Canadiens – Progression or Regression

By Bob Trask – The complete restructuring of the Canadiens roster, which isn’t yet complete, left many Canadiens’ fans wondering whether the team is making progress, whether it is simply treading water or if it actually taking a step back. One way to look at it is position by position.

Goal

Jake Allen is a veteran and there are unlikely to be any great surprises with respect to his performance. Samuel Montembeault, on the other hand, was thrust into a chaotic situation at the last moment and then played a long stretch with an injury that required surgery after the season ends.

Verdict: The Canadiens should see a small improvement in their goaltending in the upcoming season.

Left Defense

Joel Edmundson

Joel Edmundson is another veteran whose abilities are well known – hopefully he remains healthy and is able to play a full year. He replaces Ben Chiarot in the lineup and is an upgrade defensively. Mike Matheson becomes the replacement for Alex Romanov and brings a different style of game to the position, one that may be more suited to what Martin St-Louis is looking for from his defense corps. He certainly adds more offense. Brett Kulak has been an advanced stats darling but he has often played a 3rd pairing role, which may have boosted his perceived effectiveness. There are a handful of contenders to take his place and in the worst case scenario the drop-off is unlikely to be significant.

Verdict: The combination a full year from Edmundson and the improvement that Matheson provides over Chiarot more than offsets a potential small decline in the 3d pairing. The left side of the Canadiens defenses should be improved over last year.

Right Defense

Jeff Petry is gone and there is no clear cut candidate to replace him. Within the organization Justin Barron’s skill set most closely resembles Petry’s but he is very young and inexperienced. But last year, Petry had a Jekyll and Hyde season where he went from very bad to very good. His horrendous start helped put the Canadiens on their back foot from the first puck drop. David Savard and Chris Wideman both have an NHL track record and any improvement or decline in their play should be negligible.

Verdict: The right side of the Canadiens defense, as it currently stands, is weaker than it was at the beginning of last year. However with a new sheriff and deputy in town in the persons of Martin St Louis and Stephane Robidas, it’s hard to say if the d-corps will elevate their play. But unless Kent Hughes can acquire an experienced, competent RD, look for a decline in performance from last year’s group.

Center

Nick Suzuki should continue to mature and improve, Christian Dvorak should be able to improve slightly on last year’s performance and Jake Evans continues to get progressively better with confidence. Kirby Dach is an upgrade on Ryan Poehling and the recently acquired Sean Monahan has the potential to help the teams significantly he he can rebound from his injuries.

Verdict: This is the biggest, strongest, deepest group of centers Montreal has iced in a long time. It is a significant improvement over a season that began last year in turmoil with the departure of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the rushed acquisition of Dvorak.

Left Wing

Last year the Canadiens played through assorted injuries and covid absences and no where was this more apparent than on left wing (LW) where Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman and Paul Byron all missed significant time. The position was also a turnstile with Rem Pitlick joining the team mid-season while Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen left shortly after. It was also a season that saw Cole Caufield flipped from one side of the ice to the other and back again.

Cole Caufield

There will likely be more personnel changes at LW with Juraj Slafkovsky and maybe Emil Heineman battling for jobs. What fans should expect at LW this year is much more stability with regard to personnel playing that position. Caufield should also build on his brilliant second half while Drouin may finally be playing for a coach who can exploit his talents.

Verdict: When the dust finally settles, the Canadiens should be better an LW due to new talent coming on-stream, maturation of young players like Caufield and a more stable environment with reduced roster turnover.

Right Wing

Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia both suffered through sub-par seasons – some it attributable to injury and illness. Armia also dealt with having his future wife remaining in Finland while expecting their first child. Josh Anderson was inconsistent and no one stepped up and grabbed the remaining spot.

Both Gallagher and Armia have the potential to bounce back and even if Anderson remains inconsistent, he brings an element to the game that few others on the team possess. The off-season trade that saw Shea Weber go to Vegas brought Evgenii Dadonov to Montreal. The left shooting right winger has averaged almost 25 goals per season in his career and posted 20 last year with the Golden Knights. Swift skating Jesse Ylönen is waiting in the wings after a solid year in Laval.

Verdict: The right wing position with the Canadiens should be much more stable and talented last year.

Final Verdict

The Canadiens look to be at least as good and in some cases significantly better than last year at every position other than right defense. Look for Kent Hughes to make one or two more moves to address this shortcoming and to clear up the log jam at left wing. When you add in the fresh approach taken by Martin St-Louis and the confidence he instills in his players, this version of the Canadiens has the potential to improve significantly over last year. We’ll have a better idea when the final roster is set.

Prediction: The 2022-23 Canadiens will finish the season with about 75 points which is still a long way from the playoffs and probably puts them out of contention for a top-3 pick.

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