It was a disappointing 2017-18 for the Montreal Canadiens after finishing first in the Atlantic Division the year prior, the Habs finished in sixth place this year missing the playoffs. Things started out rough for Montreal and never really changed as the season went on. They went 4-7-1 in October and only surpassed four wins in a month one time, with an 8-5-2 record in November.
The Canadiens signed Carey Price to an eight-year $84-million contract extension on July 2, 2017. Following the new deal, Price had one of the worst seasons of his career statistically. He battled injuries all season with a lower-body injury that caused him to miss the majority of November. He then sustained a concussion in February that held him out for 13 more games.
Price had a season record of 16-26, a GAA of 3.11 and an SV% of .900, both of which were career lows for the star netminder. But the goaltender wasn’t the only issue for the Canadiens this year.
Montreal finished with the fourth worst record in the NHL in 2017-18 with 71 points (29-40-13). They had the third fewest goals for per game average with 2.52, and they fell in the top 10 for goals-against with an average of 3.15.
They fell in the middle of the league in powerplay percentage at 21.2% but had the second worst penalty kill at 74.1%.
The leading scorer for Montreal was Brendan Gallagher with 54 points (31G-23A) and only one other player reaching 50 points with Alex Galchenyuk hitting 51 (19G-32A). Newly acquired Jonathan Drouin finished third on the list with 46 points (13G-33A) while playing in 77 games. It was a drop-off year for him, after putting up 53 points (21G-32A) with Tampa in just 73 games the year prior.
Three things that need to change
1. Centre Depth
The Canadiens came into this season not knowing who their top line centreman was going to be. There was the talk of whether is should be newly acquired Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk who held the role through parts of the season past.
The issue was that Galchenyuk is not a true centre but a left-winger. Montreal finished the year with Drouin, in fact, anchoring the first line and Galchenyuk the second-line LW. The remaining lines were carried with Jacob De La Rose, Logan Shaw and Michael McCarron down the middle. Neither Shaw nor De La Rose are true natural centres.
There are only three true centres on the roster for Montreal. Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin and Byron Froese which limits the quality of options for the Habs to build their line-up around. Especially with Danault, De La Rose and Shaw all being RFA’s heading into July.
The GM is the one responsible for the calibre of talent that is put on the ice night in and night out. It is an understatement to say that Bergevin has made some questionable decisions since taking on the role in 2012.
Whether it be trading PK Subban for Shea Weber, a defenseman four years older than Subban who hasn’t brought the same production or fire as Subban or letting Alex Radulov walk out the door and sign a 5-year $31.25 million deal with the Dallas Stars.
Radulov totalled 54 points (18G-36A) for the Canadiens in 2016-17 in 76 games. Through 82 games with the Stars this year, Radulov made Habs fans jealous, with 72 points (27G-45A).
Bergevin has been known to make questionable free-agent decisions as well. Last off-season he signed Karl Alzner to a 5-year $23.125 million deal. Alzner played in all 82 games scoring one goal and adding 12 helpers. He also finished with a -7 +/- rating.
After trading for Andrew Shaw in 2016, Bergevin signed the gritty winger to a 6-year $23.4 million deal. The Canadiens value Shaw’s toughness but signing him to a six-year contract at just $600,000 less than Max Pacioretty who is one of if not the team’s best point producer is ludicrous. Since signing the deal, Shaw has played in a total of 119 games with Montreal producing 49 points and 163 PIMs.
Add all of that to the fact that the Montreal GM set his team up with one proven centremen entering the 2017-18 season; the team was almost set up to fail with no real depth down the middle. Bergevin’s time in La Belle Province may soon be up if he doesn’t turn things around fast.
3. Add a puck-moving D-man
Since losing Andrei Markov to the KHL last season, the Habs have been missing a defender who can move the puck well. In recent years they have seemed to do a good job of letting defenders go while not bringing in capable replacements.
Montreal finished the year with a defensive grouping of David Schlemko, Jeff Petry, Karl Alzner, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Brett Lernout. Weber and Victor Mete finished the year injured and out of the line-up.
Jeff Petry was the only Canadiens’ defender to eclipse 20 points this season, hitting 42 (12G-30A). The Habs could definitely use some offence from their blue-line and should be one of the many priorities for them this offseason.
Three things not to change
1. Carey Price
Despite the goaltenders’ injury issues and career low year, it’s far too soon to give up on the Vezina calibre net-minder. Price has been the backbone for Montreal since 2008.
Price has the most games played by a Canadiens’ goaltender, breaking the record this past season with 558 GP. He is third in wins by a Montreal goalie with 286 behind Patrick Roy and Jacques Plante. He also falls in the top five with 46 shutouts behind Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and George Hainsworth.
After signing the massive six-year contract extension, last offseason is another reason it would not only be unwise but difficult to move on from Price.
Unless Marc Bergevin can find a way to make a trade that brings in multiple pieces that help the team win now, it’s best to build around the one piece that has been more than stable for the franchise over the last decade.
2. Claude Julien
Claude Julien has done a pretty solid job in his second coaching stint with the Montreal Canadiens.
After coaching the remaining 24 games of the 2016-17 season with a 16-7-1 record, the Canadiens did lose in the first round of the playoffs. His combined record over the last year and a half is 45-47-13.
But Julien brings something other than just numbers to the organization. He coaches more of a possession style play not forcing the team to place all their weight on Carey Price. As mentioned earlier I see Marc Bergevin as a bigger issue, and if he doesn’t supply Julien with the pieces to allow his system to work then it will struggle.
I think Claude Julien needs to be given the opportunity to put his plan in motion before being deemed apart of the problem.
3. Aggressive play
Montreal found themselves right in the middle of the pack in terms of PIMs and average penalty minutes per game. They’ve found a way to be a bit more of an aggressive team especially under Claude Julien.
It’s something that they haven’t quite solidified yet but something that they can continue to build on. With players like Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw they definitely have some guys on the team who aren’t afraid to get physical if needed.
If they can add another player or two who can lay down the law for their star players then Montreal can start to find an identity that they’ve been missing all year.
The Montreal Canadiens have some clear issues they need to address heading into the 2018-19 season if they want to find themselves back in the playoffs. They are only just one year removed from a first-round exit after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign.
It will be a busy off-season for them to re-tool their roster to be good enough to compete in the division and claim one of those playoff spots. But if they can add the right pieces and build around the few solid ones they currently have in place they may not be as far off as it seems.