By JD Lagrange – It’s been said before, last season was a nightmare year for most around the Montreal Canadiens organization. From the owner’s perspective, through management and coaching changes, to the players, it trickled down to the fans as well. And for those in the media who like to feed on negativity, they had their plates full and more.
But this is a new season, a new era. The arrival of Jeff Gorton, the appointment of Kent Hughes as the new General Manager, and the surprising hiring of Martin St-Louis as the new head coach, all contributed to bringing a wind of hope over a City that needed it. A few trades later, a successful NHL Draft where the Canadiens selected first overall, the composition of the team has changed rather drastically as well. Even the old veterans on the team are hoping to put last season behind them and start fresh.
For some more than others, it’s been a season to forget. It is particularly true for five current veterans who are still part of the team: Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman and Paul Byron. All five have had a particularly tough season and they are all hoping for a chance to redeem themselves.
☞ Carey Price
We all know about his knee, don’t we? Some fans are even tired of reading and hearing about it. But when the player is your franchise player and ties up $10.5 million of the team’s cap space, they will continue to hear about it, understandably so. Price had an injection earlier this summer and he seems to be doing well. He should be starting his on-ice training pretty soon.
Last year, after his surgery, things were doing well for him with the off-ice training. It even went pretty well for his on-ice training. The issues reoccured after games, where swelling was apparent in his knee. So we likely won’t know Price’s status for this season, even for his future, until he plays a few games at training camp or in pre-season. But no one is hoping more than Price himself that he will be healthy and able to play next season.
Prediction: Impossible to predict until we see how his knee reacts. If all goes well, playing 50 games or so should be a realistic goal. His presence alone would be a huge boost to this team.
☞ Brendan Gallagher
Often described as a heart-and-soul player, Gallagher missed 16 games due to injuries last season and was playing hurt for most of the season. After four consecutive seasons of 30 goals (or on pace for), he had his lowest total of goals of his 10-year career with seven.
Gallagher explains his poor season to fatigue. The Canadiens went through two COVID seasons with unusually tight schedules and short off-seasons. It’s even more true since the Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals a couple of seasons ago. Gally explains that he needs the time to recuperate and rebuild his body for a long 82-games season, something he hasn’t been able to do in a couple of years. He does have time to do just that this off-season.
Prediction: Gally’s role won’t be what it was when he had Tatar and Danault on his line. But 20-25 goals is not out of question. Third line duty with Juraj Slafkovsky and Christian Dvorak would suit him well.
☞ JONATHAN Drouin
It’s unfortunate and, quite frankly, unfair but fans are all over this guy. He is without a doubt (with Price) the fans’ scapegoat. Comments and opinions used against him are too often over the top. In the past couple of seasons, Drouin has had not one, but two wrists operated on. In between, the toll of fans and media’s unnecessary pressure had a huge effect on him and he had to take a leave to look after his own mental health. While fans and media were saying the right thing then, they quickly showed their hypocrisy when returning to their old behaviour at first chance.
Before leaving to have his second wrist surgery, Drouin was the team’s second best scorer, tied with Tyler Toffoli, only two points back of fan favourite Nick Suzuki. Think about this for a minute. And that was all under Dominique Ducharme as the head coach. He came back for only two games under St-Louis. Along with newly acquired Kirby Dach, Drouin will be one of St-Louis’ most interesting projects next season.
Prediction: As an eternal optimist, I’m expecting good things from Jo. He’ll never be a point-per-game player but I feel like with more freedom offensively, he will be reaching the 60-points plateau this season. A second line of Drouin, Dach and Evgenii Dadonov could catch fire.
☞ MIKE Hoffman
Marc Bergevin signed Hoffman in an attempt to add some offense to a team that desperately needed some. A perennial 25-30 goals’ scorer, his production dropped to 17 goals last season and he went long stretches without producing. The issue with Hoffman is that when he’s not scoring, he’s not helping the team as he’ll never be confused with a Selke Trophy nominee.
Hoffman’s biggest strength, or weapon, is his shot. He has a quick release and he can be lethal on the power play, on his off-wing. In order to bounce back, the coaching staff will have to find ways to improve on the power play strategy and include him as a threat on the right side for a one-timer. That is if he doesn’t get traded before the season starts, as his name has been a fixture in trade rumours this off-season.
Prediction: Expecting 20-25 goals should be a realistic expectation but I’m anticipating that he won’t be doing that with the Canadiens. He could be a cap casualty.
☞ Paul Byron
Everybody loves Ti-Paul, and rightfully so. Much like Gallagher, with whom he shares an “A” on his jersey, he is one whom a coach and teammates can count on to give 100% effort on every every shift. Unfortunately, injuries are taking their toll on the 5-foot 9-inches, 158 lbs winger. He had hip surgery and it is said that the results aren’t what they were hoping for.
At 33 years old, the prognosis of him returning to form is not looking so good. For a guy whose main strength is his speed, a hip is a huge handicap. He has only managed 102 games in his last three seasons, an average of 34 games per season. Of the five players mentioned in this article, he is the one we should worry about the most, along with Price.
Prediction: Byron should start the season on the LTIR, so it’s impossible to make a prediction. Here’s hoping that he can return soon but it will likely be in a reduced role.