Editor’s Note: Now that newcomer Franck Bernard has settled into his role, providing opinion-based articles and prospect coverage for the upcoming season, we would like to welcome yet another author who will contribute to the Montreal Canadiens coverage at Montreal Hockey Now.
Annik Lemire will be joining the team throughout the season to provide her unique, unfiltered, fan-driven opinion regarding various Habs-related events and news.
We’ve circled around the letter ‘R’ for the longest time so let’s just go ahead and call it what it is: a rebuild.
Our organization was ready for a much-needed facelift, beginning with the members of the Canadiens front office. The addition of a two-person leadership group in Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton was the perfect start.
Updating the scouting and development team, not to mention adding a fresh face behind the bench in Martin St-Louis, was yet another encouraging change.
But are the Canadiens starting to see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel?
Montreal Canadiens Reality Check
To borrow from franchise legend Carey Price: let’s chill.
There is still a way to go before the word ‘playoffs’ should even enter the discussion.
I’m seeing this as a Catch-22 situation, and here’s why.
The Habs are stacked with over 15 draft picks in the next two seasons, and they have a deep list of young players waiting to fight for a permanent position in the NHL, but they’re still missing some key elements to be considered a competitive team that has a chance to go the distance.
Scoring goals and having at least two functional forward lines is an important aspect of winning any game, granted.
But what about defence and goaltending? Those get you championships. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got depth at the blue line in guys like Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris, among others.
However, when it comes to prospects such as David Reinbacher, Logan Mailloux, Jayden Struble, Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, and William Trudeau, more time will be needed to allow them enough development runway to become impact players in the NHL.
And unfortunately, that doesn’t happen overnight.
With Shea Weber gone, the Canadiens are still searching for an Andrei Markov-type player to quarterback the powerplay. And though the team skews quite young, which is encouraging, there’s something to be said about having several talented veterans in place to act as role models for the rest of the lineup.
Defence wins championships, and until can safely say there’s a dominant, franchise player in the lineup, there’s a long way to go.
But at the very least, we can be confident the team is heading in the right direction.
The Missing Piece For The Montreal Canadiens
Now, about the last line of defence: goaltending.
As a lifelong Habs fan, this is the only area that truly has me worried.
Our franchise goaltender, Carey Price, will never play hockey again (let’s please allow for a moment of silence while I bawl my eyes out) and we must accept that.
But there’s no denying that goaltending is an area of weakness in the organization. Despite being a great veteran in a lineup that lacks experience, Jake Allen cannot be considered the goaltender of the future.
Ideally, I’d like to see Hughes trade Allen by the trade deadline, though his statistics and injuries will play a big part in determining whether that’s a realistic proposal.
Do I have faith in Samuel Montembeault?
Of course, I do.
He was among the team’s best players last season, and I believe he’s going to be a solid backup.
But until the Habs find someone with a little more pedigree, they are going to struggle to compete. And we can probably forget about another deep playoff run, as was the case in 2020-21 when the Canadiens shocked the hockey world and stole Toronto’s collective souls thanks to Price’s heroic play.
Therein lies the Catch-22 situation.
The Canadiens have talent and depth at most positions, not to mention the type of coach who knows exactly what it takes to win, but they clearly have a few key areas that need to be addressed before fans should realistically expect the organization to take the next step.
Do I think the Habs will finish dead last this season?
The young players in the lineup are eager to evolve, and with a little luck, the lineup will avoid setting yet another record when it comes to man games lost due to injury.
But it’s far too early to start dreaming about adding a 25th Stanley Cup banner to the Bell Centre rafters.
Rather, I’m looking for tangible improvements, a healthier lineup, and ideally, a higher finish in the year-end standings.
That would be more than enough to satisfy this diehard Habs fan’s expectations.
Cover Art via @AlemireDesign on Instagram.