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Canadiens Analysis

Canadiens Analysis: Lessons From The NHL’s Final Four

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Montreal Canadiens Dallas Stars

While the Montreal Canadiens prepare to take the next step in their rebuild, the four remaining teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs offer some important insight as to what it takes to win in the NHL.

We’ve already established a team should have strong underlying numbers if they hope to qualify for springtime hockey. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and this season the exception comes in the form of the New York Rangers.

They were not one of the top teams according to their possession metrics, and they continue to struggle to maintain strong numbers in the playoffs. They’re currently controlling less than 45 percent of the shots and 46 percent of the expected goals.

However, they’ve produced some of the best goaltending numbers, as evidenced by their 93.2 percent team save percentage. As we noted in the previous article, they also have some of the best special teams in the league. Combined with their elite goaltending, the great special teams’ play is enough to keep them well above water despite the poor underlying numbers at 5v5.


It’s a lot more difficult to win via special teams and goaltending, as those stats tend to be less sustainable than strong 5v5 play, but it’s a good reminder that there are no ironclad rules to follow when it comes to building a winning team in the NHL.

Some guidelines should be respected, to a certain extent.

For example, some teams rely on high draft picks to build a Stanley Cup-contending team. Teams such as the Edmonton Oilers were handed two of the best players in the league via the Draft (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), and that has certainly given them a strong foundation on which to build upon.

But we also have to remember that Draisaitl and McDavid were drafted in 2014 and 2015, respectively. This means that despite being handed a gift from the hockey gods as a recompense for their incompetence during the regular season, the Oilers are yet to reach a point in the playoffs that would suggest they have capitalized on their once-in-a-lifetime advantage.

The same can be said about the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were gifted one of the best players in the league in Auston Matthews, but they’ve achieved roughly as much playoff success as that rotting bag of kale you bought months ago thinking you were going to start eating healthier.

Some teams achieved success via the Draft.

The Chicago Blackhawks are a perfect example.

But once again, we have to remember the Hawks last won a Stanley Cup in 2015.

Chasing the Stanley Cup ‘meta’ is a fool’s quest. By the time you catch up to the teams that won years ago by following the same blueprint, a new meta will be in place.

Essentially, if you spend all your time chasing, you will have very low odds of leading the pack.

Montreal Canadiens Draft Value In Context

We’re not going to suggest drafting among the top 5 is a bad thing, but it does not guarantee playoff success.

Take a look at the Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers’ draft record in recent years and you’ll quickly realize they built their teams via strong drafting beyond the top 5, not to mention timely trades and crucial free-agency signings.

The Panthers have only drafted in the top 10 twice in the last 10 years (Aaron Ekblad – first overall in 2014, Owen Tippett – 10th overall in 2017). For the record, Sasha Barkov was drafted second overall in 2014, just missing out on the arbitrary 10-year cut-off we put into place.

But none of those players are the ones leading the charge for the Panthers.

Carter Verhaeghe, currently second in team scoring, signed as a free agent.

Matthew Tkachuk, one of the most dominant playoff forwards and the team’s current leading scorer, was acquired in the trade that sent Jonathan Huberdeau to the Calgary Flames.

As for the Stars, they’ve had some excellent draft hauls, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue they were given an easier path to the Stanley Cup due to their draft positions.

Miro Heiskanen was drafted third overall in 2017, but key players such as Wyatt Johnston (23rd overall, 2021), Roope Hintz (49th overall, 2015), Jason Robertson (39th overall, 2017), and Logan Stankoven (47th overall, 2021) were chosen much later.

The Stars insulated their strong drafts by acquiring players such as Tyler Seguin and Evgeni Dadonov for pennies on the dollar in the NHL’s trade market, a lot like the Vegas Golden Knights did prior to winning the Stanley Cup last season.

Brass Tacks

Simply put, there are no guarantees in professional sports. And there are no perfect teams to emulate.

But given that the Montreal Canadiens are set to draft in the top 5 for the third consecutive season, it stands to reason that compared to most successful NHL teams, the Habs have already received a significant boost via the NHL’s Entry Draft.

The Draft can no longer be considered the only saviour of this franchise. At least not when discussing Juraj Slafkovsky, David Reinbacher, and whoever they’ll pick fifth overall at the 2024 Draft. Those picks have to hit, but Kent Hughes and Co. cannot rest on their laurels with three top prospects in the fold.

It will take smart trades, quality mid-round drafting (voir: Lane Hutson), strong underlying numbers, some luck, and a few shrewd free-agent signings to push the Montreal Canadiens to the next level.

And most importantly, it will take time.

Perhaps more time than some are anticipating at this point in the rebuild.

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Alex

They need to hit a home run with a big trade. Somebody that will solidify the offense.

Peter

Funny that Carter Verhaeghe was drafted by the Leafs.So if Montreal would have taken Tkachuk instead of Kotkaniemi how closer would they be to the holy land? Reminds of the baseball draft in 1971 when the Expos picked Dan Warthen 28th and the next 2 picks by KC & the Phillies were George Brett & Mike Schmidt!

c

Peter

I am glad Tkachuk isn’t a Canadien.Interesting that Tkachuk has played more than 200 more games than Caufield, but he is yet to play in the post season while Caufield has 20 times.

Dana

In a recent article on 2014redrsft, Ekblad wasn’t in the top 10. So it’s one thing to get a great pick, but you can’t make big mistakes- wouldn’t Leon look great on that roster instead!? Eckblad was the consensus top pick so it’s hard to blame Florida for taking the exceptional player status, consensus number 1 pick. Hughes decided not to take wright and it looks more and more like it was a great decision.

Habs getting Roy and Hutson far below their talent level was a big win like Dallas plus Xhekaj undrafted puts us on a par with them. Caufield at 15 was good and getting Dach for pennies has the potential to be the highest impact move Hughes has made. I don’t think newhook is better than his draft position and I don’t think he has the ceiling Dach does but he was a good acquisition.

I agree Alex, they need a premier offensive forward to be aquired outside of the draft and a home run at the draft table this year would be such a huge win ( and 2 great picks would be an enormous catalyst in a few years)

Hughes is forging his own path as land its as unique as theirs were.

This year if Dach, Roy and Hutson all play the season, we should expect at least 10 more points and maybe 15 as the D is a year older and the crease has been resolved. That puts us in the playoff hunt. I’m an optimist but not unjustifiably so

Jay

MB once said “there are players who get you to the playoffs, and those that get you through the playoffs.” In this, I think he was right because the playoffs are such a long, grueling affair, especially after a long season. This means that a generally larger, stronger and mentally tougher set of players is a must to survive the grind. And no that doesn’t mean that talent doesn’t count; nor does it mean that the biggest team wins the CUP. It is obviously a subtle combination of talent, size, desired and mental toughness. When the Habs made it to the Cup a number of years ago it was partly because they had a defense full of large, strong players who made life miserable for their opponents forwards. However, they lost the Cup finals because Tampa Bay was infinitely more talented. I think HuGo understand that; their choice of Slaf was predicated on this philosophy and I think it will dictate their choice in the draft.

Hard Habits

I think it is patently absurd to think that any player that can get you through the playoffs couldn’t get you to them.

Barring a few exceptions (Blues, Kings, Bruins), every Cup in the past 25 years has been won by a team that finished top 5.

Derek Papineau

Have you not been watching the leafs? You need guys that know how to step up their game in the playoffs, Bergevin understood that, his issue was that he had an entire team of them, but they are big game players who have a hard time getting hyped for an 82 game long regular season.

Josh

too bad the Canadiens couldn’t get someone like Dadonov

Sal

They had Dadonov and he was a bust.

j b

You think Barkov, with 15 points in 14 games, is not among those leading the charge for the Panthers?

mikeysl

Marc- In your article(s) you are always including the need for patience. I am afraid it falls on deaf ears in this fan base. Habs are effectively in year 2.5 of the rebuild and MANY fans are screaming about how they MUST make the playoffs. Matheson is untouchable, Xhekaj is untouchable, Caufield is untouchable….
In 20-21 Huberdeau had 115 points and was 27 yrs old. In this market he would be another “untouchable”. Yet Florida traded him for a 24 yr old Tkachuk who had a 100 point season (many believing it was an outlier). That is a bold move. It is the type of move we cant be afraid of making AND need to be careful about timing.

I REALLY hope the management doesnt listen to these braying donkeys and go for some quick fix UFA (overpriced like reinhart/marchessault) or hang on to a player too long (like petry) in the quest to reach the mushy middle. You have to continue to improve, so no more bottom 5 picks, but a lottery pick and missing the playoffs while improving and acquiring talent is a GOOD thing. If we get a little steeper development and grab a WC spot… GREAT.
Setting unrealistic expectations (caufiled will score 50 goals!!) only creates more frustration.

Sal

The Habs need to increase their possession time and become more efficient at exiting their own zone. Their goaltending is not in the same league as the Rangers. So, they can’t rely on goaltending alone to remedy the possession/zone exit issue. Remember, they lost a ton of games by a point. Improving in these areas should result in 10 or more points per season. Fixing those issues alone will not take them far in the playoffs. They need a couple of high-end scorers.

Last edited 20 days ago by Sal