After starting the season strong, the young Montreal Canadiens have begun their slide down the standings; giving management a very clear idea of what is needed to reach the next level in their rebuild.
Having dropped eight of their last 11 games, the Canadiens currently find themselves in 25th place in the NHL standings.
The club is starting to find themselves exactly where early-season NHL betting odds had them finishing this season.
Injuries to key players like Kirby Dach and David Savard haven’t helped, but the clubs over-reliance on otherworldly goaltending and overtime heroics have exposed clear holes that still need to be filled before this club can begin to take the next step.
The Canadiens find themselves in a bind, as they continue to play an open, offensive style, which puts their defensive brigade and goaltending in trouble on counter-attacks or rush offence.
The resounding observation from the first quarter-or-so of the season: The Canadiens forward corps needs an overhaul and injection of elite talent if they’re going to play this kind of style effectively.
Too many cooks
The Montreal Canadiens have too many bodies in their bottom-six at the moment that will not serve the club in the future.
A roster littered with NHL veterans taking up prime spots on the Canadiens’ bottom six, while prospects in Laval continue to show interesting offensive ability.
Granted, Joshua Roy and Sean Farrell should remain in Laval to ensure they’re 100% ready to make the jump when the time comes, but Jesse Ylönen and Rafael Harvey-Pinard are in the NHL and deserve a chance to shine.
For the Canadiens’ rebuild to take the next step, some of these players will have to be moved by this summer to not only free up cap space, but also precious roster space for deserving prospects to make the jump.
General manager Kent Hughes was able to pull off such a move last season with a three-way deal that saw Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick moved to make room for Ylonen and Harvey-Pinard.
One should expect another one of these moves down the line to give the club a much-needed injection of youth; perhaps as early as the NHL Trade Deadline.
Pearson will likely be a Trade Deadline trade chip, but one shouldn’t rule out the possibility of seeing Dvorak’s name in the rumour mill come February, as he only has one year left on his contract after this season at $4.45M.
Speed Up The Middle
The loss of Kirby Dach hurts this team in many ways, as it exposes the organizational lack of offensive centermen that could push the pace in the modern NHL.
Nick Suzuki and Sean Monahan have done well, given the circumstances, of holding the ship afloat, but you can’t expect such a duo to take over the pace of a game against the top centers in the NHL for the foreseeable future.
Even the Laval Rocket lack this type of player in their ranks, and the Canadiens’ prospect pool doesn’t have that type of player either, outside of potentially Owen Beck.
Having spent a considerable amount of future capital on defencemen since coming in as general manager, the center position is the one in need of the biggest jolt.
The acquisition of Alex Newhook was supposed to offer the club depth at that position, but his stint down the middle proved that the 22-year-old is a much better winger than a center.
For the club to have long-term success, the most important position in hockey needs to become an organizational strength, one where the Canadiens have the talent and depth to overcome devastating injuries.
The lack of quality centers in the organization has made the debate around the future of Sean Monahan that more heated, as his importance to the club only increased after the loss of Dach; but extending Monahan would be a Band-Aid solution for an organizational problem that dates back decades.
For the Canadiens to have measured success, the centerline has o become a position of strength, not only in the NHL, but in Laval and on their Reserve List.
A lack of finish
The Montreal Canadiens have one of the deepest pools of U-23 defencemen in the NHL at the moment. They may be significantly inexperienced and left out to dry on most nights, but those are the growing pains of a young defensive corps.
On the flipside, the quality of the club’s forward corps, organizationally speaking, is severely lacking. Notwithstanding the lack of offensive-minded centres in the pipeline, it’s a notable lack of goal-scoring that has continued to hinder the Canadiens for decades.
It’s no secret, the last time the Montreal Canadiens had two 30-goal scorers on the team at once was the 2015-2016 seasons, when Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty both reached the milestone in the final game of the season.
Having Nick Suzuki, Juraj Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook is a good base, but it lacks another true game-breaking goal-scorer in the same age range to keep up with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and more.
It’s become evident when watching the gameplan of opposing clubs, especially when the Montreal Canadiens are on the road and cannot benefit from the last change: Simply nullify the Canadiens’ top line and you’ve won the game, unless it goes to overtime.
Scoring an average of 2.4 goals per game in regulation is not going to win you hockey games on a consistent basis, and it cannot all be blamed on the loss of one player (Dach).
This is where the need for more quality is required, because the Canadiens have the forward depth; what they need and the fanbase has been clamouring for, is a true gamebreaker.
They might already have one in Cole Caufield, but, like any consistent offensive unit in the NHL, you need more than one.
Youngsters on defence like Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron have shown solid upward progression over the last two seasons, with the likes of Lane Hutson, David Reinbacher, Jayden Struble and more waiting in the wings.
It seems like, at least on the back-end, the Canadiens are seeing progress across the board, but the same cannot be said at forward; with only a handful of players like Joshua Roy, Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach showing true progression over the last two seasons.
With the way things are going, the Canadiens are trending to have only two players, Caufield and Suzuki, breaking the 60-point plateau and three forwards over the 50-point plateau; a carbon-copy repeat of where the team was last season at this time.
What’s more concerning this year, however, is that no member of the Montreal Canadiens is trending toward a 30-goal season at this junction and scoring has begun to dip after a fiery start to the year.
Calling up Joshua Roy to try and salvage the season would do the club or the player absolutely no favours; there is no quick fix for this problem this season.
To compensate for the lack of goal-scoring ability in the short-term, head coach Martin St-Louis is promoting a vision of a scoring by committee, but that can only get you so far in the dog days of the NHL calendar.
Be it via the draft or trade, the priority is quite simple for general manager Kent Hughes moving forward: acquire at least one top offensive talent that could help this team rival with the best for years to come.
The ball is now in their court.
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