FEATURE: Exploring Positives From The Habs 2017-2018 Season
When the puck dropped on October 5th against the Buffalo Sabres, I don’t imagine many fans anticipated that the Montreal Canadiens would have such an up and down, injury plagued 2017-’18 season.
Montreal has managed to win against top teams in the league, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, but have also lost to the Arizona Coyotes, who at the time, didn’t have a win in regulation. The Canadiens have exploded offensively defeating the Detroit Red Wings 10-1, but have also been shut out six times. Consistency has not been their strong suit this season.
So, here we are, January 21st, 2018, wondering how the Canadiens are 5th in the Atlantic Division, 26th overall in the NHL and 10 points out of a wildcard position, with Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault and Shea Weber currently injured.
As a fan, I’m sure we can all agree, it’s been a tough season overall, without much to cheer about. However, through all of the injuries, tough losses, and negativity, there are positive points to be found.
The Montreal Canadiens trade Zach Redmond to the Buffalo Sabres for Nicolas Deslauriers
On October 4th, the Montreal Canadiens acquired Nicolas Deslauriers in what seemed to be an insignificant American Hockey League trade to many. Since the trade however, he has been one of the Canadiens most consistent players, earning the Molson Cup for the month of December.
I admit, when Deslauriers was called up to join the Canadiens roster, I was quite surprised, with just three goals and two assists in 14 games, he didn’t seem to be adding any offense to a Canadiens team that couldn’t score. It was also surprising given the fact players such as Daniel Carr, Chris Terry and Peter Holland (traded to the New York Rangers for Adam Cracknell) were having much better seasons statistically.
Deslauriers nonetheless, has earned his place on the Canadiens roster, with six goals and three assists in 27 games. He also leads the team in plus/minus (plus-10) and is first on the team with 113 hits just ahead of Jeff Petry with 112, in 20 fewer games.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Deslauriers is precisely the player the Canadiens were looking for to fill a position on their fourth line. Not only can he bring energy to the bench as a ferocious forechecker, he can contribute on the scoresheet.
As a pending UFA, I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he returned to the Canadiens next season. This is one fourth liner that Marc Bergevin has acquired during his tenure as Canadiens GM with which he can be happy.
Victor Mete named to opening day roster, claims gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship
Selected 100th overall during the 2016 NHL Draft, I knew Victor Mete was a good defender for the London Knights, and a steal by Trevor Timmins in the fourth round, but I certainly didn’t expect him to suit up next to Shea Weber on the Canadiens top-line to start the 2017-’18 season.
With the capability to carry the puck up ice, using his speed to make effective offensive zone entries, Mete at the moment is the best option to play next to Shea Weber, mainly since Andrei Markov is no longer on the team. Having a defender confident in his abilities to carry the puck alleviates the need for a “dump and chase” style of play, a classic Michel Therrien tactic, which is not suitable for all four lines.
Victor Mete was loaned by the Montreal Canadiens to Canada’s national junior team, where he was soon named to the roster and was also selected as an alternate captain.
Marc Bergevin had the following to say regarding his decision to allow Mete to join Team Canada.
“We’ve made the decision to allow Victor Mete to join Team Canada’s Selection Camp to give him an opportunity to participate in a very beneficial experience for his development.” He would also add “The World Junior Hockey Championship is a very elite and very competitive tournament, and this can be a very rewarding opportunity for a young player.”
Team Canada claimed gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship for the 17th time in tournament history, defeating Sweden 3-1 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. Victor Mete logged 21:57 of ice time in the win, finished with a plus-3 differential, and assisted on an empty net goal off the stick of Alex Formenton.
Mete would finish the tournament with three assists and a plus-11 in six games, was named player of the game against Finland, and played the majority of the tournament alongside Colorado Avalanche 2017 second round pick Conor Timmins, who assisted on Tyler Steenbergen’s tournament winning goal with just 1:40 remaining in regulation time. The duo of Mete and Timmins was the best defensive line for Team Canada, so it’s clear that the Canadiens should trade for Conor Timmins and reunite the pair one day… But I doubt that would ever happen.
Marc Bergevin told reporters that the Montreal Canadiens will “probably” keep Victor Mete for the full NHL season rather than send him back to the London Knights, which would have made him eligible for the Canadian Olympic roster in Pyeongchang. With the Olympic roster named, and Victor Mete still on the Canadiens roster, I believe it’s safe to assume he’s here to stay in Montreal… Sorry London!
2018 NHL Draft
As it stands right now the Montreal Canadiens “should” have a very successful 2018 draft, with 8 picks between rounds 1-5, with that number “likely” to rise before the trade deadline.
Montreal Canadiens Picks
The Canadiens own their 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th round pick.
Canadiens traded Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise to Chicago for Phillip Danault and a 2018 2nd round pick.
Canadiens traded Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals for a 2017 2nd round pick (Joni Ikonen) and a 2018 2nd round pick.
Canadiens traded Al Montoya to the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional 5th round pick. (Condition: The pick becomes a 2018 4th if Al Montoya plays 7 additional 2017-2018 regular season games)
Canadiens traded Torrey Mitchell to the Los Angeles Kings for a conditional 5th round pick. (Condition: If the Kings qualify for the playoffs, the Canadiens will receive their own 2018 4th round pick back which was part of the Dwight King trade.)
As specified above, the number of draft picks at the disposal of Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins is likely to rise, with Habs management crossing their fingers that their conditional 5th round picks become 4th round picks. (Al Montoya has played two of seven games, and the Kings are currently out of a playoff position).
With Rasmus Dahlin widely considered the most elite blueliner to come out of Sweden since Tampa Bay Lightning defender Victor Hedman, it seems unlikely the Canadiens will finish last in the league and have a 20 percent chance at the 1st overall pick.
However, they could benefit from the NHL Draft Lottery “if” they miss the playoffs, as just last season we saw the New Jersey Devils move from No. 5 to No. 1, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from No. 13 to No. 2 and the Dallas Stars moved from No. 8 to No 3.
A player from Sweden hasn’t been selected 1st overall since the Quebec Nordiques selected Mats Sundin in 1989. This year however, Dahlin seems to be cemented as the 1st overall pick, and will without a doubt contribute right away to the team that is lucky enough to draft him.
However, if the Canadiens miss out on drafting Dahlin with the 1st overall pick, and are “lucky” enough to pick in the top 5, they will still walk away with a very good prospect, with Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk and Adam Boqvist likely to round out the top 5.
The Montreal Canadiens will soon need to make a decision whether or not they’re a playoff team or not, and if they should begin to trade expiring contracts such as Tomas Plekanec for maximum value to a playoff contender, which could be a 1st round pick or more depending on the team, just look at what Arizona received for Martin Hanzal last season.
With the amount of cap space the Canadiens have, they could also decide to acquire (bad contracts) from other teams, which would likely include a draft pick(s) and/or prospect in the deal.
In closing, the Canadiens in my judgement shouldn’t hit the red button and blow up the team for a complete rebuild, but changes will need to be made, including;
- Replacing Team President Geoff Molson with someone that can better understand hockey operations, coaching, the players, etc.
- Replacing Sylvain Lefebvre as Head Coach of the Laval Rocket for someone that can better develop the Canadiens young players.
- Replacing J.J. Daigneault for a more capable assistant coach.
- Building the best team possible from management to the players on the ice, without considering/selecting a Francophone over a superior candidate.
These are just a few suggestions to improve the Canadiens next season and possibly for many seasons to come. I know many fans would like to see Claude Julien and/or Marc Bergevin fired based on their 2017-2018 performance, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. If the Canadiens use their cap space wisely, draft intelligently and stay healthy, they’ll return a much better team in 2018-2019.