Fast Track to Success

By Bob Trask – Kent Hughes has been a master a managing the expectations of Montreal Canadiens’ fans and continues to preach patience to the team’s followers. If a few elements fell into place it could turn into a case of under-promising and over-delivering. While it is unlikely that all of the events discussed here will take place, there is a chance that some of them could and that could have the Canadiens knocking on the playoff door.

Let’s take a look at what could happen.

The Injury Situation

It’s not just that the Canadiens lost a lot of man games to injury, it was a case of losing a lot of key players for extended periods of time. No team that loses their leading goal scorer, their second best center, their third best center, their top defenseman, their second best defenseman and arguably their fourth best defenseman would have much hope of remaining competitive. That group missed a total of 220 games for the Canadiens or an average of 36 games each.

This list doesn’t even include Brendan Gallagher who missed over half the season and who was, at times, playing through undisclosed injuries when he was on the ice. While he is unlikely to return to his former level of production, his inspirational presence can’t be dismissed.

If the number of games missed due to injury can be reduced significantly, it bodes well for improved on-ice success.

Organic Growth

Montreal had five rookie defensemen who played significant time with the NHL team and all rookies experience a learning curve. Next year it is unlikely that any rookie defenseman crack the lineup and the blueline squad that coach Marty St Louis ices next year will be far more experienced.

A similar story exists at forward where six forwards were age 23 or under. That group includes Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylonen and Juraj Slafkovsky. With varying degrees of NHL experience under their belts all have yet to reach their prime and it isn’t unreasonable to expect an increased level of contribution from this group.

Plugging the Holes

A quick review of the Canadiens’ lineup makes it clear that the team could use help at a couple of positions. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hughes is active in the off-season in an effort to plug those holes without sacrificing anyone from the core of the team.

Pierre-Luc Dubois is on the radar screen of every Habs’ fan. With the Jets finding themselves backed into a bit of a corner, Hughes may be able to pry the big center out of Winnipeg at less than market value. His acquisition would make the Habs stronger down the center than they have been in 25 years.

Another player to keep an eye on would be Damon Severson who is a pending UFA and 28 years old. As a RD, he would provide some balance to the left-right ratio on the Habs blueline, while adding experience and a touch of offense. The lineup on RD of Severson, David Savard and Justin Barron would have to compare favorably to the lineup last year of Savard, Chris Wideman and a rookie LD playing out of position.

Knocking on the Door

Jesse Ylonen and Rafael Harvey-Pinard have already been mentioned but Emil Heineman could push some of the veteran wingers for a job. Sean Farrell has been signed, but like Heineman, is more likely to start in Laval and be available for a recall to the Canadiens if he shows very well or if the Canadiens run into injury or illness trouble.

The Draft

There is only one player who would have the potential to crack the Canadiens if they were to draft him and that is Connor Bedard. However, that is the longest of longshots but we will know in less than a week exactly where the Canadiens will make their first pick.

The upcoming draft should help the Canadiens in the long term but expecting a player to significantly contribute at the NHL level as an eighteen year old is expecting too much.

However, the draft brings all the teams together and creates an environment where trades are discussed, debated and sometimes consummated. We saw that with the Kirby Dach deal last year, and Pierre-Luc Dubois aside, Kent Hughes has the assets that make another of this kind possible.

The Bigger Picture

The Atlantic Division could be tighter next year. Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit are all in a position to improve. Tampa and Boston may have peaked and could slide back. Toronto faces question marks with ten UFAs and one RFA on the roster. While many of these are not key players, they do need to be re-signed or replaced. Florida should be in contention after a rough start to the season this year.

The Canadiens will face stiff competition but with organic growth, some roster changes and a little less bad luck they have an opportunity to be more competitive in 2023-24. It will be a struggle for them to make the playoffs but as we have seen with the New Jersey Devils the jump from being a cellar dweller to being one of the top teams in the league can happen more quickly than expected.

Proposed Balanced Schedule and Playoffs Format

By JD Lagrange – After the fiasco that was the NHL All-Star weekend and the criticism the league has been the target off, some players and coaches are being more vocal about some of the decisions and issues surrounding the game. Off course, more and more people seem to be joining the ranks of people like John Tortorella, who feels like the All-Star game is a waste of time, but other issues within the game are being put into the spotlight.

All about revenue

Under Gary Bettman, the NHL not only has used expansion as a source of revenue, falsifying the true popularity of the sport, but has diluted the product on the ice. Think about it… When the NHL had 24 teams, you had the best 600 players in the world playing every night. Now with 32 teams, they’re up to about 800. That’s 200 players that wouldn’t have made it to the NHL back then.

How substantial is that? To put it more clearly, that’s the equivalent of cutting about six players per team. This means that your fourth line and bottom pairing of defensemen would not be in the NHL. Your third line today would become your fourth line and your second pairing would be your third. So guys like Ovechkin, McDavid and company are on the ice against what would have been AHL players back then. Of course they’ll have it easier against weaker opposition. Of course rookie players will have more early success, as more and more 18 year-olds make NHL rosters. Teams are desperate for actual talent! The competition is lesser every night, and coaches must rely on systems and video more than ever as the skills level is more limited.

If you’re wondering why Bettman and the league did that, it’s all about revenue. An expansion team now brings in half a billion dollar or more in the NHL coffers. When selling to TV networks and sponsors, saying that the product covers 32 markets instead of 24 will bring in more revenues. That’s marketing 101. The product on the ice? Who cares, right?

And revenue is the same reason why Bettman doesn’t want to put a team in Quebec City. The Canadiens own that market and bringing back the Nordiques would only split the revenue between the two teams, while adding very little “new revenue”. They prefer going into a new US market as almost 100% will be new revenue for the league. Money talks…


Of all North American professional leagues, the NHL is known for its gimmicks. Making changes for the sake of changing something, or so it seems at times. The outdoor game was fun at first. Then they’ve added a second one… per year! It has lost its novelty, it’s purpose. The shiny new toy isn’t so shiny anymore.

The video review was supposed to bring more “fairness”. It’s turning out that the decisions made after “review” are questionable, even mind boggling, and it’s a huge waste of time and momentum in games.

In recent weeks and months, more and more players, coaches and fans have been talking about wanting things changed in the NHL. For one, the “loser point” is creating a false sense of parity, and it makes very difficult for teams to catch up if they have a rough start to the season. You don’t want tie games? Don’t reward a losing team by giving them a point. Perhaps teams will push harder to “go for the win”. Two points for a win, zero for a loss!

I’ve touched on this many times, but the two-referee system is a huge flop. Not only are referees missing just as many infraction as before, but between over-expansion and doubling the number of referees on the ice for each game, it has promoted referees who simply don’t have the skills level, judgment and capability to do that job at such a high level. Plus, it has added a second judgment on the ice and players, coaches and fans never know what to expect within the same game.

We are hearing many NHLers wanting the shootout to be gone in favour of an extended 3-on-3 overtime. During the All-Star break, the NHL’s biggest star, Connor McDavid, spoke against ending games with a shootout.

“No one loves the shootout,” McDavid said. “It’s a crappy way to finish a game.”

Schedule and Playoffs

The NHL needs to readjust its schedule based on the number of teams. The league has adopted the 82-games schedule since the 1995-96 season. For the playoffs, they went with the conference standings, 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, etc.

Sidney Crosby is one who would love to see the NHL return to that playoffs’ format and for good reasons. With today’s format, it seems like teams play a long and hard 82-games season and the standings don’t mean much. We regularly see teams lower in the standings having easier match-ups in the first round of the playoffs, than teams finishing at the top.

“I like 1-to-8 just because I think the regular season is as difficult as it is; teams should be rewarded,” said Crosby. “That’s probably the best way to be rewarded, even though there isn’t a ton of difference. I like that version a little bit better.”

I’ve giving this some thoughts and here’s what I would suggest, based on a 32-teams league.

Each team plays the other conference teams twice, once at home, once on the road. Why? Because fans deserve to see the league’s start players once in ever City. Eastern teams should be able to watch Connor McDavid play live. Fans of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs deserve to have a chance to see their favourite team as well. Just look at the crowds in Western Canada when the Habs are visitors!

This would account for 15 home games and 15 road games, for a total of 30 games.

Then, have an even schedule between teams in the same conference. No, going by division to create rivalries doesn’t make it fair. If a division has a poor boy or two, or if a division is much stronger, it will reflect on the conference standings. So I would go as far as doing the opposite, by getting rid of the divisions all together.

This would mean facing 15 other teams four times each, two at home, two on the road. That’s a total of 45 games.

Based on that, the NHL would have a balanced schedule of 75 games season for each team. As teams play on average three to four games a week, it would also shorten the season by a couple of weeks, hopefully preventing playoffs’ hockey… in June! Talk about killing two birds with one stone…

For the playoffs, the fairest way if you want to reward the regular season would be to re-seed the standings and go 1 vs 16, 2 vs 17, 3 vs 15, etc. But that has proven to create some unfair travel time for some match-ups. So instead, a fair compromise would be to simply look at the conference standings and do what Crosby suggests:

1 vs 8
2 vs 7
3 vs 6
4 vs 5

That’s not perfect, but it would be, in my humble opinion, a step in the right direction. What I do know for certain, is that the current format was doomed from day one and it must be changed. But will the NHL listen to its fans, players and coaches? Under the current leadership, allow me to doubt it… unless they see a financial benefit. Again, it’s all about greed and money.

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