The Montreal Canadiens big problem is an old problem.
They don’t have depth at centre.
During the 2021 NHL Playoffs, it seemed like the stars had aligned. The Canadiens even plowed through the heavily favored Vegas Golden Knights and ended Marc-Andre Fleury’s Vegas tenure. The talk of not having strength at the most important position in hockey was something of the past.
Phillip Danault was playing difficult minutes against the opposition’s best offensive players. He finished sixth in Frank Selke Trophy voting in back-to-back seasons.
Nick Suzuki was emerging as a solid offensive contributor who also takes pride at playing the full sheet of the ice. Suzuki will be paid like a No. centre now at just under $8 million for eight years.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, despite having a roller-coaster season, presented tantalizing potential combining size and skill. Oh, and the Canadiens invested the third overall pick in the 2018 draft to select him.
Jake Evans showed hard work and determination can take you far. After being selected 207th in the 2014 draft, he worked on his craft playing 118 American Hockey League games before joining Montreal full time. Perfect player for the fourth line.
Since the conclusion of a season that Montreal was three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup, they lost both Danault and Kotkaniemi to free agency and acquired Christian Dvorak in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.
They’re left picking up the pieces and will be forced to use players in roles that are outside their comfort zones.
While the situation isn’t catastrophic, yet, they are missing a third-line centre.
Jake Evans hasn’t shown that he’s ready for that role. Ryan Poehling showed during training camp that he’s isn’t ready for the NHL. And It’s doubtful that a waiver claim on Adam Brooks of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the answer after he wasn’t able to crack their 23-man roster.
The situation could have been avoided this summer. Danault could have been signed even if they would have had to overpay. Or, they could have gone hard after another player that ended up being moved.
Nolan Patrick was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers and Cody Glass was traded by the Vegas Golden Knights. Both appear to have great upside. Sam Reinhart was traded by the Buffalo Sabres, Tyler Johnson was traded by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars dealt Jason Dickinson. The Boston Bruins were able to sign Erik Haula.
The Montreal Canadiens hope that their strength on the wings will mask their deficiencies in the middle. They’ll pray that Suzuki and Dvorak stay healthy because if they don’t, it’ll be a disaster.
It could work, but chances are the conversation around this team will be a big problem that’s an old problem. The Canadiens face the centre heavy Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night.
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