It’s been over two years since the Montreal Canadiens put together an incredibly entertaining playoff run, culminating in a Stanley Cup final appearance versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And yet, when taking a look at the current roster, it’s quite clear how quickly things change.
Of the 24 Canadiens players that were part of the playoff roster in 2020-21, just seven remain in the organization: Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Joel Armia, Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher, Jake Evans, and Jake Allen.
There’s a possibility the number dwindles prior to the start of the season, seeing as Kent Hughes has mentioned he’s still interested in creating additional cap space, as to weaponize its value throughout the league.
For now, we can take a look at the 17 players that have since left the organization, to get a better idea of whether they found greener pastures.
Trade by the Canadiens
Tyler Toffoli was perhaps the most impactful player to only spend one complete season with the Canadiens. Not only did he lead the team in scoring that year, but he was also great in the playoffs, earning 14 points in 22 games.
His trade to the Calgary Flames was a clear signal by Hughes that the Canadiens had entered a rebuild in earnest. For the record, the Canadiens chose Slovak forward Filip Mesar with the first-round pick the Flames used to acquire Toffoli.
Toffoli kept up his impressive scoring pace with Calgary, leading them in scoring last season with 73 points in 82 games, but it was not enough to drag the Flames to the playoffs.
Consequently, the Flames traded Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils, though they did not receive as much value in return as the Canadiens did. The Devils sent a third-round pick as well as the signing rights for left winger Yegor Sharangovich to the Flames to secure Toffoli’s services.
With all due respect to Chiarot, the trade that sent him to the Florida Panthers was easily one of the best-value trades in recent Canadiens’ history.
Again, I don’t want to take away anything from Chiarot’s effort during his time with the Habs, but let’s just say that his results were far from encouraging.
Getting a first-round pick and a serviceable prospect (Emil Heineman) from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Chiarot is the type of trade that general managers dream about on a nightly basis.
Chiarot went on to play just 21 regular season games for the Panthers, who were hoping to make a strong push into the playoffs once they bolstered their ranks with Chiarot. Florida was eliminated in the second round, with Chiarot earning just one assist in 10 games.
He then quickly signed a rich, four-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings, which comes with a $4.75 million annual average value.
Though the Habs did end up trading Shea Weber’s contract to the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s a lot more accurate to suggest that Weber had essentially retired by the point the Habs made the Stanley Cup final
Or rather, most people would have, because few can deal with the type of pain that Weber endured every night.
And yet, he powered through, coming closer to the holy grail of hockey than he did at any other point in his entire career.
For the record, even though he had been dealing with a serious foot injury for years, Weber still managed to play over 25 minutes per game during the Canadiens’ run.
Just as the Canadiens were lucky to receive a great asset in exchange for Chiarot, they also managed to move Edmundson before his value completely tanked.
That’s not to say Hughes received a significant return when he traded Edmundson to the Washington Capitals for a third and seventh-round pick, especially since the Canadiens had no choice but to retain half his salary, but statistically speaking, Edmundson brings negative value to the table. We also need to consider he is dealing with chronic back injuries, which is always very difficult for any athlete, let alone a hockey player.
Turning Jeff Petry into Mike Matheson was a masterclass in asset management by Hughes.
Re-acquiring him alongside a second-round pick while sending Mike Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks without retaining any salary was also a very smart deal.
Unfortunately, the final chapter of the Petry saga in Montreal did not end with a great result, as Hughes preferred to register public relations points by sending him to the Detroit Red Wings and also retaining 50 percent of his remaining salary.
Of course, Gustav Lindstrom and the fourth-round pick the Habs received are still assets, but they’re not exactly what you’d describe as high-value resources.
You know that scene in Good Will Hunting when Ben Affleck finally realizes that Matt Damon’s character had moved on? He was happy for his buddy, but he was also sad knowing that a chapter in his life had closed.
Well, that’s kind of how many Habs fans feel now that Artturi Lehkonen has found a new home with the Colorado Avalanche. Not only did he immediately win a Stanley Cup, he quickly signed a five-year contract extension which pays him $4.5 million per season.
If you believe Lehkonen and the Avalanche are set to win another Stanley Cup in the near future, you can bet on it by using a regulated sports betting application in Ontario.
The 2024 second-round pick the Canadiens received in return for Lehkonen still has the potential to turn into a good player, and Justin Barron still projects as an interesting prospect, but now that we have all witnessed what Lehkonen can do with a competitive roster, it’s quite clear he was underrated during his time with the Habs.
It took a couple of trades, but Hughes somehow managed to turn Alexander Romanov into Kirby Dach, which, from a statistical viewpoint, is akin to turning a bar of copper into a bar of gold.
Romanov was quite entertaining, and quickly became a fan favourite, but his defensive numbers were atrocious, and his offensive prowess was very limited.
It’s safe to say the majority of Canadiens fans are happy with the result of the Romanov trade tree.
Brett Kulak was a fantastic player for the Canadiens. He provided great value while also performing at a high level alongside Jeff Petry. He was the epitome of an underrated blueliner.
When the team moved him to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a second-round pick, some suggested it wasn’t an ideal return. And to a certain extent, they were right.
But that second-round pick ended up being none other than Lane Hutson, one of the most exciting prospects in the entire hockey landscape.
Kulak is the gift that keeps giving, especially when we consider he was originally acquired from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina.
Signed With Other Teams
Six of the players who went to the Stanley Cup final in 2020-21 ended up signing with other teams: Corey Perry (Tampa Bay), Phillip Danault (Los Angeles), Eric Staal (Minnesota), Jonathan Merril (Minnesota), Tomas Tatar (New Jersey), and Erik Gustafsson (Chicago).
You’d be hard-pressed to say letting Phillip Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings was anything but a shortsighted decision by general manager Marc Bergevin, especially since he turned around and spend a first and second-round pick to acquire underwhelming center Christian Dvorak from the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes would end up choosing talented forward Filip Bystedt with the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2022.
We should also note that both Merril and Gustafsson went on to enjoy a decent amount of success, even if they were considered tertiary members of the Canadiens lineup that season.
As for Perry and Staal, they both participated in a Stanley Cup final since leaving the Habs, whereas Tatar had two relatively impressive seasons in New Jersey.
Miscellaneous Canadiens Moves
The writing was on the wall when it came to Kotakniemi’s time with the Habs. Not only had he been benched during the playoffs, which is something he shares with sniper Cole Caufield, but he also showed clear frustration with his usage once he made his way back into the lineup.
And I can’t say I blame him. The Canadiens were not talented enough to afford to have players like Kotkaniemi or Caufield watching from the press box, despite their surprising success on the ice.
The Canadiens chose not to match the Hurricanes’ offer sheet, which was probably the right decision. Unfortunately, the list of players the Canadiens signed following Kotkaniemi’s departure was littered with overpaid and underwhelming veterans.
Paul Byron and Carey Price
Weber wasn’t the only player that was literally on his last hockey legs.
Unfortunately, both Byron and Price played their final NHL games during the Stanley Cup final run in 2020-21. They’re surely disappointed by how close they came to finally winning a Stanley Cup, but at the very least, they can be proud that they went out on their shield.
Price will long be remembered for stealing Mitch Marner’s soul, whereas Byron’s knee-to-knee, shorthanded, one-handed goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs is how legends are born.
Both players could end up playing a role with the team in the future. As it stands, it seems like Byron is interested in playing a role in the player development side of things, which would be an ideal job for one of the most affable players to ever take to the ice in the NHL.