Reviewing the disastrous 2021-22 Canadiens as Carey Price returns

Reviewing the disastrous 2021-22 Canadiens as Carey Price returns
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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.

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”