Many Reasons for Optimism

By Bob Trask – Everything that could go wrong for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021-22 NHL season, did exactly that. It began with absences of Carey Price, Shea Weber and Paul Byron and continued with training camp injuries to Joel Edmundson and Mike Hoffman. The bungled contract negotiations with Jesperi Kotkaniemi added to the disruption which continued with injuries to Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia and others. COVID resulted in an unhappy separation from families for players like Jeff Petry and Armia, too.

The Logan Mailloux situation was a disaster on many fronts. It created an unneeded distraction and dogged the team from the day his name was called at the draft. The hangover from the Stanley Cup run may have contributed to the horrible start to the season. And COVID again may have played a role as the Canadiens played many games without fan support in a relatively empty stadium. The end result was that a lot of people lost their jobs less than half way into the season.

What if everything that went wrong last least, went right this season? Every fan base needs a ray of hope that their team will enjoy some success in the upcoming season.  Montreal Canadiens fans are no different and there is the potential for a few things to work out well in 2022-23. Let’s look at that potential.

What If:

  • Juraj Slafkovsky rewarded the Canadiens for the faith they showed in him and had a campaign worthy of rookie of the year considerations.
  • Sean Monahan, who should be in the prime of his career, fully recovered from injury and bounced back to the peak performance he achieved in Calgary.
  • Mike Matheson became that puck moving defenseman on the left side that the Canadiens have sorely lacked since the departure of Andrei Markov.
  • Justin Barron stepped into the vacancy created by Jeff Petry’s departure and played well enough to legitimately earn a spot on the 2nd pairing.
  • Kirby Dach fulfilled the promise he showed as a junior and became the Canadiens #2 center or even their #1B center.
  • Evgenii Dadonov added the scoring punch he is capable of and helped the Canadiens improve their power play.
  • Joel Edmundson remained healthy for the entire season and maintained the steady play he has shown so far in his career with the Habs.
  • Brendan Gallagher benefited from a long summer of rest and bounced back to perform at his career average level.
  • Jonathan Drouin flourished under a coach who encouraged his style of play and didn’t penalize him for every defensive mistake he made.
  • Paul Byron was fully recovered from injury and playing well when the season started.
  • Joel Armia could focus on hockey without worrying about family and played to his full potential.
  • Christian Dvorak continued to produce at the pace he set under Martin St Louis while continuing to win over 55% of his face-offs.
  • Josh Anderson learned to play a more efficient game, optimizing the use of his size and speed
  • Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield continued their development and progressed to the next level of production.
  • Rem Pitlick and Jake Evans used their speed and skills to give Montreal a deadly 4th line.
  • Michael Pezzetta continues to play at the level he showed last year, providing some energy and grit to the 4th line.
  • Jesse Ylönen played so well in camp, the pre-season and maybe in Laval that he forced Kent Hughes to make some tough decisions at forward.
  • Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Mattias Norlinder, Otto Leskinen and Gianni Fairbrother had outstanding camps and strong starts to their season in Laval.
  • Jordan Harris proved he could effectively play RD.
  • Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault provide the Canadiens with average goaltending – an improvement on last year.
  • Cayden Primeau, with a long term contract under his belt, played confidently and exceptionally well in Laval.
  • The coaching staff can put together special teams that perform close to league average despite being at or near the very bottom last year.
  •  Kent Hughes was able to trade some excess talent at LW for a RD or what if he was able to sign a quality RD as a free agent.
  • The Canadiens were able to translate their premium position when it comes to waivers into a solid pickup for the team.
  • Stephane Robidas turned out to be the ideal defense coach for the modern NHL.

Probabilities

It is unlikely that all of these “what ifs” will happen but there is certainly the potential for many of them to be fulfilled. I purposely left out Mike Hoffman because of all the players on the team, he is the least likely to be on the roster by the time things turn around.

The probability remains that almost every returning player on the team has the potential to play at a higher level than last year. Special teams can’t be worse and some of the new talent seems ready to step in and contribute at a higher level than the players they replaced. While it’s true that Canadiens also gave up some talent, on balance this edition of the club seems younger, bigger, faster and more skilled than last year’s team.

There you have it. My glass is half full  and getting more full every day.

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