Welcome back to another off-season edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag!
We received a lot of questions, which means we’ll be dividing the mailbag into two different articles, just as we did last week.
I’d like to apologize in advance for any typos or stilted sentences. Via Rail is one of my favourite ways of getting around in this country, but their WiFi is just about as reliable as a McDonald’s milkshake machine.
This week we discuss Adam Engstrom’s potential, the defensive group, how I fell in love with hockey, the Alexis Lafreniere dossier, my favourite all-time Habs, and more.
Let’s dive right into it.
What do you think Adam Engstrom’s ceiling is?
— 𝙃𝙊𝘾𝙆𝙀𝙔 𝙉𝙄𝙂𝙃𝙏 𝙄𝙉 𝙈𝙊𝙉𝙏𝙍𝙀𝘼𝙇 🏒 (@HNIMtl) July 17, 2023
Ceiling? Top pairing. But I’d suggest his floor is a little lower than some of the other top defensive prospects. It’s one of those boom or busts situations.
On that note, he has the perfect skill set for the NHL, and his development with Rogle has been very encouraging.
Don’t sleep on Engstrom.
Sleep on a bed.
It’ll be more comfortable.
Hey Marc. How do you see the blue line shaping up to start the year? Assuming Matheson and Savard are the vet locks, that leaves potentially 5 others breaking camp. Although I’m sure the injury bug will show it’s face at some point.
— Terry (@tfish65) July 17, 2023
Terry is hitting on a very important point: there are too many defencemen fighting for too few jobs.
When I wrote my projected lineup I left David Savard as an extra, but we all know that won’t be the case once the actual lineups are doled out.
Mike Matheson and Savard are essentially guaranteed spots, leaving just four active defencemen, and one extra, at most. The Canadiens could decide to ice a team with eight defencemen, but we all know that’s rarely an ideal situation, especially once injuries hit.
So, with that in mind, we have to be realistic about the odds for certain players, and we must keep their waiver eligibility in mind.
I think we can safely say that Kaiden Guhle deserves the benefit of the doubt and that Jordan Harris easily had the most encouraging underlying numbers of any defenceman not named Matheson last season.
Johnathan Kovacevic requires waivers, and seeing as he’s a right-handed defenceman, I’m not certain the Canadiens will want to risk losing him on waivers.
He also had very strong numbers last year.
In my opinion, he should start in the NHL. He’s a good player, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use him as the extra on defence, because I believe he has less potential than some of his Canadiens counterparts.
That leaves us with a decision to make when it comes to Justin Barron, Arber Xhekaj, and Chris Wideman.
For now, this is how I see things playing out. Ignore the pairings. What matters in this case is the players on the roster. I doubt Savard will be used on the top pairing.
Mike Matheson – David Savard
Kaiden Guhle – Justin Barron
Jordan Harris – Jonathan Kovacevic
extra: Arber Xhekaj.
However, seeing as he’s not waiver eligible, I wouldn’t be surprised if Xhekaj was sent to the AHL to enjoy more ice time, while Wideman serves as the seventh defenceman.
Considering all the variables, is there a chance that Carey Peixe will play this season?
— Elthon Aragão (@aragao_83) July 17, 2023
There are no guarantees in life, but I will suggest that there’s a 99.999999% chance Carey Price will never play another competitive game in the NHL.
But I wouldn’t rule out Price returning to the organization to serve in some sort of player development capacity.
Will Gallagher still be on the team once the contention window opens?
Would you trade Habs 2024 top 5 protected first for Lafrenière?
Which journalists, sports or otherwise, inspire you these days?
— Stephen Harris (@mononclesteve) July 17, 2023
1 – Probably not. I know everyone seems to be excited about the status of the rebuild, but for the most part, Kent Hughes has only gone through the easiest part of any rebuild: getting rid of the players that will not be part of the team’s future. Building a competitive team is a whole other can of worms. Adding players like Kirby Dach will help, and we may end up saying the same for Alex Newhook, but in my opinion, the Habs are easily 4-5 years away from being legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders.
2- Absolutely not. There are too many reclamation projects in the works already, and I’m not certain Lafreniere has elite potential left at this point. I’d save the picks and use them on younger players with a higher upside.
3- Christopher Curtis is a journalist that deserves a lot more admiration. He runs one of the most important media outlets in the country: The Rover. I strongly suggest subscribing to the Rover. It’s a great source of independent information, and seeing as traditional media outlets are quickly disappearing, we need to support independent journalism whenever we can.
I would like to know how did you became a hockey fan? 😊
— ☁️ 𝒑𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒊𝒂 (@suzukipizza) July 17, 2023
I’ve told this story before, so I’ll keep it brief.
Relatively speaking, anyhow.
I was lucky and privileged enough to be born into a family that was upper-middle class, which meant we could afford to attend games. I was brought to the Forum when I was very young, as a sort of pilgrimage.
My parents, for the most part, were too busy to do the ‘traditional parenting’ thing by the time I was old enough to show interest in various activities. Unlike my siblings, they never put me in any sort of organized sports, and since we moved very frequently, I went to four different schools in five years. It was clear I lacked any sort of consistency, but beyond that, I never had the opportunity to forge bonds with teammates.
My parents figured out that since I loved hockey, and it provided me with a way to be included with a group of like-minded fans, taking me to a Canadiens game at the Forum was the best way forward.
To be perfectly accurate, I begged them to bring me to the Forum whenever they were in town, and eventually, they acquiesced.
And it worked.
From the moment I saw Patrick Roy make his first save, I was in love with the sport. Mats Naslund is who originally piqued my interest, but Roy is who ensured I would dedicate a significant portion of my life to the fastest game on earth.
The ticket, if I recall correctly, was $12, which is the equivalent of about $25 nowadays.
The game was fine, the Habs beat the Whalers thanks to a pair of goals from Brent Gilchrist, I think, but it was the experience itself that really hooked me.
Everything about the Montreal Forum was epic.
From the seats that were clumsily added to many areas and peered over the sections below, giving everyone a great view of the action, to the overall excitement the moment you finally caught a glimpse of the ice that had once featured players such Canadiens legends as Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, and Guy Lafleur, you could feel the buzz in the air.
Some of you may have heard us old heads refer to the Ghosts of the Forum, and to me, that’s exactly what the ghosts provided. A sense of excitement and bewilderment.
A sense that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
That’s why you’ll often see me complain on social media about the rising costs of tickets.
Hockey used to be a sport that was welcoming to families, but nowadays, families have been priced out. Just parking at the Bell Centre can cost upward of $50, which is ridiculous.
If we really want to claim hockey is our national sport, we need to remind ourselves why it gained so much popularity in Canada in the first place: because it was the people’s sport, a reasonably priced manner in which every class of Canadian could forget about life for a while.
Thoughts on Wu-Tang?
— https://bsky.app/profile/ryanlee.bsky.social (@rylee_mtl) July 17, 2023
I still remember the first time I heard ‘Protect Ya Neck‘. It was their debut song and it had no hook, which was very rare at the time.
It was so raw.
And beyond innovative.
I also admire how Wu-Tang ensured that all the members of the group would be taken care of after they signed with a recording label. They made sure that the label only owned the rights to Wu-Tang songs, not individual songs, which allowed every member of the group, such as Method Man or Ol’ Dirty Bastard, to branch out for themselves.
Anyhow, all this to say, the members of the Wu-Tang Clan are perhaps the most underappreciated artist in recent history.
Marc Dirt McGirt.
Hi Marc! Thanks for doing this! There has been some Lafreniere to the Habs this off-season. Have you heard anything confirming this?
— Patrick Galloway (@ktown78) July 17, 2023
Hey, I just want to point out that I am the lucky one here. All these amazing Habs fans submit great questions, and for some reason they allow me to ramble at length while barely addressing the original questions. I am beyond thankful for all your help and all your support in these mailbags.
As for the Lafreniere subject, there has been almost nothing from reputable sources when it comes to a possible trade to the Canadiens. However, it’s important to note that I try to avoid speculation at all costs, which means sometimes I do miss out on legitimate trade talk, but I don’t think this is one of those times.
Favourite Hab of all-time that you never actually saw play in your lifetime? Mine is Mr. Beliveau
— Bryant Baker (@brybaker19) July 17, 2023
Is it cheating to say Maurice Richard AND Jean Béliveau?
Richard’s societal impact went well beyond his on-ice dominance, and Le Gros Bill’s impact can be found in the thousands of hand-written letters he wrote to fans.
If I have to name just one former Canadiens player, it’s Béliveau.
Few humans embodied class as much as he did. He epitomized greatness, both on and off the ice.
But I would also like to point out that his wife, Elise, may have had a greater impact in Montreal than both the legends I already named. Not only did she share he husband with millions of fans her entire life, but she now also acts as one of the few vestiges of greatness to be found in the organization, a living link to the glory of the past.
In my opinion, Mme Béliveau represents the best of us, the best of hockey, and the best of the Montreal Canadiens.
And she deserves to be recognized as such by the organization.