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Habs Mailbag: Learning From The Leafs, Draft Targets, Trades

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Welcome back to another edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag!

This week we discuss some of the lessons the Canadiens can learn from the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2024 Draft targets, potential trades, officiating in the NHL, and much more.


@Eric_Colasurdo asks: Why does (Brendan) Shanahan still have a job?

Our first question doesn’t necessarily involve the Montreal Canadiens, but given the Habs are hoping to one day become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, there are lessons to be learned from the eternal disaster of a sports franchise that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Jokes aside, I don’t think the Leafs are actually a disaster, at least from a roster construction point of view. More than anything, they’re a team overflowing with talent that should have done much better in almost every playoff series in which they participated.

It’s important to remember winning a Stanley Cup is very, very, very, very, very difficult. Good teams fall by the wayside every single year.

If we take a look at the most successful regular season teams in NHL history and remove the Canadiens dynasty teams from the mix, it becomes rather evident that some of the strongest teams in the history of the NHL failed miserably in the playoffs.

The 2022-23 Boston Bruins (135 points) were eliminated in the first round. The 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (131 points), one of the most talented teams in league history, were easily dispatched by their rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, in the Conference Finals. The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning (128 points) failed to win a single game before they were eliminated by a Columbus Blue Jackets team that finished the season with fewer than 100 points.

The history of the NHL is littered with teams that failed to reach their potential.

I’d even suggest the current edition of the Carolina Hurricanes isn’t far off from the same situation plaguing the Leafs. Sure, they’ve managed to win a series or two in the last decade, but given the amount of talent in the lineup, their recent playoff results are the epitome of underwhelming.

Even the Washington Capitals struggled to find playoff success while Alex Ovechkin was in his prime. It took the Capitals a decade of losing in the first two rounds of the playoffs to finally lift the Holy Grail.

It’s the harsh reality of professional sports. You can assemble the best team in the league and still fail miserably in a seven-game series.

As for the Leafs, I’d argue the biggest issue is not goaltending or a lack of defensive awareness. Rather, I would look to their highly-paid forwards as the cause of their most recent demise.

A team with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and John Tavares managed to score a grand total of 12 goals in seven games.

You simply can’t find success in the playoffs by scoring 1.7 goals per game. Nylander should probably be excused from the blame game, as he always performs in the playoffs, and was the only Leafs player who managed to score more than two goals in the series versus Boston. Beyond Nylander, Matthew Knies scored two goals, while everyone else in the lineup scored one goal or less.

And yet, throughout the series, it appeared that Mathews and Co. were perfectly content with their lacklustre performances while they were on the ice.

Things were slightly different on the bench, as Matthews, Nylander, and Marner did show some semblance of emotion, but there was a distinct lack of raw energy when things mattered most.

In other words, they were simply going through the motions during their shifts in a situation that calls for high-energy hockey.

We all saw how Matthews reacted to the Montreal Canadiens targetting him during the 2021 playoffs.

I understand why he smiled as he was getting rag-dolled by Canadiens defencemen who possessed perhaps a tenth of his talent. He wanted to show that he was above post-whistle shenanigans, but here’s the secret to the playoffs: no one is above the post-whistle shenanigans.

The playoffs aren’t about looking cool.

When your opponent pushes you, you have to push back harder. It’s the perfect time to get mad.

Montreal CAnadiens

The Leafs may have one of the most talented lineups in the NHL, but they fail the most important test in every playoff series, which involves forgetting individual success and focusing on playing as a complete unit that will respond to every physical battle with a renewed sense of team unity.

Keep the smiles for the off-season photo shoots.  The playoffs are when you find a new gear by channelling your raw emotions alongside your teammates.

Everyone has to be on the same emotional page, and for that to happen the leaders (and highest-paid players) need to set the tone. Besides, if you’re always responding rather than initiating, there’s very little value from an emotional standpoint.

The Leafs have a lot of skilled players, but they’re far from a team.

They were still thinking about the Habs when they were eliminated in the first round the very next season. That’s the mark of a team that has a very hard time focusing on the task at hand.

The amount of perceived respect you get in a handshake line is beyond irrelevant.

For some reason, the Leafs seem to assume they deserve respect, but there’s no such thing as ‘deserve’ in sports.

If you want respect you have to earn it, and that means winning in the playoffs. Plain and simple.

Fortunately, the Canadiens have shown they can play as a cohesive unit (to a certain extent). They don’t wait for the other team to start the physical play. On most nights, they’re initiating the rough stuff.

That’s not to say the Habs are a better team. We’ve been quite clear as to their current situation. The team has potential, but there’s also a lot of work left to be done before we can consider them to be legitimate contenders.

But if they do manage to add more talent to the lineup, I don’t expect them to go through as many growing pains as the Leafs did.

Thanks to Nick Suzuki’s leadership, the Canadiens locker room chemistry is about as good as it gets, which means they would approach a playoff series as a team, rather than a collection of talented individuals.

I realize that I just rambled for about 1000 words on a throwaway question meant to troll Leafs fans, but I do believe the Habs will be able to avoid most of the same pitfalls that have plagued Brendan Shanahan’s team.


@ODLoutzenheiser asks: With Demidov having virtually no chance to fall to us at 5, who are the Habs taking? Lindstrom? Iginla? Catton?

There’s a significant gap in potential between Demidov/Lindstrom and Catton/Iginla. I project Lindstrom as a game-changing talent, whereas Iginla and Catton are very skilled, but not quite dominant.

If Cayden Lindstrom is still there at fifth overall you will likely see Kent Hughes rush to the podium with the intensity and reckless abandon shown by Brendan Gallagher every night.

MUST READ: Cayden Lindstrom A Prime Draft Target For The Montreal Canadiens

However, if both Demidov and Lindstrom are off the board, I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempts to drop down in the draft to acquire an additional asset before picking Iginla or Catton… or Eiserman.


@SamS_MTL asks If Draisaitl doesn’t re-sign in Edmonton, would a sign & trade package of Ghule, Beck, swap of 1sts next year & Suzuki an overpay for the Canadiens?

First off, I like that you’re focusing on a player of Draisaitl’s ilk. He’s exactly the type of forward the Canadiens need in their lineup.

At first glance, I did not notice Suzuki’s name in the tweet, which made it a rather terrible proposal for the Oilers. But you included a very talented player, a young defenceman with a lot of potential, a pretty good prospect, and an improved first-round pick.

Well done.

You are one of the few fans who understands elite talent like Draisaitl is very difficult to acquire, even in the final year of a long-term contract that leads to unrestricted free agency.

Admittedly, I’m terrible at judging trade proposals, but I would say that’s a decent value offer.

However, I would also suggest other teams around the league would probably offer more. After all, he’s a top-5 player in the league.

And ultimately, the Oilers will absolutely re-sign Draisaitl before it reaches that point. Plus, Suzuki is easily the most important player in the lineup, which would complicate things further.

But good job avoiding a ‘Ryder, Halak, and second-round pick’ type offer!


@cjjd1916 asks: Why don’t more people know Ma Poule Mouillée has the best poutine in Montreal?

On top of having one of the best poutines in the city, it’s reasonably priced, a rarity these days.

Plus the natas are elite.

I have friends who come from Ontario just to pick up two dozen delicious natas to bring them home to their nanas, who were born in Portugal.

That being said, I will remind everyone that the best poutines in Quebec are not located in Montreal.

Far from it.

The lack of chip trucks here leads to a lackadaisical approach to constructing poutines, whereas cities that allow chip trucks tend to have some of the best poutines you’ll ever taste.

Because that’s their only focus.

They’re not a restaurant that also makes poutines. They’re a mobile-poutine delivery system likely conceived by Bacchus himself.

Head to Drummondville, hit up any chip truck, and I guarantee it will be better than anything you ever tasted on the island.

Even the chip trucks in Ottawa provide much better poutines than you get at most restaurants in Montreal.

I would put a Fritomania poutine ($6) up against any and every poutine made in Montreal. It would easily emerge as the better meal in a blind taste test.

And it would cost less.

I realize this may not go over well with long-term Montrealers, especially since people here tend to reject the idea that any other city is capable of providing good food, but it’s simply the truth.

Beyond Ma Poulle Mouillée and a few others, the poutine options in Montreal are incredibly underwhelming compared to the rest of the province and Eastern Ontario.

The shawarma options in Montreal are also fairly lacklustre, but that’s a topic for another day.


@lovehockey_mtl asks What pieces do you think the habs have left to add to their core and any thoughts on who you’d like to fill those spots, either through draft, trade or free agency?

We hit on some of the free agency options recently, and though there are interesting players available, I get the sense the Habs will add talent via trades.

Expect Kent Hughes to swing another pre-draft trade, along the lines of what we saw when he acquired Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook. As for the skaters they may target, we’re working on an in-depth article that will provide a much better breakdown of the available players.

Which means I will have to ask for a little patience. We’re aiming to have the article published relatively soon.


@WallyWest1978 asks With the draft lottery this week and everyone discussing getting one of Demidov, Lindstrom or Iginla, it made we wonder: if simulation theory is real and none of this exists except for in my head, why can’t I just make it so we the Canadiens draft all three of them and even Celebrini?

If this is all a simulation I’d like to focus on setting up a scenario where flying dolphins wearing tuxedos serve us cocktails by the ocean while mangos and baklava magically fall from the sky like manna from heaven.


@connor_trainor asks Are we(Arsenal) winning the league?

I’d like to change my answer to the previous question.

I would first make sure Arsenal wins the league, and then focus on deliciousness via dim sum, baklava, and sushi.

But there is something to be said about how Arsenal and Mikael Arteta have approached the ‘rebuild’. Obviously, we can’t compare soccer to hockey, but they did things the right way from the very moment Arteta was hired.

It involved growing pains and some soul-shattering losses, such as the frustrating Champions League loss to Bayern, but they’re starting to reap the fruit of their labour and the best is yet to come.

A little like the Habs.


@lvaqmdbm asks The NBA, NFL and basketball all have women officials. Will the NHL ever have a woman referee or linesman? Or is the officiating in the NHL too demanding? ( breaking off fights)

This is an interesting question because it touches on one of the physiological realities between men and women, as men have generally evolved to carry more muscle mass on their frames.

Referees aren’t an issue, since they mostly take care of applying the rules. I’d suggest women would be perfect in that role, likely better than the all-male referee cast we have at the moment.

But linesmen are tasked with breaking up fights and other physical altercations, and that’s where things get a little more complicated.

I’ve long supported women being involved in all aspects of professional sports, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of women out there who could handle work as a linesperson.

I would suggest that much like firefighters, there would have to be a certain standard before applicants would be considered.

That physical standard also has to be applied to men who want to become part of officiating crews.

It’s a matter of safety, after all. If they pass the physical test, I don’t see any reason to omit them from contention.

But if you’re worried about women shying away from physical altercations, I would suggest watching a little PWHL hockey. It will quickly erase many of the doubts about their physical prowess.

Not only are these women tougher than nails, but they don’t delve into embellishment, diving, or any other form of theatrics commonly seen in the NHL.

So, yes I do believe the NHL will eventually have women working as referees and linespeople, it’s only a matter of time.


@Vinepure asks Which Canadiens defenceman will go?

The overabundance of talented defencemen is a significant boon for this team, but as you suggested, there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

I have a terrible track record when it comes to predicting player movement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a player like Jordan Harris is moved. I love what he brings to the table, but I get the sense the management group does not share my opinion as to his overall value to the team.

There’s also a strong possibility that the Habs may move a prospect in a trade that would lead to the team acquiring established NHL talent. In that case, I would look to someone like Adam Engstrom or Logan Mailloux as ideal trade bait.

Again, it’s not because I think they’re terrible players. Rather, they actually carry some form of value in the NHL’s trade market.

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Mike P

Completely onboard that with Demidod and Lindstrom gone they will likely trade down. However if Silyaev falls to them, I ‘m unsure what they would do. He would certainly make almost any of their top prospect Dmen replaceable including Guhle. There would likely also be a several teams that would trade up to get Silyaev ex. Calgary, who lost Tanev and Hanifin. Ideally LIndstrom is the player that falls to the Habs.

Mike

I just don’t see the Habs trading a potential top 4 right dman like Mailloux.
He’s not proven enough to get an elite forward, even if a team is desperate for right shot d. Even though Hughes got him, I’d see them moving Barron first IF they’re going to move ANY right shot d.

habbycat

I understand your point, but I think who they would WANT to trade will very likely be different from who they are asked to trade or maybe who they have to trade.
The good news in this is that if it’s a very good player that we wind up trading I think it will likewise be a very good player that we acquire.
Also, I think since they are building the team from the back end out I doubt they will give up that back end talent unless they get am offer they can’t refuse. I trust the management and the process.

Last edited 12 days ago by habbycat
eddy

Nick Suzuki is the most valuable player on the Canadiens and is a great player and great leader, but I am curious. Why is it that every year he has one of the worst plus/minus stats on the team. In the 2018-2020 and 2021-2022 seasons he had the worst plus/minus on the team. In the 2020-2021 and 2022-2023 seasons he had the 6th worse plus/minus on the team and in the 2023-2024 season he had the 5th worst plus/minus on the team.

Peter

Some of it has to do with the top players being on the ice at the end of close games with the goalie pulled – since Montreal isn’t a powerhouse yet they allowed 14 empty goals this season which severely affected Suzuki’s +/-

Peter

It could be worse I see that New Jersey allowed 27 empty net goals.

Peter

That trade proposal is bizarre all of that for one year of Draisaitl! Guhle is 7 years younger and wouldn’t trade him – period! He is an untouchable.Also put Guhle back on the left side and move Matheson to the right.
Also strange to note Draisaitl will make $8.5 million in the last year of his contract which is less than the $9 million Gallegher will be receiving.
The one defenceman that I doubt could make the team next year is Kovacevic and also if Xhekaj is so great (107.2 MPH slapshot) how come he is tied for 7th in points on the Canadiens only ahead of Hutson & Mailloux.

Greg

If the only metric by which you judge defencemen is points, you aren’t watching the games, and if you are, you aren’t seeing what’s going on. That you’re picking on Kovacevic–best +/- on the team–and Xhekaj–one of the most feared men in the NHL, and a damn fine hockey player to boot–over their point production on the 3rd pairing is laughable.
Guhle untouchable? There are maybe a few dozen true untouchable players, and he ain’t one of them. I’d go so far as to day that the Habs have nobody in that category. Might be that Hutson could be special, and other young guys, who knows how they’ll turn out. But as of this second, there isn’t a single Hab I’d call untouchable in the right trade.
Some players, I would demand the world for, but if I got it, bye bye. The last truly untouchable player we had was Roy, and we foolishly dealt him.

DomKing

Trade proposal 1: Habs get John Tavares and Easton Cowan. Leafs get Mike Matheson, Christian Dvorak, Sean Farrell, Habs’ 3rd and 4th round picks.
Trade proposal 2; Habs get Devil’s 1st round pick. Devils get Mike Matheson.
Trade proposal 3: Habs get Trevor Zegras. Ducks get Jordan Harris, Christian Dvorak, Winnipeg 1st round pick, Habs’ 3rd and 4th round picks.
What do you think?