibility left.

  • Nick Suzuki
  • Sean Monahan
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Jake Evans

Left Wing

Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky have two spots nailed down but after than the picture gets fuzzy. I will go out on a limb and say Emil Heineman will earn a spot, leaving a handful of players fighting for the 4th line position. Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov seen unlikely to be back leaving Michael Pezzetta, Rem Pitlick and Anthony Richard as the remaining candidates. The Habs could also explore the UFA market here in an attempt to find a player who fits the team’s vision.

  • Cole Caufield
  • Juraj Slafkovsky
  • Emil Heineman
  • UFA signing

Right Wing

This is a position that has been a huge disappointment for the Canadiens this year. Their best RW is Kirby Dach who started the year as a center but the other pieces just haven’t fit. Josh Anderson is unsuited to play with Suzuki and Caufield while Brendan Gallagher just doesn’t fit will with what Marty St. Louis is trying to do. Armia puts a bow on the package of disappointment with zero goals this year. Almost anything the Canadiens try can’t be worse than this year. Unless a veteran is traded however, the team’s hands are more or less tied.

  • Kirby Dach
  • Jesse Ylonen
  • Josh Anderson
  • Brendan Gallagher

Extra Forwards

Extra forwards need to be able to fill one or more rolls on a team and do it at a reasonable salary. Michael Pezzetta can provide some grit when needed and Anthony Richard adds breakaway speed to the lineup. Keeping these two players on the roster provides the coaching staff with some different options. Joel Armia’s name has not yet been included in this fantasy lineup and one almost has to expect that the Canadiens would like to move him.

  • Michael Pezzetta
  • Anthony Richard

Transition Lineup

This lineup was put together with the goal of creating a team that would continue to develop over the course of next season. Within lineup are a handful of veterans, some of whom could be moved by next season’s trade deadline. It’s highly doubtful that Kent Hughes would purge the team of all veterans by the end of this season and he still needs players with NHL experience in the lineup.

As the season unfolds next year, I would fully expect significant changes to this initial lineup and a deadline trade or two this year would completely change the picture but you can be sure that Kent Hughes has a vision in mind

How does your fantasy lineup compare? Do you prefer another season of pain, do you hope for a modest progression or do you think the Canadiens would be close with a couple of key additions?

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