While many have written off the Habs from getting anywhere close to returning to the Stanley Cup Final, there is a roadmap for them to follow to accomplish exactly that.
What follows is a look at how the Canadiens can make it back there. I would like to believe that every single one of these points is absolutely attainable, many are probable, none are long shots. In fact, the only long, long shot is that every point comes to pass. I will also estimate the likeliness that the said event will occur. It should be noted all these points relate to the season as well as the playoffs.
From most important to least: The events needed for the Montreal Canadiens to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals:
1) They need to make the playoffs so Price and the vets can get to work. GM Marc Bergevin designed the team (and is still working on it) to be built for the playoffs so making the playoffs could be tougher than winning a few series. Almost every sports article on the Habs has been very negative about their upcoming season’s potential. It was the same last year and almost everyone was right about the lousy prospects of the Habs until … everyone was wrong. Bottom line: You don’t make the playoffs; you don’t get to compete for the Cup. The Habs have a tough row to hoe but I believe they will pull it off. Probability – 70% and with one great trade filling centre or defence upping it to 80%.
2) They need health from three of four vets. They need Brendan Gallagher to play 70 games in good hand health. Jeff Petry needs to ignore Father Time and take on the challenge of being the Habs defensive leader. Carey Price needs to play 50 games in good health. They need angels to help Shea Weber heal by playoff time. Probability 60% – because I’m hoping for only three successful health stories out of four. This is a tough one, but the fact is: Health is what often separates the winners from the losers in all sports.
3) They need similar production from last year. Not better, not worse, about the same. Tyler Toffoli scores 25+, Joel Edmundson and Ben Chariot thrive, and Jake Allen plays a tad better than last year. There are no reasons this couldn’t happen. Well, of course, there are reasons why, but not a big stretch to believe. Probability 80%
4) Some of the better teams have to slump out and never get their bearings both in the season and the playoffs. God created the Toronto Maple Leafs for this reason. The probability that one team flakes out during the season is 100% but that includes the Habs. The chance it’s not the Habs is 72%.
5) They need at least two revelations that are hoped for but might be difficult. Examples: i) Cole Caufield scores 40 – What a boost that would be. ii) Jesperi Kotkaniemi scores 22 goals and more assists – Wouldn’t that be nice; the talent is there. iii) Jake Evans scores 12 goals and with his defensive chops officially arrives as a true NHLer. – Certainly possible. iv) Alexander Romanov takes a huge step forward – Given the chance his talent is there. Finally, the season success rolls into the playoffs and maybe some arrive at playoff time. All within the realm of possibility. Probability – 75% because why not? Each one on their own has a legitimate chance to excel and meet or surpass expectations. If most even come close, that would be awesome for their chances.
6) Weber has a great rehab, which he could since the word “Hab” is in rehab (I know, trust me I know). My understanding is Weber is a workhorse in the gym. With time and great effort, and luck, the team can bring him back for the playoffs and thus use the infamous loophole now known as the Kucherov loophole. The second part of this and pretty sure-fire is that Weber’s money can be used to fill a need for Bergevin and the Habs. Probability – 67% and if Weber comes back even better. But his salary might be used for something special and that’s more probable.
7) Mr. Drouin and another guy – Let’s be clear here, the regular season Habs did not have these two above-average offensive threats for “all” of last season. Namely Jonathan Drouin and Caufield. If Drouin starts off on a 50-point pace, he can either be traded for something solid or kept because he has some talent. This is a huge plus for the regular season and making the playoffs. I am cautiously optimistic about Drouin and unfairly optimistic about Caufield. Probability 65% on Drouin landing up contributing well or being traded for something solid. The other guy should score 30+. These two can be huge pickups for the team’s playoff hopes.
8) They need fresh blood to surprise everyone. I can throw names out, but it’s hard to predict: Ryan Poehling, Cayden Primeau, Kaiden Guhle, Josh Brook, Mattias Norlinder… Probability 60% – If they can get one long-term fresh blood surprise and others, like Primeau, playing solid in emergency call-ups or landing a spot in training camp.
9) Finally, I have to lose more weight (so far down 60 lbs.), you have to eat better and we all need to work out to cheer on our team. Probability – Who are we kidding?
If the Habs make the playoffs, stay healthy, maintain some of their personal success from this past season, one or two competitors slump out, Weber situation’s is exploited to make a bad situation manageable, Drouin and Caufield make the regular season awesome, have their deep young depth come through when needed, I lose more weight and you start eating better and exercising then the Stanley Cup Final is attainable. Can all these things come to pass? Not impossible, probably not probable, but definitely, without a doubt … possible.