The Habs narrowly missed the playoffs last season and have opted for continuity and the hope of continued development over a big splash to try to change that fate. Will that be enough to make the postseason in 2019-20?
Terry Costaris: Barring key injuries, the Canadiens should make the playoffs this Spring. This season for me boils down to the success of two key players, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin. If they do well, Montreal’s in.
I do have some concerns though. I find it hard to imagine that all of Montreal’s players who had career years in 2019 will once again repeat themselves this go-round.
Will Jesperi Kotkaniemi have a sophomore slump? Will Nick Suzuki offset this? Will the team make up for the lost leadership and points of the departed Andrew Shaw? Will Max Domi continue in his upward trajectory? Above all though, will Drouin finally realize his true potential? If he plays like Alexander Radulov did for the Habs a few seasons ago, then Montreal will be a much better team in 2020.
Then there is the Price factor – which is hugely dependant on the addition of backup Keith Kinkaid. If Kinkaid does a solid job then this should allow Price more rest throughout the season.
Montreal has one of the best track records when it comes to finding goalies via pro scouting. Having Stephane Waite and Sean Burke on staff certainly helps. The Canadiens under GM Marc Bergevin’s helm have done such a good job in this area that I’m going to assume that they knew what they were doing when they signed Kinkaid.
In addition, at least on paper, the Habs are slightly better on defence. It’s not a great group but a serviceable one. Now throw in a rested and healthy Price thanks to the addition of Kinkaid and many of the potential defects of the Canadiens’ defence will now be offset. This is what he did during the Michel Therrien era. Price’s game has not regressed.
Another plus favouring Montreal is that it definitely has more depth- particularly in the bottom end of the lineup. They can now roll out four good lines and sustain most injuries on their defence. There is also an injection of fresh blood on the roster. And more of this talent will likely be making its way by January via Laval.
Given how Bergevin has some extra cap space to work with and the number of teams that are hard-pressed against the cap, he could pull a rabbit out of the hat and snag a major acquisition. This too could be a game-changer.
Having said all this, many of the teams that Montreal will be competing against for a playoff spot have also improved. Most of the Eastern clubs that made last year’s playoffs – aside from Columbus (who still might surprise) and perhaps Pittsburgh – still have plenty of gas in the tank.
Philadelphia, the New York Islanders, New Jersey and Florida are all ascending. Buffalo and the New York Rangers have also improved but they’re not yet likely playoff-bound.
Last but not least are injuries which none of us can predict. The frustrating part of making predictions is that everything is ultimately is contingent on this key variable.
The NHL, by the very nature of this game, is an injury-plagued league. Throw in parity and how every team is 2-3 key injuries away from greatness to mediocrity and it’s easy to see why so many of us prognosticators usually get our predictions wrong – no matter how well thought out they may be.
Aside from the 2019 season, which was an anomaly, the Habs have traditionally had terrible luck with injuries in the past. Montreal’s sickbay has already filled up. This is not a good sign.
If I’m wrong in my predictions, one more year out of the playoffs will not be a devastating thing. It would mean access to more quality draft picks in a deep draft year. This, in combination with what the Habs have already stockpiled, would set up the Canadiens for the next decade to come. So either way, a positive outcome should result if Montreal fails to make the playoffs.
Tom Donovan: The Canadiens will be in a dogfight to secure one of the two final playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference. But with the likes of Ryan Poehling, Suzuki and Cale Fleury all poised to crack the opening lineup, there’s reason to believe the Habs have the horses to make it to the dance. There is no shortage of caveats, not least injuries to key players, which could see things to go sideways in a hurry. But the same is true for every other team in the NHL.
Last year the Canadiens, led by their top line, were among the better possession teams in the league. Even a middling powerplay would have spelled the difference between making the playoffs and falling achingly short. It can’t get any worse. I’m guessing Suzuki will be the catalyst for an improved powerplay, the only thing that stood between your Habs and a playoff berth last season.
Calvin Harmsworth: I believe that the Canadiens will have a four-point improvement on last season. This will have them finishing at one hundred points and qualifying for the playoffs. I think they will either finish as the third seed in the Atlantic Division, or in the first Wild Card spot.
Habs did not make any major offseason additions, but they made several key smaller additions. Keith Kinkaid was brought in as a free agent, and by all accounts, he should be a big upgrade on what Antti Niemi brought last season. Next, Ben Chiarot will be a stabilizing and physical presence to contend with on the back end. Also, the addition of Nick Cousins, as well as a full season from Jordan Weal and Nate Thompson, will make the fourth line much more effective all season. But the biggest addition of all will be having Shea Weber on the ice right from the start. Weber’s importance to the Canadiens cannot be undersold. Lastly, many of the players who had career-high point totals last year should be able to replicate or surpass those totals this year, as they are still young and developing. Therefore, I believe the Canadiens can pick up an extra four points this season, and secure a playoff spot.
Allan Katz: Without a doubt, the Habs are going to make the playoffs as the number one wild card team. They will have runs where it looks like they might make the top-3 and runs where it will look like they’ll drop like a rock, but ultimately what will be their saving grace is their continuity, speed and infusion of talented youth throughout the season. But that’s not all…
There is an old Russian saying “What the bear has given, the bear can take away.” While I have no idea what it means, even though I should, since I made it up, it obviously refers to the possible brilliance of one man who has been so disliked by so many as he traded away our soul-and-future one player at a time. Marc Bear-Given might have come up with the secret sauce that will keep the Habs competitive for years, 1) speed, speed and relentless speed. 2) Keep your draft picks when free agents aren’t coming and “ In Timmins We Trust” will find gems in the pile a la Primeau, Gallagher, Evans, Romanov and Arsen Khismytuchus (come on, just the name alone).
Brian La Rose: I don’t see Montreal making it in. Forget the potential areas for improvement as valid as they are. Tampa Bay is Tampa Bay – they’re a safe bet to make it. Boston hasn’t lost anyone of consequence from last season so they’re going to be in there. Many talk about the potential for the Habs’ youngsters to continue to improve but the same potential exists for Toronto and their young core and as long as they stay healthy, they should come out ahead of the Habs. Had Florida had even average goaltending last season, they’d have been in the mix for a playoff spot. Now they have Sergei Bobrovsky and a top coach in Joel Quenneville. I’m comfortable putting them in as well.
That means, if everything goes well and the Atlantic Division gets five teams in the playoffs, the Habs can squeak in as that fifth team. But the parity is just as strong in the Metropolitan and there’s a good chance they’ll wind up with a Wild Card slot as well. That means the Habs likely wind up just on the outside looking in or in other words, about where they were a year ago.
Norm Szcyrek: As much as it pains me to write this, I do not believe the Habs are ready to make the playoffs this season. Although they were close to making it last season missing it by only three points, I think other teams in their division are much stronger. The conference as a whole is also very competitive and many other teams have improved more in the offseason than the Habs. Like last season, if a significant injury to one of their core players (Price, Weber, Gallagher, Domi) occurs, then this team does not have the depth to compensate for it. Last season when Weber was missing until November, that was a huge blow not only to their defence corps, but it also impacted Price’s play since he only rebounded after Weber returned.
Of course, the power play was dreadful although there were signs of improvement when the team made changes to the starting centre (Danault) which increased their odds of possession after the faceoff. The team had a stretch of 18% effectiveness from the first week of March through to the end of the season, which is respectable. The new rule change to benefit teams on the powerplay to choose their faceoff location, will also benefit the Habs since Danault and Weal are very good at faceoffs and each one has a different strong side.
Development of their key rookies (Kotkaniemi, Poehling, Suzuki, Josh Brook, and Fleury) is underway but none of them will rise to a core role this season. When that occurs, the team should be poised for a big season and a return to the playoffs. The team is on the right trajectory to get there but they are not yet quite ready.
Dave Woodward: I hope that I am wrong but it is difficult to be optimistic about the Habs’ chances to secure a playoff spot this season. Here are five reasons the Canadiens will have difficulty making the playoffs this season:
1) They were relatively healthy last year. In all likelihood, they will not be as healthy this season.
2) Apart from exchanging Chiarot for Jordie Benn (a mild upgrade at best) and signing a reasonable backup goaltender, Bergevin did not materially upgrade the roster over the summer. I agree with the decision not to sign free agents as the Canadiens are not close to winning. But it does mean that it will be more difficult to qualify for the playoffs this season.
3) The young guns are still a year or two away from becoming part of the team’s core or even making a meaningful contribution to a playoff push.
4) Many players had career years in 2018-19. By definition, career years do not represent average, typical or expected contributions from these players. The probability of that many roster players having a career year this season is slim.
5) The Canadiens are not that good. They have a glaring weakness on the left side of their defence and their forwards are undersized and lack even one elite offensive player. The lack of talent could not be demonstrated any better than it was in 2018-19. With a few exceptions, almost everything fell into place last season. They played an up-tempo style that played to their strengths and the effort was there. And the Habs still did not qualify for the playoffs.
Years of poor drafting and development have taken their toll on the Canadiens. While the team now has a deep prospect pool as a result of some improved drafting and development recently, the roster’s talent cycle is badly out of sync. The veterans (Weber, Price and Jeff Petry) are well into their prime while the brightest young players need either some more time in the minors or are just entering the league and will not be in their prime until the veteran players have exited theirs. With the roster players they have, last season was likely the high water mark. If all goes well, the Canadiens will again compete for a playoff spot this season. However, more likely, things will not go quite as well. In 2019-20, the Canadiens will probably miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.