MONTREAL — Patience is in order as the Montreal Canadiens embark on the next chapter of their rebuild journey.
That’s not to say fans cannot be hopeful about the future. Players like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki represent the perfect foundation upon which to build a contending roster.
There’s also the bevy of highly-skilled prospects on which to pin hopes and dreams, such as forwards Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar, Joshua Roy, Owen Beck and Sean Farrell. On the defensive side of things, Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder, Justin Barron, William Trudeau, and Jordan Harris are on the cusp of earning a full-time NHL role, representing one of the strongest defensive prospects groups in team history.
The long-term outlook is quite bright, owning to Kent Hughes’ calculated moves throughout the summer.
Short term, the landscape ready to greet the Montreal Canadiens is anything but welcoming.
To put it into context: the Canadiens finished dead last in 2021-22, and that was with players such as Jeff Petry, Brett Kulak, Ben Chiarot, Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen in the lineup. Removing them from the equation means the Canadiens are losing half a dozen players that were not only eating up big minutes for the team but were also putting up excellent underlying numbers.
Add to that Carey Price’s absence as well as Shea Weber’s trade to the Vegas Golden Knights, and it’s safe to assume Kent Hughes and Co. are not expecting to make the playoffs this year, especially when you consider the rest of the Atlantic Division got caught up in an arms race this summer.
And that’s fine. You could easily argue it was the perfect time for a rebuild.
Another poor finish in the standings should guarantee an opportunity to draft the next expected phenom, Connor Bedard, who, by all accounts, is considered a franchise-altering player.
It will also allow the younger players to develop in a relatively low-pressure situation, one that comes with plenty of opportunities to prove their worth, either in Montreal or in the AHL with the Laval Rocket.
But the turnaround will take time. The patience required to develop a contending roster extends well beyond management. It must be embraced by the fans as well.
It won’t be easy, especially in a world where instant gratification is king, but there’s simply no workaround when it comes to developing players to their maximum potential.
Slafkovsky may end up in the AHL, which would surely incite some emotional reactions in a market such as Montreal, seeing as the last forward to be chosen first overall and not play in the NHL was Mats Sundin in 1989, but the recent team mantra, one that focuses on long term rewards rather than short term gains, gives some insight as to their approach; they’re not worried about outside noise.
As long as the fans follow suit, the upcoming season, which will feature many more losses than wins, will go a long way in setting up the organization for future success.