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Canadiens Mailbag: Draft Concerns, UFA Questions, Rebuild Notes




Welcome to the first edition of the post-trade deadline Canadiens Mailbag.

Today we cover the fallout from the 2023 Trade Deadline, concerns about the upcoming Draft, the direction of the rebuild, and much more.

Centre Conundrum

Belzile is indeed doing great on the fourth line.

He’s producing more than expected and currently owns the team’s best relative expected goals for percentage (Rel. xGF%). He brings the type of hard work and intelligence to the table that most coaches love, and it’s exactly what the Canadiens need on the fourth line.

On that note, I wouldn’t necessarily pencil him in as the fourth-line centre going forward.

Jake Evans is better on faceoffs, does a great job on the penalty kill and is five years younger than Belzile, not to mention, he also provides an honest effort with every shift.

Given Belzile can also play on the wing, I’d point to his versatility as the reason that he should not only be signed to a contract extension but also serve as the perfect contingency plan on the roster.

I don’t see him in the top 12 in an ideal situation, but he can help the team out if (and when) injuries occur.

Rebuild Recon

Perennial contender? Well over 5 years.

Let’s be honest, even if the Canadiens hadn’t lost half their roster to injuries this season, they would not be much higher in the standings. The excellent play from Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen has masked some of the major red flags on the team.

The Canadiens are currently among the NHL’s worst teams in several critical statistical categories.

What will it take to change that? Players like Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, Sean Farrell, Filip Mesar, and Owen Beck, among others, will have to make their way to the NHL and become impact players.

Considering some are on the cusp of their NHL debut, and others are going to spend one or more years in the minors, it’s difficult to project the Canadiens contending in the near future.

It takes several years to acclimatize to the NHL, and except for Hutson, none of the prospects seem to be of the elite variety. That’s not to say Farrell and Beck will not become very good NHL players, but I’d consider them very good, not great.

There are also very healthy odds Martin St-Louis will not be at the helm of the team once they’re ready to compete, simply because NHL coaches rarely last over half a decade with the same team, particularly those hired at the start of a rebuild.

Things could accelerate this summer if the Canadiens draft a high-end forward, but for the time being, I’d preach patience.

A lot of patience.

Draft Decisions

The important caveat here is “if it is not in the top 5”.

There’s some value to ignoring the hype of the draft. Take a look at any draft and you’ll notice a bevy of busts in the top 15.

Sometimes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

But not this year.

This will be one of the best drafts in recent history, and the Canadiens should not try to jumpstart their rebuild by forgoing a shot at one of the talented forwards available after the fifth overall pick.

Ending the season by adding a player like Zach Benson to the mix would be a major win.

Any other season? It may be worth pursuing.

Veteran Venture

I’m sure Kent Hughes has pondered this question several times.

Marc Bergevin did not sell all his prospects and draft picks in a desperate bid to save his job, which left those departments in pretty good shape.

But he did sign a bevy of underwhelming veterans, and unfortunately for Hughes, cap space has become the most valuable asset in the NHL.

If there was no market for Edmundson at the deadline, where general managers put an onus on physical play, I doubt there will be much of a market this summer. His chronic back injury means he’s a depreciating asset, one that has very little odds of increasing in value given he’s about to be on the wrong side of 30. It’s a harsh assessment, mind you, because, by all accounts, Edmundson is one of the nicest people in the NHL.

I could be and often am, wrong, but the idea that he will suddenly increase in value this summer makes little to no sense given his history. He’s missed significant time in the last two seasons due to an injury that has ended the careers of many before him.

As for Hoffman, there was no interest in him on the trade market this season, and I doubt he garners any interest moving forward. It’s a shame because, despite some clear issues in his game, Hoffman has done a pretty good job improving his underlying numbers this season. I expect the Canadiens to allow his contract to expire next summer and move on.

The same can be said about Wideman. He will likely become a UFA next summer, and part ways with the Canadiens.

As for Dvorak and Armia, the fact that their contracts run until 2024-25 means they’re also unlikely to move. The best bet is to hope they find their rhythm next season and turn into positive assets through a trade.

Simply put, there are very few outs available for Hughes and Co,

Once again, patience is in order.

Detrimental Direction?

It’s important to remember the Canadiens are not out of the running for a top 3 pick. The NHL standings dictate draft odds, they are not a guarantee.

I don’t expect the Canadiens to compete in three years, but I do expect them to continue adding talented players to their prospect pool.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already, but patience is in order.

Look at the Canadiens as an old house that needed to be torn down and rebuilt.

They have the right foundation in place with players such as Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, but they also have asbestos in the insulation that is very difficult to remove. It takes time to remove those hazardous materials, not to mention, money.

Right now the Canadiens have not even finished removing the materials they need to throw out before framing their new home.

Once those materials are off the construction site and the foreman’s budget is no longer handcuffed, we’ll see progress.

A house in mid-construction always looks like a mess.

I can’t judge if they’re headed in the right direction, yet. But it does seem like they are taking the right steps to ensure long-term stability.

Cornerstone Crowd

I think my ‘untouchables’ list will be much shorter than most.

Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Lane Hutson.

End of list.

Anyone else can and should go if the team receives an offer that would help them build toward their long-term vision.

Size Silliness


For those who may have missed it, there was a recent discussion on Twitter regarding the Canadiens’ plans for the upcoming Draft.

Several people heard the Canadiens would avoid picking an incredibly talented player such as Matvei Michko if he happens to be available. The rumors also seem to suggest the Canadiens are looking closely at players like Dalibor Dvorsky and David Reinbacher as ideal targets in the first round, which would be a reach compared to where they’re presently ranked in most draft lists.

I heard the same, albeit, it’s worth pointing out you hear a lot of things when working in the hockey world, so I would take the rumours with a rather large grain of salt.

But since this is the Canadiens Mailbag, we’ll delve into the subject as if the information was correct.

First off, avoiding a player with first-overall talent would be idiotic, plain and simple. If there’s legitimate concern Michkov will not make his way to North America, then you can understand forgoing a chance at drafting one of the most talented players available in the last five years, but if not, the Canadiens cannot afford to ‘galaxy brain’ the process.

Get out of your own way and draft the most talented player possible. History has shown it rarely backfires.

I have no issue with ignoring draft rankings and choosing a player you think will eventually make the greatest impact, but sometimes teams complicate things needlessly ahead of the draft, and there’s a risk the Canadiens are going down that route.

Nick Bobrov‘s track record, in particular, is rather concerning. He seems to be a great salesman, but the European players he has championed in the past have rarely panned out.

Montreal already reached when they chose Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar in the first round of the 2022 Draft. Not by much, but they still defied most draft rankings by picking them ahead of where they were expected to be drafted.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but given both Slafkovsky and Mesar failed to meet expectations this season, you’d be hard-pressed to argue the strategy looks like it will pay off in spades in the long term.

In this case, I’d simplify things If I were part of Canadiens management.

Drafting based purely on talent (voir: Lane Hutson) and production is usually the best bet. And what Michkov did in the KHL this season is too encouraging to ignore.

Rookie Reinforcements

I know, there are tons of factors to consider, but I see a significant downtick in available talent after the 6th overall pick.

If the Canadiens have the option to draft either Will Smith or Zach Benson with their first overall pick, I’d go that route, without hesitation.

As for the 12th overall pick, I’d suggest a player like Colby Barlowe or Axel Sandin-Pellikka would be a great addition to the prospect pool.

Doldrum Deadline

I get it.

Fans wanted more action, and the deadline itself was rather boring.

Don’t forget, the Gurianov deal should be considered when evaluating deadline moves, and personally, I think that was a tidy bit of business by Hughes and Co,

Injuries handcuffed the Canadiens, that much we know, but I also get the impression Canadiens management is not willing to deviate from their plan.

They set a price for their assets and stick to their guns.

It could end up backfiring (voir: Edmundson), but it could also lead to better returns.

I expect the team to be much busier this summer.

Prospect Push

The only prospect I consider a lock to make his debut with the Canadiens is Sean Farrell.

Expect him in uniform for one, if not both of the last games of the season.

There are, however, other possibilities.

Jayden Struble might be in the mix, and there’s also a chance the Canadiens could sign an unrestricted free agent who is currently playing in the NCAA, convincing him to join the team by burning a year of their entry-level contract in the final game of the schedule, much like they did with Cole Caufield and Charlie Lindgren before him.

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Ron Barry

This was a fun mailbag — great Q&A. Three quickies: 1. I would add Guhle to the ‘untouchable’ list, no questions asked. And, before Dach was injured, he was outplaying Suzuki, period. It may come to pass that he tops Suzuki on the Depth Chart, which is actually very good news for Mtl. Stay tuned. 2. I agree with your take on the upcoming draft — if Michkov is there, take him and run, run, run!!!! Otherwise, one of Benson/Wood is a nice add, as is the Swedish D-man Sandin-Pellikka. 3.I too, am not sold on Bobrov, but Slafkovsky is a Top Six forward, all day. It’s laughable the criticism this 18-year-old has received… you know, the guy who was the NHL’s youngest player this year – the YOUNGEST!!!!! He’s gonna be fine, TYVM.

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