The Montreal Canadiens will have a major challenge of navigating across the competitive Eastern Conference, and it’s not going to get easier for years to come.
The Canadiens are currently in the midst of their rebuild, looking like the weakest link in a surging Atlantic Division that includes former Stanley Cup and President Trophy winners, the potent Toronto Maple Leafs and the resurgent Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
Out of the group, the Detroit Red Wings seem to be stuck in No-Man’s Land, while the Boston Bruins are likely about to enter a retooling phase in the coming years.
That still leaves them with two strong teams in Florida and Ontario to deal with for years to come; with most of those clubs have their core locked in to boot.
NHL sportsbooks in Ontario currently have the Canadiens finishing last in the division, while the Ontario-based clubs, Toronto and Ottawa, are both favoured to make the playoffs this year; the same goes for Tampa Bay and Florida. (Make sure to check out this Ontarian sportsbook guide for more information on the latest lines and how to bet responsibly)
The issue isn’t necessarily about the short-term growing pains for the Montreal Canadiens, but how they hope to keep pace in a division that includes Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophy winners without true superstars of their own.
The answer is likely: by riding the wave, continuing to draft near the top and keeping the club flexible for a big move, not unlike the L.A. Kings.
Emulating The L.A. Kings
The Kings were able to go through a pretty extensive rebuild, despite having franchise cornerstones Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick still on the roster.
The Canadiens seem to be undergoing the same route, but with a much younger veteran group in place to shelter the club.
The Montreal Canadiens are also looking to shed a significant amount of cap space over the next two years, hopefully leaving them with a significant amount of cap space flexibility; opening them up to trade options like the Kings’ acquisition of Kevin Fiala from the cap strapped Minnesota Wild in 2022.
The Kings were once again able to double-down on their quest for improvement via trade, making a move to bring in Pierre-Luc Dubois this summer in exchange for a package of assets and immediately sign him to an expense extension.
Throw in a couple of key free agent signings like Philip Danault (sorry Habs fans), and you have yourself a recipe for success in the long-term.
The Kings are now seen as a surefire playoff candidate and potential Stanley Cup contender if they can figure out their goaltending position.
That seems to be the set play for the moment in Montreal, unless someone can surprise and rise as a true superstar player for the Canadiens.
Patience Will Win the Day
The Montreal Canadiens have already given themselves an incredible base with which to build with, having franchise cornerstones Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki signed for the next seven or more seasons at a number under $8M. They’re not superstars just yet, but they’re the Canadiens’ best chance of developing one in the short-term.
It’s a reality that general manager Kent Hughes and executive vice-president Jeff Gorton have both admitted will be at the crux of their game plan for envisioning the club’s competitive window within the competitive Eastern Conference
It may be a tad pessimistic, but it seems unlikely that this is the year the Canadiens will pull themselves out of the basement of the NHL standings; and that’s fine.
In the long-term, it will simply give the Montreal Canadiens more of an opportunity to acquire top-end youth and open themselves to advantageous deals from cap-strapped teams; allowing the club to build a sustainable winner for years to come.
It just may not come as soon as many may believe.