Going into last season, the Canadiens felt like they had achieved the record for least enthusiasm from the public for a team that was coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearances. Still, no one expected it 2021-22 to be as bad as it was. The Habs managed to finish worse than the Coyotes. However, they won the draft lottery and the Shane Wright sweepstakes… only to pick Juraj Slafkovsky first instead. The Slovakian forward dominated at the Olympics, and could start the season with the big club. But with a crowded forward room, the AHL is also a possibility to better his development. With a full season under Head Coach Martin St. Louis about to start, there is optimism that the franchise can take a leap forward.
Offseason additions: F Evgenii Dadonov, F Kirby Dach, F Sean Monahan, D Mike Matheson.
Offseason subtractions: D Jeff Petry, D Shea Weber (Contract), D Alex Romanov, F Ryan Poehling, F Mathieu Perreault, F Tyler Pitlick, F Cedric Paquette.
The Canadiens traded away Shea Weber, who will almost certainly never play again due to injuries, opening up the captaincy for Nick Suzuki. While most of the team struggled, Suzuki was their best player, setting career-highs with 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points. He also has not missed a game in his three NHL seasons. Suzuki has developed into the franchise’s number one center, even if analytics don’t support him as much. The team collective improved after St. Louis took over, and there is no better example than Cole Caufield. He had just one goal and seven assists in 30 games until Dominique Ducharme was fired. After that? He played in 37 games, leading the team with 22 goals and 35 points. Power forward Josh Anderson scored 19 goals with 32 points in his second season with Montreal, along with 65 penalty minutes and 153 hits. Anderson and Suzuki were the only forwards on the team with over 1000 minutes of ice time at five-on-five, showing how hurt and inconsistent they were.
Brendan Gallagher has long been an analytical darling, and that didn’t change in 2021-22. But his production just wasn’t there. He played in 56 games, scoring just seven goals with 17 assists. Gallagher is still only 30, and had either been great or scored at a good pace in each of the prior four seasons, so don’t worry too much yet. One of the many reclamation projects on the team is Kirby Dach, the former third-overall pick who experienced the trauma of playing for the Blackhawks last year. Dach is only 21, but his numbers in the NHL have not been as good as expected. He played in 70 games last year, scoring nine goals with 26 points. Mike Hoffman’s first season with the Canadiens showed that he still has offensive value, but with weak defense. Hoffman contributed 15 goals with 20 assists, but had just a 2.12 xGF/60.
The Habs traded a first and a second-round pick to Arizona for Christian Dvorak before last season. With how bad they ended up being, Dvorak had to live up to that value and more. Unfortunately, he gave them third-line center production, which is really what he had always been with the Coyotes. Dvorak scored 11 goals with 33 points in 56 games. He was the team’s best offensive penalty-killer by goals against per 60. Montreal was the team to finally end up with Evgenii Dadonov, who the Golden Knights continuously tried to trade. He was actually one of Vegas’ best players last season, but the salary cap loomed large. Dadonov scored 20 goals with 43 points, finishing third and fifth on the team, respectively. Jonathan Drouin’s return to the NHL was disrupted by a wrist injury, as he played in just 34 games. Drouin was never a big goal scorer, but he had just six goals last year, with 14 assists. He played at a 48-point pace, which would have trailed just Suzuki for the team lead.
The Canadiens acquired a future first-round pick for taking on the contract of former Flames first line center Sean Monahan. While he is just three seasons removed from an 82-point year and two from a 48-point campaign, Monahan has fallen off a cliff. He scored just eight goals with 23 points in 65 games while dropping to the fourth line. He doesn’t have the physicality of a fourth-liner, but even his most recent production fits the role well. Montreal picked up Rem Pitlick off waivers early in the season, then gave him over 17 minutes of ice time on average. Pitlick rode a shooting percentage over 23 percent, leading to a total of 15 goals in 66 games for the Habs and the Wild. In 46 games for the Canadiens, he had nine goals with 26 points. Another one of the few Canadiens to take a step forward last season was Jake Evans, who scored 13 goals with 29 points in 72 games. His xGA/60 at even strength was the second-best on the forward core, behind only Artturi Lehkonen, who was dealt at the deadline. The odd-man-out seems like Joel Armia, who had a big 2019-20 but hasn’t produced much since. The six-foot-four winger had 104 hits with 14 points in 60 games last season. If Armia is out, then Paul Byron is left in a sticky situation. He could start the season on LTIR to make a roster space for Slafkovsky, or be an extra forward scratch. The two-time 30-goal scorer had just four in 27 games last year.
A complete overhaul of the defense has left in it a bit of a mess. After a year of Jeff Petry trade rumors, the Habs were able to get a legitimate player back for him in Mike Matheson. The concern with Matheson is that he didn’t really take off until he was traded to Pittsburgh, but he is a great skater with offensive talent. He set a career-high in points with 31 last season, and the Quebec native could be paired with another one in David Savard. A physical veteran defender, Savard racks up hits and blocked shots, but struggled in his first season with the club. With defense being his specialty, it was disappointing to see that he had a 3.15 xGA/60, the worst of the team’s six regular defenders.
The team missed Joel Edmundson last year, as he was limited to just 24 games. He had a 47.96 GF%, which was the best on the defensive core. However, he also had the worst xGF%. At the end of the season, Edmundson played with Justin Barron, a 2020 first-rounder who came over from Colorado for Lehkonen. Barron scored a goal with an assist in five games after the trade as a 20-year-old. He played in 43 AHL games, recording 20 points.
Another late-season prospect add who played in NHL games was Jordan Harris, a third-rounder in 2018 who signed with the team just before he could have become an unrestricted free agent. Harris scored a goal in 10 games after completing his fourth season at Northeastern University. Playing in 39 games, he scored five goals with 15 assists. The Habs took a flier on former Senator Chris Wideman after he lit up the KHL. The plan was for Wideman to be a third-pairing defender who could provide power play help, and he did exactly that. In 64 games, Wideman had 27 points, with 12 of his 23 assists coming on the man advantage. He was rewarded with a two-year extension. Until prospects like Mattias Norlinder and Kaiden Guhle are ready for a full-time role, the seventh-defender looks like it will be Corey Schueneman. The 27-year-old had six points in 24 games in his rookie season last year. He had 11 more points in 32 AHL contests.
With Carey Price set to go on long-term injured reserve after playing in just five games last season, the goalie situation in Montreal will stay with what it was for most of the year. Jake Allen actually had a positive goals saved above expected, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from how his final numbers ended up. In 35 games, he had a .905 save percentage and a 3.30 GAA. His backup, Sam Montembeault, had the seventh-worst GSAx in the league last season, at -14.52. He is young, but a 3.77 GAA is very concerning, especially in as large of a sample size as 38 games.
Cole Caufield – Nick Suzuki – Josh Anderson
Mike Hoffman – Kirby Dach – Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin – Christian Dvorak – Evgenii Dadonov
Rem Pitlick – Sean Monahan – Jake Evans
Scratched: Joel Armia, Paul Byron
Mike Matheson – David Savard
Joel Edmundson – Justin Barron
Jordan Harris – Chris Wideman
Scratched: Corey Schueneman