The Montreal Canadiens are smack in the middle of their rebuild, meaning that expectations for next season must be measured.
The Canadiens are still a ways off from being able to compete regularly for a playoff spot, even with a fully healthy roster.
NHL odds currently have the Canadiens pegged as one of the bottom-five teams in the NHL for this upcoming season, but those may be odds worth betting against if the young club meets expectations this season.
After finishing in the bottom five last season, much of the Canadiens’ struggles were associated with the unnatural number of injuries and man games lost to important players like Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach and Mike Matheson.
The Canadiens needed to make a change, choosing to revamp their medical staff with the additions of Jim Ramsay as Director of Sports Medicine and Maxime Gauthier as the new Head Physiotherapist.
During his time with the New York Rangers, Ramsay was responsible for one of the least injured clubs in the NHL, with the Rangers remaining relatively healthy over his time there, especially over the last few seasons.
There’s no doubt that the organization and the players will welcome new techniques and different approaches as they look to mitigate the risk of injury while also, and this is a big one, healing from injuries and returning quickly at 100% capacity.
Canadiens Need for Secondary Scoring
With over 25 players in the organization aged 23 or younger, the Montreal Canadiens organization will have the youngest group of players in decades attending this training camp.
On one end, it’s an incredible opportunity for the organization to prove the value of their investments in player development and hockey analytics, as they’ll have quite a few youngsters to work with at the NHL level and a literal army of youth to help flourish in Laval.
Although general manager Kent Hughes has tried to make room for some youth in the organization by moving on from Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick, the Canadiens won’t have a very different roster than what we’ve seen from last season.
On a secondary level, but still essential to the rebuild, the Canadiens will be challenged with optimizing the games of high-profile youngsters like Juraj Slafkovsky and Alex Newhook.
If the club is to pull itself out of the bottom of the NHL standings, they’ll not only need their top offensive trio to lead the way, but they’ll need their other youngsters to rise up and provide the secondary scoring the Canadiens sorely lacked last season.
A lot has to go right, but the possibility is surely there.
Although a lack of secondary offense impedes success in the NHL, so too does an inexperienced defensive corps.
Mike Matheson and David Savard are the only veteran presences on the Montreal Canadiens pegged to play a regular role in the lineup this season, with Chris Wideman on the outside looking in.
That leaves Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic, and Justin Barron in a bit of a bind.
After a strong start to the season, the rigours of the grueling NHL calendar began to show in the games of the Canadiens’ defensive rookies, as the Canadiens began to drop games with more regularity in the second half of the season.
Sure, there were pockets of improvement from many of the Canadiens’ young defenders, but consistency, not ability, hampered them down the stretch and saw the club slide down the standings.
The infamous sophomore season is usually no kinder to young players in the NHL, and it is something to take into account when looking to project the possible success and struggles this brigade could face.
Odds Stacked Against the Canadiens
No matter where you look, the expectations aren’t extremely high for the Canadiens this season.
Unlike most of their divisional rivals, they haven’t added any major pieces to their lineup.
They don’t have the star power of clubs like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, or Ottawa Senators.
Nor have they solidified the future of the goaltending position, with Samuel Montembeault looking promising but remaining unproven over a larger sample size.
These are all reasons why sportsbooks like Bodog have the Canadiens as the team with the third-best odds to finish last this upcoming season.
On paper, it does look like the Montreal Canadiens aren’t likely to be a team fighting for a playoff spot by March.
But, if things go even remotely close to the expectations set by general manager Kent Hughes, one would have to think that the Canadiens will be steering clear of the bottom five this season.