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Canadiens Analysis

Canadiens Rebuild Influenced By Atlantic Division Arms Race



Kent Hughes Habs Montreal Canadiens

Now the NHL Draft is over and the dust has settled on the 2022-23 season, we take a look at what may lie ahead for the Montreal Canadiens.

One of the most common questions we receive in our weekly Habs Mailbag centers on where the Canadiens will end up in the Atlantic Division next season, and if it could lead to yet another high-end pick for Kent Hughes and Co.

The first thing we must establish is that other than the Detroit Red Wings, every team in the Atlantic Division is poised to challenge for a playoff spot. Not every team will qualify for spring hockey, but clubs like the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres will do everything in their power to earn a playoff berth, unlike the Canadiens.

Teams like the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, who may be exiting their Stanley Cup Window, still have much better rosters than the one that will be controlled by Martin St-Louis next season.

The Yzerplan

And now, something is interesting happening in Detroit, as well.

Steve Yzerman may be heralded as a roster-construction genius due to his work in Tampa Bay, and there’s ample evidence to suggest his work with the Lightning was a significant reason why the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups just two years after he left the team to join the Red Wings.

But his work in free agency as Detroit’s general manager has been questionable, at best. Beyond signing former Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot to a four-year contract extension, Yzerman has made a series of high-priced free-agent signings that you rarely see from a team that is undergoing a proper rebuild.

This year, the Red Wings signed both J.T. Compher and Shayne Gostisbehere, with the former signing just a one-year deal with Yzerman’s club, a strong indication that the team thinks he will help them compete for a playoff spot.

On top of it, the trade negotiations between the Red Wings and Ottawa Senators regarding Alex DeBrincat are ongoing, with a deal seeming imminent.

If we also consider that the Red Wings lost patience with Filip Zadina, the 7th overall pick at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and placed him on waivers for the purpose of a mutual contract termination, it’s starting to become clear that the Red Wings are no longer interested in taking the slow approach to becoming a contending club.

Unfortunately, they haven’t added enough talent to break through the Atlantic bubble, but the players they added to the roster should ensure they accumulate more points in the standings than the Habs.

MUST READ: Should the Montreal Canadiens Attempt Another Reclamation Project With Filip Zadina?

The Canadiens, on the other hand, have taken a much slower approach in the last two years. Free agency has led to short-term contracts for role players and AHL depth, and the high-profile names they’ve acquired, such as Alex Newhook and Kirby Dach, have been projects rather than an immediate influx of established talent.

Habs Point Of View

And while there’s certainly reason to think the Canadiens will be an improved club next year, especially if they avoid leading the NHL in injuries by a significant margin again, there are other reasons to believe that yet another basement finish in the Atlantic is a very possible reality.

The Canadiens didn’t just have questionable underlying numbers last season, they produced some of the worst statistics in the NHL over the last few years, and that includes comparing their results to the Canadiens team that finished 32nd in the league in 2021-22.

To give you an idea of how things went last year, the Canadiens controlled just 43 percent of the expected goals (xGF%), 45 percent of the shots (CF%), and 42 percent of the high-danger chances (HDCF%), with all three of the crucial statistics seeing a significant drop compared to the previous season.

And while there’s something to be said about the potential for growth in the Canadiens’ roster, it’s also fair to say they’re a country mile behind the rest of the teams in the Atlantic Division when it comes to their current form, which is why the team’s decision to tear everything down while the rest of the division enters an arms race is perfect timing for a rebuild.

Again, injuries will play a significant role for the Canadiens, but we must also remember that simply replacing the head athletic therapist will not result in an immediate uptick in health for the team, seeing as it’s the same players on the roster as last year.

If the Canadiens can stay healthy, they will win more games than anticipated, but as it stands, they’re clearly the team in the Atlantic Division with the lowest chances of earning a playoff berth, which should lead to yet another high-end pick for the franchise.

It may not be what fans want to hear, but in the long run, adding a very talented prospect at the 2024 Draft will be quite beneficial for the long-term outlook of the Montreal Canadiens.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics via NaturalStatTrick.

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I would not be quick to assume they will be at the bottom. The young guy’s can only get better and it’s hard to imagine them having the same health struggles. I predict a top 10 pick not a top 5 in the 2024 draft.

Curtis Ault

Pretty much what I’m expecting. 8th in the Atlantic but not the worst team in the league. A bit like this last season. Nothing wrong with that during this build.


All depends on the injuries. With just an “average to slightly better than average” injury season regarding lost man games, the Habs will be better than last season. Considerably. I suspect close to or about 90 pts. That would be good for about the 14/15 pick.

If that happens, lots of Habs fans will be “disappointed”…but not me! There’s no reason why we can’t win a little during this journey to competing for a Cup…


They should hire Sutter as a consultant. Sutter coaches Marty, Marty coaches the team, we finish eighth and win The Cup!🤣 okay, maybe not, but team defense would drastically improve on day one. Does wonders for the analytics…


Montreal has been this bad due to injuries and lot of has to do with going to the finals 2 years ago and I believe the same thing now will be happening to Florida (they have a horrific list of severe injuries to deal with) If Montreal hadn’t over 700 games lost to injuries they surely would have at least 10 to 15 more points (on top of that they improved 13 points) Toronto and Tampa have less points last year than the year before and are a slow downward swing. To show how volatile it is Florida finished first in 21-22 with 122 points and fell by 30 points the next year. There is no way Boston is going to repeat or improve on 135 points, especially with the turnover they have (is Bergeron or Krejci coming back?) Also just because someone signs a free agent it is no guarantee that the team will improve – the standings are going to be a lot tighter next year, and there are always surprises.

John Smith

Good points Peter. Fatigued is the main culprit. Load management is essential- especially for the older players. I wonder if management told some of them, “Here’s 2 tickets to to Florida. We’ll see you there next week. Enjoy!” Imagine how this would energize a Gallagher or Monaghan. Just an outside the box idea.

John Smith

I have a theory that one of the main reasons that Montreal suffers so many injuries (even on a “good” year they are usually at best a mid pack team in this area) is due to going on very long road trips that allow the Bell Centre to host concerts/special events. The players tend to get fatigued during this travel period and become more vulnerable to injury. All that it takes is just a few key players going down for there to be a domino like effect. That is, when someone like a Monaghan gets hurt, others have to step up and consequently they get more fatigued. As they do, the odds of being injured magnify. Perhaps this club can have better load management and negotiate better travel schedules in order to maximize player performances and reduce the likelihood of injuries. Just a thought.