John Tavares (Photo by Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

by Gregorio Lentini, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

The season is finally ending, and I’m sure it is one every Habs fan would want to forget. The only issue is, unless any substantial changes are made, this season’s script might end up repeating itself next year. With that in mind, here are two scenarios that can help the Canadiens avoid another atrocious season.

The Two Centermen Scenario

This option is reasonably resolves a longstanding Habs’ issue: a weak centre position.

Firstly, the Habs could use some of their cap space to sign potential free agent centreman Paul Statsny. Though Statsny turned thirty-two in December, he would be perfect as a number two centre in Montreal. Since 2010, Statsny has been on pace for more than fifty points a season. This type of production would make him a formidable second centreman.

At his age, he will probably be able to replicate this production for at least three more years. He is also solid defensively as well as in the faceoff circle. His strengths would complement dynamic wingers like Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lekhonen. Together, these three would make a respectable second line.

Stastny was acquired by the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline for prospect Erik Foley, a 2018 conditional first-round draft pick, and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. Given the substantial package given up to acquire Stastny, expect the Jets to push to retain him. And Stastny may see a better opportunity to win in Winnipeg with the Jets brimming with talent.

If successful with Stastny, the Habs could then target Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In order to do so, the Habs might have to move Max Pacioretty to the Oilers. The Habs will probably ask for more in such a trade. However, they would be getting a young, productive and defensively-sound centreman back.

Edmonton has a surplus of talented centres, but they could use a talented winger to play alongside the unstoppable Connor McDavid. This trade would give the Habs a reasonable number one centre, allowing Jonathan Drouin to move back to his more comfortable  position on the wing. Nugent-Hopkins has proven that he can score 40-50 points, and he has grown in size over the past two years.

A first line with Drouin, Nugent-Hopkins and Brendan Gallagher could be fast, creative and potentially fruitful. That would be dependent on finding linemates that enjoy chemistry with Drouin, which has proved elusive this season.

The Canadiens must find a way of accommodating the increase in salary. Stastny will be looking for an increase in this year’s $3.5 million salary. Nugent-Hopkins has three years remaining on a $6.0 million dollar per year contract.

The main issue with this scenario is, except for minor transactions, the core of this year’s defence will remain intact. This scenario therefore requires Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Jordie Benn and Mike Reilly to hold the fort alongside Carey Price while the offense potentially goes on a roll.

The Dream Scenario

I’ll be honest, this option is not likely at all. However, it is possible. It would substantially alter the near future of the organization. 

The long-shot scenario consists primarily of the acquisition of two players: the highly coveted defenceman Rasmus Dahlin and star-centreman John Tavares. In other terms, in order for this scenario to come to fruition, the Habs are going to need an unbelievable  amount of luck, and then more luck.

The Habs are presently in the bottom five of the NHL standings, one point back of Detroit with one game in hand. Finishing fifth-last would mean an 8.5 per cent chance of securing the first pick overall.

With just five games left, time is running out for the Canadiens to move down the standings. That said, a bottom three finish would give them an 11.5 percent chance. Though it does not seem like a lot, last place has an 18.5 per cent chance of receiving the first pick overall. New Jersey walked away with the number one pick in 2017 despite having just an 8.5 per cent chance to do so.

Dahlin would instantly upgrade any defence. He is a left-defenceman, and on paper he would be a perfect fit alongside the right-handed Weber. The lack of a number one left-defenceman would be resolved.

Before any fans start ordering jerseys, it is prudent to point out that while a fifth-worst finish would give the Canadiens an 8.5 per cent chance of picking first, they would have more than a 60 per cent chance of selecting fifth or sixth on June 23rd.

Meanwhile, John Tavares would undoubtedly be a fantastic first-line center. He has proven that he can score 70-80 points a season while playing defensively-sound hockey. However, there are a number of issues with Tavares signing in Montreal.

The Islanders captain may very well re-sign with New York, a team for which he has played his entire career. Even if he does decide to enter free agency, he may choose a team who has a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup. And due to a number of reasons (taxes, language laws, weather, media), Montreal is no longer a top destination for NHL free agents.

The only glimmer of hope for Habs fans is that most teams currently in a playoff position already have a clearly-defined number one centre. I am not sure Tavares would want to play in the shadow of someone else. In addition, some contenders may have cap issues that would prevent an enormous contract offer.

Therefore, though it is highly unlikely, the Canadiens may be better positioned to be able to deliver on a seven year contract in the neighborhood of fourteen million dollars per season.

There is no guarantee that Tavares would want to surround himself with the pressure that comes with playing in Montreal, especially after the Habs have had such a terrible season. However, in my opinion, there is no better city to win in than Montreal.

If Tavares likes the big contract offer, the city and he sees potential in the team’s youth, there is a slim chance that he signs. Tavares may also want a chance to play alongside  Shea Weber and Carey Price. 

If he does sign, the Habs would have to clear some cap space. The most likely candidate to be traded, in my opinion, is Pacioretty. He could be traded to the Islanders in a sign-and-trade scenario for Tavares.

Otherwise, Pacioretty could be traded for a budding top centre prospect like Robert Thomas or Gabriel Vilardi. In this case, Tavares could play alongside Drouin and Gallagher on a lethal top line. A second line of Galchenyuk, a prospect and Lehkonen could also cause damage. If Pacioretty is not traded, I am fine with leaving Drouin as the second line center and Tavares as the first line center.

This scenario would essentially fix the top centre and left-defenceman issues over one offseason, making the Habs a serious threat next year.

Keep in mind, though either of these scenarios would be beneficial, they alone would not be enough to make the Habs contenders. The Canadiens are going to need Vezina-winner Carey Price and stud-defenceman Shea Weber to play like their usual selves, and hope that they are no longer plagued by severe injuries.

Likewise, the team’s youth, specifically Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen, are going to have to increase their production. However, a combination of these factors along with an aforementioned pathway might actually propel the Habs upwards in the standings and forwards in the playoffs. Who knows, maybe with some luck and following one of these paths, the rebuild may not take that long after all.