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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens’ Rebuild Showing Signs of Life Despite Inconsistencies



Montreal Canadiens Slafkovsky and Caufield

The Montreal Canadiens’ rebuild has been a slow burn over the last two years, but, despite some significant inconsistencies, the signs of progress are there.

As with any rebuild, the sharp influx of youth combined with the progressive monetization of veteran players for futures and prospects creates challenges in building a sustainable lineup.

It’s one of the main reason why the Canadiens management haven’t mentioned a word of the NHL playoffs since their disastrous 2022-2023 season: the team is simply not there.

But, thanks to the much-needed development of some top youngsters, and a few other surprises along the way, the club looks to be heading in the right direction.

Getting Worse Before It Gets Better

The problems ran deep at the Bell Centre with significant change needed to make the struggling Canadiens competitive again; requiring overhauls in coaching strategy, developmental process and organizational culture to return to their winning ways.

With the hires of  Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis, the organization made a choice to try something different this time around and focus their attention on development; rather than finding the quick fixes that have plagued the long-term viability of their success in the past.

But, changing the ethos of a franchise that has lost most of their core in such a small amount of time can be a painful process that is riddled with inconsistency. It’s often a point that is overlooked by fans who underestimate the amount of scar tissue that builds up on the back of being the division’s whipping boys.

The club has been consistent in shipping out veteran players that no longer fit their competitive window, in exchange for picks and prospects; and they’re certainly not done yet.

The acquisitions of players like Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook; as well as the drafting of top youngsters like Juraj Slafkovsky, Lane Hutson, Owen Beck and more will only help to eventually lift the Canadiens out of the basement of the NHL standings.

But in how long?

The signs

Let’s fast forward to the end of 2023 and we can observe tangible signs of growth, despite the significant inconsistency of having one of the youngest teams in the NHL. This isn’t to suggest they will challenge for the Stanley Cup anytime soon though. A quick look at the latest NHL betting lines shows that they have a long way to go in terms of winning silverware having been priced at +12500 to win the greatest prize in the National Hockey League.

Improvement doesn’t always have to be viewed in the context of how close a team is to being Stanley Cup champions.

Instead, a better barometer to use in the Montreal Canadiens’ case is how difficult they are to beat. The encouraging truth is that St. Louis’ team have shown far more character when trailing in games. Indeed, the desire not to lose has become fierce and this was shown, perhaps ironically, during a recent loss to the the MinnesotaWild.

In fact, the Canadiens have had 26 of their last 45 games decided by one goal, meaning that, more often than not, the club can measure up with the best in the league on any given night.

Captain Nick Suzuki has led the charge so far this season, improving on his offensive output with 37 points in his last 45 games, all while putting up some of the best defensive stats in the NHL at even strength.

With captain Suzuki holding down the Canadiens’ top line with Caufield and Slafkovsky, the trio has begun to impose their mark, game after game. They’ve begun making significant differences for the Canadiens, recently propelling the team to a gutsy wins against the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils over the last week.

Slafkovsky’s rapid progression has to be one of the more encouraging trends of the 2023-2024 season, with the 19-year-old leading the Canadiens in even-strength production since being promoted to the top line in December. Similarly, the re-emergence of Caufield, who now has seven goals in his last 11 games this season, has also been a welcomed sight; due in large part to the growing chemistry of the Canadiens’ top young trio.

However, as evidenced by some embarrassing losses to the San Jose Sharks and the Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens, the NHL’s second-youngest team, has shown it still has a ways to go before that can reach the next level.

As the club continues to look for growth and progress, the success of that top line will be at the forefront of the overall evaluation, and, over the last month, the prognosis has to be a positive one.


How Can The Montreal Canadiens Take The Next Step?

The likes of Kaiden Guhle, Jayden Struble, Jordan Harris and even Arber Xhekaj with the Laval Rocket have also shown significant progress over the last few months; while Lane Hutson continues to hone his craft in the NCAA and David Reinbacher receives prime minutes in Kloten.

The Montreal Canadiens’ defence seems to be in good hands, but scoring seems to be the real issue they need to rectify before they can take the next step.

At his most recent press conference, general manager Kent Hughes mentioned that the club was cognizant of its need to improve their goal-scoring abilities and develop their youngsters further to help them score on a more regular basis.

With major injuries to Dach and Newhook, much of the team’s focus has been on helping their top line reach new heights, while also helping along the youngest defensive brigade in hockey to reach some level of stability.

Hughes didn’t rule out a trade or two in the offseason to help provide a boost to the lineup, as Suzuki seems to be the only player destined for more than 65 points this season. It may end up being a career year for the young captain, but, if the Canadiens are ever going to pull themselves out of the basement of the NHL standings, it’s going to require far more firepower to support their young defence and burgeoning goaltender, Samuel Montembeault.

This can begin at the NHL Trade Deadline, where veterans like Sean Monahan, Jake Allena and even David Savard are rumoured to be in play. Getting some good trade chips and/or valuable prospects in return would not only help the Montreal Canadiens in their quest to acquire an impact forward this summer, but also likely sees the club slide firmly into the bottom-10 of the NHL Standings, assuring them the ability to select an interesting forward prospect at the 2024 NHL Draft.

One thing’s for sure, the signs of progress are there, but, what happens over the next six months will go a long way in defining what comes next for the Canadiens as they try to get back into the playoffs next season.