Artturi Lehkonen, William Nylander (Photo by USA Today)

by Caitlyn Golem, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

During 2017-’18, the Montreal Canadiens had one of the worst seasons in their 109-year history. On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs set their team’s record for most regular season wins in a season.

The fact that the Leafs were a better team last year is obvious. This off-season has only widened the gap between the two teams when the Leafs acquired the much sought-after free agent, Jonathan Tavares.

The Leafs now have three talented centremen capable of putting the puck in the net; whereas the Canadiens have a large gap down the middle. On the backend, although Fredrik Andersen had a great season in 2017-’18, and Carey Price had one of his worst ever, it is still impossible to argue against the Canadiens having the edge when it comes to goaltending.

I could analyze every detail of the two teams in order to compare, but the distinct difference between the two right now is the Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a semi-rebuild, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are Stanley Cup contenders. As a Habs’ fan, it can be easy to pick apart different aspects of the Leafs line-up and create a case as to why they are not yet true Cup contenders. Although some arguments may be valid, in my opinion, many of them are bitter remarks in attempt to cope with the Canadiens’ struggles as of late.

Tavares was reportedly offered more money elsewhere but was willing to take a hometown discount to compete for a championship with the team the Leafs have built. That is a testament to how close the team feels to a championship. Even a superstar like Jonathan Tavares can see it.

Whether or not Habs fans have hope for the upcoming season can be dependent on how we look at things. We can acknowledge that the Canadiens are sitting on a ton of cap space and have failed to use it to plug the hole in their line-up. That is, the first line centre, a hole big enough to potentially sink the ship altogether.

We can also view Weber’s injury as the complete collapse of whatever defensive capabilities the team possessed to make up for their lack of scoring. We can react exactly the way everyone expects the Montreal market to react – never satisfied unless the season ends with the Canadiens lifting the Stanley Cup.

Or, perhaps we can focus on the facts that the Habs drafted a player who could potentially become a first line centre, that they have one of the best goaltenders in the world, and that they really can’t do much worse than they did last season. The Canadiens have a pool of promising prospects to be excited about and perhaps they will be enough to keep the ship afloat.

Canadiens’ players have something to prove this year. A large number of eager prospects will be given a chance to showcase their skills at the NHL level. They will be living their dream and working their hardest to earn themselves a permanent spot in the Canadiens’ line-up. It is however also important to keep in mind that the majority of these players are still developing and learning and may not yet be ready to take that step into a permanent role in the NHL at this time, but it still allows them the opportunity to learn and develop.

One name that stands out above others in the Canadiens’ prospect pool was the third overall pick in this year’s entry draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Many fans were devastated when Marc Bergevin did not simply pick the best player available who was Filip Zadina. The truth is, however, that Bergevin picked the player who seems to best fit what the Canadiens are lacking.

The team has not had a true number one centre for years. Kotkaniemi was the best centre available and thus Bergevin made the selection that he did. Kotkaniemi played in the World Under-18 Championships for Finland, racking up nine points in six games, helping his country win the gold medal. Habs’ fans will have to be patient with him though as he just turned 18 this July and has a lot of developing to do before he will be able to fill the role as the team’s first line centre.

(MICHAEL AINSWORTH – AP)

Several key players will also be motivated to prove themselves. Carey Price will be desperately be trying to have a bounce back year after only putting up a .900 save percentage in the 2017-2018 season, his worst in his 11 years with the Canadiens.

Rumours have been swirling constantly around Max Pacioretty and a potential trade. His contract will expire at the end of this season, so he will be working hard to earn himself a big contract. Although many people are counting out Shea Weber altogether given his recovery from injuries, Weber will surely make a huge impact for the Canadiens when he returns.

Canadiens’ fans will also focus their attention on Max Domi. On June 15th, Montreal traded Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the young winger. Domi seems genuinely excited to have the chance to play for such a storied franchise and his positive attitude will hopefully carry Habs’ fans through this upcoming season.

 

As a Montreal Canadiens fan, it is hard to forget that the Canadiens had a 14-game winning streak against their rivals, spanning from January 18th 2014, until the Leafs finally ended it on October 14th 2017. That is almost three years of beating them every time they came up against them. The Leafs have since won the past four match-ups, completing a season sweep against the Habs in the 2017-2018 season.

Habs fans did more than their fair share of heckling Leafs fans while the Canadiens were the more successful team particularly during the 14-game winning streak. Now, it is finally time for the Leafs fans to be able to flip things around. There is no question that we deserve the chirping after dishing it out so readily, for so long.

I am a die-hard Habs fan. I have the Montreal Canadiens logo tattooed in the shape of a heart on my chest. I am incredibly loyal to the Montreal Canadiens, so what I am about to say may come as a shock, but I am glad the Leafs have a good team.

A large portion of Montreal fans may not stand beside me, but I truly am happy for the Leafs and their fans. Toronto is a massive hockey market. Their fans have long demonstrated their loyalty through tough times.

Because of where I am situated, I am surrounded by friends and family who are almost all Leafs’ fans. My mother in particular is a huge Leaf fan. She was born in 1968, just one year after they last won a Stanley Cup. So, after witnessing fifty years without a championship, she is still loyal to the team she loves. The dedication she, and countless other fans, have shown through incredibly difficult times has certainly earned them the chance to finally have something to be excited about.

In June of this year, the Toronto Marlies won the Calder Cup. This was the first hockey championship the city of Toronto has won in more than a half century, since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.  Now that the city has once again gotten the taste of it, they are salivating for another.

Will the city’s cravings be fulfilled and a Stanley Cup parade take place through the streets of Toronto in 2019 or perhaps even 2020? Or will the stiff competition with so many great teams in the NHL today prevent the city from putting an end to their half a century long drought? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Maple Leafs fans finally have something to be excited about.

To my fellow Habs fans, remember your outlook is everything. No, we aren’t magically going to be Stanley Cup contenders, and even the playoffs may seem like a stretch. But, as we have seen from watching Leafs’ fans struggle for so long, good things come to those who wait; hopefully it doesn’t take the Canadiens half a century though. Also, we have won ten Stanley Cups since Toronto last won one, so maybe they deserve to finally have a shot at one again. After this rebuild though, the quest for the 25th Stanley Cup will be back in full force.

As a Montreal Canadiens fan, the reality is you are going to hear lots of chirping from fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, but just keep in mind – Leafs’ legend, Tie Domi, is now a Montreal Canadiens fan.