The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 31-31-9 (71 points); fifth place in Atlantic Division; 12th place in Eastern Conference
The Canadiens were the 24th and final team to qualify for the playoff bubble in the NHL’s Return To Play, and once they got there they stunned everybody by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Play-In Round. Even with their disappointing record, there were some reasons to be optimistic about the Canadiens chances.
They were an outstanding possession team, they played well at 5-on-5, and had a goalie that could still get hot from time to time and put the team on his back. That is exactly what he did, and it got them into the field of 16 where they ultimately lost a very close series to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Three of their four losses were by a single goal, and they allowed more than two goals in just two of the six games (and never more than three).
3 Most Interesting Montreal Canadiens
• Nick Suzuki. A major breakout candidate for the 2020-21 season. Suzuki was one of the key parts of the Max Pacioretty trade two years ago, and he put together a very strong rookie season for the Canadiens. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was one of their top players and looks like he has a chance to be a key building block for the foreseeable future. Combined with the production they get from Tomas Tatar, the Pacioretty trade has worked out extraordinarily well for Montreal.
What makes Suzuki so interesting for the Canadiens is that between him and Jesperi Kotkaniemi they have two very promising young centers that could help fill what has been an organizational void the past few years.
After finishing with 41 points in 71 games as a rookie, big things should be expected for him this season. If he takes that sort of step it is going to have a major impact on the Canadiens’ chances.
• Josh Anderson. The most shocking contract of the offseason was the massive seven-year, $38 million deal the Canadiens signed Anderson to shortly after acquiring him from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Max Domi. In short, it seems risky.
At his best, Anderson is a really good power forward that has 25-30 goal ability. He could potentially bring some finishing ability to a team that lacked it a season ago. The concern is that Anderson is coming off of an injury-plagued season that saw him appear in only 26 games and score just a single goal.
The Canadiens are taking a pretty big and expensive gamble that Anderson is not only fully recovered and healthy, but that he can return to being that 25-goal power forward.
Any time you sign a non-star to a seven-year contract there is going to be some risk with it. That risk only gets increased when the player in question scored one goal in 26 games the most recent time we saw him on the ice.
[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
• Jake Allen. Yes. The backup goalie. This is a fascinating situation because this is one of the biggest moves the Canadiens made this offseason. By acquiring Allen and his $4.8 million salary cap hit the Canadiens have nearly $15 million invested in goalies this season, far more than any other team in the league. By re-signing him to a two year-contract extension ($2.875 million) beyond this season, it means they will have more than $12 million committed to the position through the 2022-23 season. That is a significant portion of your salary cap space going to a position where only one player can play at a time.
Will it be worth it?
For starters, Allen does give the Canadiens something they have been lacking for a couple of years now. A capable backup goalie that can win them some games when Carey Price does not play.
It also allows Price — who is entering his age 33 season — to not have to play as many games, stay fresh, be rested, and potentially play a little better as a result. Goalie tandems (or platoons, if you want to call them that) are a big thing right now and Montreal has made a substantial investment in its goalie position.
The two goalies play great, Suzuki and Kotkaniemi both take big steps forward in their development, while Anderson and Toffoli bring some much needed scoring depth to the forward lines. All of that happens and the Canadiens suddenly have a very formidable roster, and one that could very easily find itself in the top-four of the North Division and back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Price declines, the Anderson gamble doesn’t pay off, one of the young centers does not take a step forward, and their Play-In round win against the Penguins a year ago turns out to be a massive mirage that tricked the front office into thinking the team was better than it actually was. The team ends up in a situation where it misses the playoffs and has to deal with some potentially significant unrestricted free agents (Tatar, Phillip Danault) and has limited salary cap space to re-sign them thanks to their big spending this offseason.
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