With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.
2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)
In-Season Roster Moves
- Traded Mike Reilly to the Senators for Andrew Sturtz and a 2021 fifth-rounder.
- Acquired Marco Scandella from the Sabres for a 2020 fourth-rounder in January. Flipped Scandella to the Blues in February for a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2021.
- Traded Michael McCarron to the Predators for Laurent Dauphin.
- Swapped two players to the Penguins (Philip Varone and Riley Barber) for Joseph Blandisi and Jacob Lucchini.
- Signed Ilya Kovalchuk after the Kings terminated his contract. Nabbed a 2020 third-round pick from the Capitals for Kovalchuk.
- Received a 2021 fifth-round pick from the Flyers for Nate Thompson.
- Sent Matthew Peca to the Senators for Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 seventh-round pick.
- Received a 2021 fourth-round pick from the Golden Knights for Nick Cousins.
It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.
Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.
Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals  and points ) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.
Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.
Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.
Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?
The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).
This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.
Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.
(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)
Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens
Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?
Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:
Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.
For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.
If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.
After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.
MORE ON THE CANADIENS:
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.