Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

Has a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals ever had worse playoff odds coming into the next season than the Canadiens. You can argue that easy scheduling helped them go nearly all the way last year, as well as unpredictably good goaltending. Carey Price is sure to regress and captain Shea Weber will be gone for the year. There are definitely concerns for them, unlike the team they last faced.

Offseason additions: F Christian Dvorak, F Mike Hoffman, D David Savard, F Matthieu Perrault, F Cedric Paquette, D Chris Wideman.

Offseason subtractions: F Phillip Danault, F Tomas Tatar, F Jesperi Kotkaniemi, F Corey Perry, F Eric Staal, D Erik Gustafsson, D Cale Fleury.

Forwards

The loss of Phillip Danault is going to loom large on this Canadiens team that now is a whole lot weaker down the middle. The pressure will be put on Nick Suzuki to command the top line. In his second NHL season, he matched his 41 points from year one, but this time in less games. 15 of Suzuki’s points were goals. He has not missed a game since debuting in 2019-20. Suzuki also scored seven times in 22 playoff games. Most of those goals were on the ice with Cole Caufield, the 2019 first-rounder who took the league by storm in his pre-rookie season. He scored four times in 10 games before the playoffs, where he scored four more times, adding 12 points in 20 games. The top-six wing replacement for Tomas Tatar is Mike Hoffman. In his one season for St. Louis, Hoffman really struggled at five-on-five. He has a great shot, and in every season from 2014-15 to 2019-20 he scored at least 22 goals. Hoffman reached 17 last year, with 36 points. The hope is for Hoffman to be the elite power play scorer that he has always been. With both of his normal line mates departing in free agency, Brendan Gallagher will have to make a change in his tenth season with Montreal. While he only played in 35 games, Gallagher scored 14 goals. He was a big disappointment on offense in the playoffs, scoring just twice with four assists in 22 games. After the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet chaos, the Canadiens took the picks and flipped a similar package to Arizona for Christian Dvorak. He is a much better fit for the second line center role than Kotkaniemi would have been, so it works out for at least this season. Dvorak scored 17 goals with 31 points in 56 games. Beware of his 17.9 percent shooting rate, as that means he is primed for regression. In his first season under a deal very similar to Hoffman’s, Tyler Toffoli was great. He led the team with 28 goals and 44 points in 52 games. Sure, his shooting percentage was inflated, but that also happened the year before. He put 14 points on the scoresheet during the playoffs. The Habs missed Jonathan Drouin in the playoffs, for what we now know as mental health issues. Drouin played in 44 games last year, scoring only twice, but adding 21 assists. Of course, his 2.6 shooting percentage is not exactly sustainable. Josh Anderson’s two goals in game three of the third round was easily his career highlight. He scored 17 goals in his first season with Montreal. Anderson brought the toughness that the Canadiens wanted out of him when he was acquired, as he recorded 139 hits in 52 games. Matthieu Perreault has switched Canadian teams after spending the last seven seasons as a member of the Jets. He is a solid bottom-six player who has mainly played wing as of late. But with Montreal’s center depth lacking, he could move back to his old position. Jake Evans clearly has the trust of Head Coach Dominique Ducharme, as he consistently got opportunities in the playoffs. Evans is a defensive forward who had 13 points in 47 games last year. He also had 26 blocked shots and 79 hits. Artturi Lehkonen was the guy who scored the goal to send them to the finals, and for that, he gets to stay. Lehkonen scored a career low seven goals in 47 games last year. He shoots the puck a ton but is yet to match his rookie season total of 18 goals. Instead of letting him walk in free agency, the Habs gave Joel Armia a four-year deal with an AAV of $3.4 million. That was a ton for a fourth line winger. He has been good but that price is excessive. Armia scored seven goals with seven assists last year as well as 86 hits. He did add five goals in the postseason. Giving the team some center depth is Cedric Paquette, who was very good after an early season trade to Carolina. He scored seven points in 38 games with 109 hits despite playing just over nine minutes a game. Ryan Poehling was so disappointing in 27 NHL games in 2019-20 that he did not appear in the NHL at all last year. He did play well in the AHL, scoring 11 goals with 25 points in 28 games. He is another center option.

Defensemen

With Shea Weber out for the season, and potentially his career, the Canadiens will have to do some adjusting without their leader. Officially taking over on the top pair will be Jeff Petry, who is starting a new extension. Petry finished 13th in Norris voting as he scored double-digit goals for the fourth consecutive season. Petry lit the lamp 12 times along with 42 points in 55 games played. Joel Edmundson was a very solid addition on the backend. For the first time in his career, he failed to reach at least 100 hits. The good news is that he had 98 in 55 games, so he may or may not have reached it in a full season. He also blocked 75 shots to go along with that. The defensive physicality side of Weber is being recreated with David Savard, who just won the Cup against the Habs. He is all defense, no offense, and was a helpful piece for Tampa Bay in the playoffs. 2020-21 continued Savard’s streak of over 100 blocked shots and hits each, something dating back to 2014-15. One thing that is noticeable with the Montreal defense is that there will be lots of blocked shots and lots of hits. Another guy who does that is Ben Chiarot. He played in 41 games last year, scoring seven points while averaging just under 22 minutes on ice a night. Weber’s former partner will need his own adjusting period. Brett Kulak is easily the most underrated of the team’s blue-liners. He has never played excruciatingly tough minutes, but has solid qualities of a two-way forward. Canadiens fans were not too happy with Alexander Romanov playing in just four playoff games, and rightfully so. He played in all but two matches in the regular season, with 60 blocks and 138 hits. He has more offense potential than his six points show. Romanov is left-handed but may have to play on the right side so the Canadiens can start their best six. They could ignore that and go with Chris Wideman instead. The former Senator, most known for the team’s Uber incident, is back in the NHL. He played for the KHL’s Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo last year, and was very good. Wideman scored nine goals with 32 assists for 41 points in 59 games, earning himself KHL Defenseman of the Year.

Goalies

Which Carey Price will we see this year, the below average, injury-riddled regular season guy, or the elite playoff hero who carried the team throughout the postseason? In 25 games, Price posted a measly .901 save percentage with a 2.64 GAA. He played almost that many games in the playoffs, with a .924 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA. And that is after he struggled against the Lightning. Price had a save percentage over .930 in his two postseasons prior, so playoff Price is officially a thing. He may not be cheap, but Jake Allen is a very capable backup with starting experience. His first year in Montreal was not great, but it was better than Price. Allen had a .907 percentage with a 2.68 GAA. This is a season after a .927 save percentage as Jordan Binnington’s backup in St. Louis.

Projected Lines

Mike Hoffman – Nick Suzuki – Cole Caufield

Tyler Toffoli – Christian Dvorak – Brendan Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin – Matthieu Perreault – Josh Anderson

Artturi Lehkonen – Jake Evans – Joel Armia

Extras: Cedric Paquette, Ryan Poehling

Joel Edmundson – Jeff Petry

Ben Chiarot – David Savard

Brett Kulak – Alexander Romanov

Extras: Chris Wideman

Carey Price

Jake Allen

Prediction

It is hard to bet against the year prior’s runner-up, but the Stars did just miss the playoffs last year while a star player missed about the whole season with injuries sustained in the long postseason run. So, it is very possible. Plus, the Canadiens are re-entering a really tough Eastern Conference. There are four teams in their own division who are better than them, let alone the stacked Metropolitan. They will finish fifth in the Atlantic, but miss the postseason.

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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