5 Things the Montreal Canadiens Need to do this off-season

The Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a very unusual position at this of the year. They finished 6th in the Atlantic division with a 29-40-13 record, good for 71 points. 26 points out of the last Wild Card spot. The hockey gods later would rewarded them, moving them up 1 spot in the draft lottery. Here's what they need to do to have a successful off-season to bring the Habs back to the promise land.

1) FIND A TOP SIX CENTRE

I don’t think there is another team hurting as bad as the Montreal Canadiens are down the middle. Last years big accusation of Jonathan Drouin was used as the number 1 centre even though he is a natural winger and didn't put up the numbers as you would expect from him. The odds of the Habs acquiring a top line centre this off season are very low, even with John Tavares on the market. A large part of that reason is that top line centres don’t usually hit the market. 

I’d imagine they will be big players for Tavares’s services but with so many teams being interested it’s best to go ahead and draft a plan B. UFA’s they should consider are the Flyers’ Valtteri Filppula, Sharks Joe Thornton, or even the Leafs Tyler Bozak and to go along with Tavares. Now, none of these guys are top line players, but like I said before, not too many top line centres hit the market, so finding a centre that has a strong 200 foot game with some offensive flare could be used to fill the void for now. 

Another route to consider would be offer sheeting some RFA's such as NYR’s Vlad Namestnikov and Kevin Hayes or the Islanders Brock Nelson. Offer sheeting players is pretty much shun from the league, but could be a smart maneuver to attack on other teams that are cap strapped. With the boat load of picks that the Habs have, they can afford the penalty from offer sheeting RFAs. Nothing too sexy on the market but still lot's of potential and an upgrade for them. 

1b) FIND ANOTHER ONE

The Habs are so weak down the middle I would try to acquire a 2nd centre to help fill the hole. With the Jet's soon-to-be cap problems and the likelihood they re-sign Paul Stastny,  that leaves no room for Bryan Little. Little is a solid 2nd liner, being able to put up points but also dependable in his own zone. He has hit 60 points before in his career and has always been able to consistently hit 40 points. I feel with a larger role, and skilled wingers it’s not out of question for him to hit 60 points again.

Other notable names I would look at through trade that could be on the market is Pittsburgh’s Derick Brassard, LA’s Jeff Carter or St. Louis’s Robby Fabbri. 

2) REBUILD OR RESET?

After a dismissal season, GM Marc Bergevin and company have lot's of questions that need answering like what direction this club is headed. The most recent trend of rebuilding is a popular choice by many teams but not always successful. For every team that went through the rebuild like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Winnipeg Jets that are beginning to enjoy their success, there are teams like the Buffalo Sabres or Edmonton Oilers that have had little to no success for about a decade. While the Hab's have a nice stockpile of picks in this years draft, there’s no guarantee that a rebuild will work. Especially for a team with a fanbase like the Canadiens, where losing isn’t an option.

The feeling I have is that this team will be doing a reset or a re-tool. There are plenty of big fish about to hit the pond in Erik Karlsson (OTT), Drew Doughty (LA) or John Tavares (NYI) that they may try to make a run at with Tavares being the obvious choice. The Habs have never been shy to make a big splash with the Subban for Weber trade in 2016, and last year’s deal of Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin. This leads me to believe that another culture defining trade will done this year, but who will be the player that bites the bullet on the way out?

3) CAPTAIN OVERBOARD

To go with what I mentioned before, a reset is in order and that starts with the captain. Max Pacioretty is coming off a down year by his standards scoring 17 goals and only a mere 37 points after 4 straight 60 point campaigns. That will affect his stock but not by a large margin, Patches will still cost a team a pretty good asset or two for his services. He only has 1 more year worth $4.5 million so it’s not a terrible contract for a top 6 player. With this draft being winger heavy at the top the Habs can easily replace his spot in the lineup with a younger player and hopefully target a centre with this deal. They can finally move Drouin back to his natural position on the wing.

4) FIGURE OUT A DRAFT PLAN

This draft is going to be a huge for the Hab's and will be a clear sign of what direction they will be headed in the future. The Canadien's currently own 10 draft picks including: the 3rd overall pick, four 2nd rounders and three 4th rounders and no picks in the last two rounds. They can keep them or trade them. If they keep all the picks that raises the odd's of more full time NHLer's coming out of the group, while also laying down a great foundation of prospects to this organization that doesn’t have a lot of fruit to bare. Outside of the 3rd overall pick, many of the players won’t be able to make the jump into the big leagues next year. So this draft if they keep all the picks, there won’t be any results for at least the next couple of years.

On the other hand… these picks are prime ammunition for a trade. If the Habs really like a player, they have the tools to move up and select them. A late first generally goes for two seconds so they still have room to wiggly with. They can even use these picks to acquire a centre man like I mentioned above in this article.

5) GET A TOP 4 DEFENDER

Right when you thought this To-Do list would start to get easier for GM Marc Bergevin, guess again. I feel like almost every team in this league would love an upgrade on D, so the market has sky rocketed. I don’t have this as a high priority because the core of Shea Weber, Karl Alzner, Jeff Petry and the up and comers Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen isn’t horrendous but could use makeover. Factor in the leagues best goaltender, and they should be able to do the trick. However, Weber is only getting older and slower, Alzner is decent in his own zone but lacks every offensive skill imaginable, Petry is inconsistent and the jury is still out on the young guys. But Mete and Juulsen both look promising. 

To fill this need I would look on the market, UFA’s this year that would be good fit include Mike Green (DET), Jack Johnson (CBJ), Calvin de Haan (NYI) and Ian Cole (CBJ). The Habs currently have a little more than 12 million bucks in cap space. 

OVERALL

This team is stuck in the middle. If Price is Price, he can carry them to the middle of the pack, but with the team in front of him I don’t think they can get much better than that. A rebuild would be the better option if you ask me, but with the owners and fanbase, I doubt that is the route they take. Unless major changes, expect a similar season.

Next: OTTAWA SENATORS

Thanks for reading. 

 

Branden Scott