If you had told me three years ago that the Montreal Canadiens would have as good a roster in 2021 as they currently do, I would have been ecstatic. And, yet, many Montreal fans and the general sports media believe that at best, the Habs might squeak into the playoffs. This team is literally the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. They simply get no respect.
I may be forced to eat my words in April but those who are writing off the Habs are talking crazy talk. They are seeing this team’s performance from a faulty lens.
Yes, the Habs do not have generational talents on their roster that stack up against their divisional rivals in Tampa, Boston and Toronto, but they more than make up for this with an abundance of very good players. Aside from the juggernaut Lightning, the Canadiens’ current roster, assuming no further deals are made in the next few weeks, stacks up well on any given night against these “big three” plus the rising Florida Panthers.
Let’s just compare the Habs to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a minute – a so-called playoff-bound team – because of its top-heaviness, is actually two key injuries away from missing the playoffs.
Mike Hoffman and Tyler Toffoli pretty much provide as many goals as Austin Mathews.
Josh Anderson and Cole Caufield should match Mitch Marner’s point totals- and shoot fewer pucks off the plexiglass.
And these are just four players on Montreal’s four solid-line roster.
The Canadiens arguably have the best and deepest group of wingers in the NHL. And, through the Christian Dvorak trade, now possess a decent cache of centres.
The tandem of Jake Evans and Dvorak should shut down most opposition star lines. In unison, the two are better than the club’s loss of Phillip Danault.
Defensively, the Canadiens are also very sound. Jeff Petry is as good as Morgan Rielly, if not better.
Now moving away from my comparison with the Leafs, Montreal’s defense is practically as good as last year’s with the addition of David Savard. He is a solid Shea Weber placeholder who will hold down the fort until Weber likely returns in the Spring. (You can’t convince me that the team’s captain does not have the drive in him to gun for one more playoff run.)
If Montreal plays tight defensive hockey during the regular season and continues to employ quick exploitation breakaway passes to their centres and wingers, their defence will hold their own.
In net, they are rock solid. Carey Price and Jake Allen are one of the league’s best goaltending tandems. Enough said.
The team’s coaching staff is more than competent. This staff has had a full summer and fall to implement its system. This past Spring/Summer, Montreal beat Vegas with their assistant coach. Surely, this says something about its depth in this department.
And, then there’s the heart department – a very intangible thing that cannot be measured via analytics. The Montreal Canadiens are filled with heart and soul Josh Gorges warriors.
The boys did us fans proud after their amazing 2021 playoff run. I have not seen such grit since the 1980s where the Canadiens delivered a similar, never quit mentally to their play. This “lunch bucket” squad will make life very difficult for their “trust fund” opponents.
A comparable to the Canadiens are the New York Islanders. They, too, are not uber-talented but like Montreal, they have a lot of hard-working players who in unison make a very good team.
The promising thing about GM Marc Bergevin’s moves this summer is that all of his acquisitions, aside from Hoffman, were heart and soul players who give it their all.
Yes, there is little in terms of flashiness with the Montreal Canadiens but this very gritty team will make their opponents work really hard to beat them on any given night.
We also have to stop looking at the Habs from a historical lens. Due to COVID, last season’s squad had a poor regular season because they were forced to play four games a week in a bubble for two straight months. No team could perform well under such exhausting circumstances. They were also injury-riddled while this was happening.
The year before, due to a lack of depth and experience, injuries deeply impacted Montreal’s performance. When the league went into hiatus, the Habs got an opportunity to rest and heal and played great playoff hockey.
The year before that, the Canadiens had a vastly different and inferior roster.
Again, projecting where the Canadiens will finish based on a regular season lens would be faulty.
Let’s also keep in mind that the Habs apparently also have the best schedule from a load management perspective. So, their four solid lines advantage combined with more rest (plus fewer flights out West) will minimize injuries due to fatigue and give the Canadiens a bit more rest and thus, a competitive advantage.
The only caveat to what I have just said is COVID. If this team is once again exclusively forced to shut down due to an outbreak and once again has to play four games a week for two months, yeah, they’re toast given that their division is much better this go-round. But you can’t make predictions based on such black swan events happening.
The bottom line here is that you have to see at things from a proper lens that looks at this quality roster from top to bottom, how it is well-coached, factor in the unmeasurable “grit” component, and ignore their very misleading regular season performances, then this very good team should be playoff-bound. After all, very good teams usually make it to the dance. Right?
Most media pundits only have a superficial knowledge of the Montreal Canadiens. They “see” a “flukey” Habs Stanley Cup roster and fail to give credit where credit is due. The 2021-2022 team will prove them wrong and when they do, maybe just maybe, the Montreal Canadiens will get some respect.