Reviewing the disastrous 2021-22 Canadiens as Carey Price returns

Reviewing the disastrous 2021-22 Canadiens as Carey Price returns
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens.

It’s a no-brainer to feel some disappointment if your team missed the playoffs this season. Even “tanking” teams probably aren’t feeling great right now. Still, no franchise fell quite as far as the Montreal Canadiens did in 2021-22.

Of course, last season, the Canadiens stunned by following a mediocre regular season with a surprising run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Between now and then, the Canadiens (quite incredibly) changed their GM, coach, and ended up trade deadline sellers.

With Carey Price returning to face the Islanders on Friday, today seems like the right time to break down a stunningly bad 2021-22 season for the Canadiens.

Some expected heartache, just not this much

If you zoom out, the Canadiens missing the playoffs is a little less shocking. Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they secured the North Division’s final playoff spot. This wasn’t some juggernaut during the longer haul of a full season.

Beyond that, Carey Price’s availability was murky at best before making this April 15 debut. Meanwhile, there’s open doubt about Shea Weber ever playing again.

Plenty of people chose the Canadiens to make the playoffs, yet the PHT staff unanimously picked them to fall short.

So, it’s not as though people were guaranteeing a great Habs follow-up.

Even so, few expected the Canadiens to end up this bad. The last team to be “eliminated” from the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the first to be eliminated during this regular season:

Why the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs

For a spell, the Canadiens showed a bit more life under interim head coach Martin St. Louis. While there may still be some positives to take from the last couple months, the overall numbers now look a lot like the results that ended Dominique Ducharme’s time with the Habs.


From the beginning of the season through Feb. 9 (date of Ducharme firing)

From the beginning of Feb. 10 – April 14

  • 12-13-4, .483 points percentage, 10th-worst in the NHL.
  • 91 goals for, 103 goals against.
  • Similar special teams (13.5 PP%, 77.3 PK%)
  • 29.8 SOG for per game, 34.6 per against.
  • More or less the same ugly underlying stats.

Under Claude Julien, the Canadiens were a team that hogged the puck, but struggled to complete the final part (actually putting the puck in the net). For all of the praise lavished on Carey Price over the years, there were times when goaltending dragged Julien-era Habs teams down.

Most of those underlying numbers fell apart this season.

Evolving Hockey’s team RAPM charts provide decent snapshots of what teams do well and not-so-well. Last season, the Canadiens defended well, but struggled on offense.

This season, they were weak (if not awful) across the board.

 

Yes, it stings to lose Carey Price and Shea Weber. It’s fair to guess that their two-way play suffered by letting Phillip Danault walk, too. Combine all of that with the struggles of Nick Suzuki and especially Cole Caufield, and a lot of things broke against the Canadiens in 2021-22.

Really, though, you can only make so many excuses. This was a very bad team, and most signs pointed toward a rebuild. Thankfully, Montreal embraced that reality at the trade deadline. By doing so, they likely accelerated the process to turn things around — but there’s a ton of work to do.

How different might next season’s Canadiens look compared to the 2021-22 version?

The Canadiens really did load up on futures (picks and prospects) at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.

That said, you might call that “the easy part.” Just about any good team would’ve been wise to seek out Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen. And while Ben Chiarot‘s actual value is up for debate, there was no denying that he drew a ton of interest.

Going forward, the Canadiens still have big pieces that could move. Even if they think Jeff Petry brings a lot to the table, his age (34) indicates that his best remaining years likely won’t line up with a Canadiens rebuild. It’s possible that certain players may ask out of a prolonged rebuild, though it’s hard to imagine that happening with Brendan Gallagher. (He’s about to complete the first season of a six-year contract.)

Could there be a market for the likes of David Savard? If not, might Montreal bribe a team like the Coyotes to take Savard off their hands? (And should they bother?)

[Trade deadline was a rare win for the 2021-22 Canadiens]

New Montreal management should be asking questions like those. They also need Carey Price to gauge his future. Is he ultimately going to be LTIR/retirement-bound? Before escrow, taxes, and other fees, Carey Price cost the Canadiens $13M ($11M in bonuses, $2M in salary) in 2021-22. That number drops considerably in the second portion of his contract.

Here’s what the costs look like, via Cap Friendly:

  • 2022-23: $6.75M in bonus, $1M in salary ($7.75M overall vs. $10.5M cap hit).
  • 2023-24: $6.5M bonus, $2M salary ($8.5M overall vs. $10.5M cap hit).
  • 2024-25: $5.5M bonus, $2M salary ($7.5M overall vs. $10.5M cap hit).
  • 2025-26: $5.5M bonus, $2M salary ($7.5M overall vs. $10.5M cap hit).

If Carey Price plays tonight, doesn’t feel right, and decides he’s finished, his contract could still appeal to teams wanting to get to the salary cap floor. You could even engineer it so that a wealthier team eats a signing bonus or two for the price of futures. And so on.

Whatever happens with Carey Price, the Canadiens need answers in a lot of areas, goaltending included. Price is 34, and his future is unsettled. Jake Allen is 31, and may be better off playing out his contract year with a contender.

For all of the long-term contracts he handed out, and all of the headlines he made, Marc Bergevin largely left the Canadiens with problems, and questions. Credit new management for already cleaning up some of the mess in 2021-22, but the Canadiens have a ton of work to do to rebuild, and really, to reset.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For: