Silver Linings Start with Carey Price News
In an ideal world, Carey Price would still be playing in net for the Montreal Canadiens. Even though Price is not retiring officially speaking though, he made it very clear talking to the media earlier this week that his playing career is likely over, going so much as to mention the possibility of winning a Stanley Cup in a different capacity.
Whatever that capacity is, Price has effectively closed one chapter in his life. The Canadiens have no choice but to move on, however hard it will be. After all, Price had been the face of the franchise for the last decade at least, an elite player at the position for about that long, developing into arguably the best in the world circa the 2014 Winter Olympics, where he helped lead Canada to a gold medal.
At the top of the world is where he stayed for several seasons, winning the Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies the next season. Of course, as alluded to earlier, a Stanley Cup has eluded him, with the Habs coming incredibly close in 2021, only to lose the Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
Price obviously missed the next season due to a variety of issues. Combined with then-captain’s Shea Weber’s unofficial retirement as well, the Canadiens were suddenly down two of the top pillars keeping the team competitive, and it showed. Sure, there was a record-breaking slew of other injuries, but, in retrospect, the team’s last-place finish in 2021-22 can’t have been too big of a surprise, especially going with a backup and a third-stringer (up to that point at least) all last season, all due respect to Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault.
However, that’s the silver lining in all of this, if you’re forced to find one. With Price and Weber as old as they were, the Canadiens’ 2021 playoff success was hardly sustainable. The Canadiens were going to have to start rebuilding sooner rather than later. Fate then stepped in and said, “now’s looking pretty good.”
And, to current-general manager Kent Hughes’ credit, the rebuild is going well. There’s progress on just about every front just one season later, with a restocked cupboard of prospects that’s got the not-too-distant future looking fairly bright for the organization. With that, here are three other silver linings the Canadiens and their fans should flat-out embrace in the name of that rebuild:
3. Juraj Slafkovsky’s First-Overall Selection
There’s no longer any point arguing between Shane Wright, the presumptive first-overall pick heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and Juraj Slafkovsky, who the Canadiens ended up taking. What’s done is done and the Canadiens picked who they picked. So, fans should embrace Slafkovsky for the power forward he is (and the one he’ll hopefully develop into), but also the fact that he admittedly far from projects as the star most other No. 1 picks do.
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Some may argue the Canadiens chose the wrong season to finish in last place. After all, the 2023 Draft looks both deep and top-heavy, with supposed generational talents like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov available. And there is a certain logic to that argument.
Look at it a different way, though: the Canadiens are under no pressure to rush Slafkovsky’s development, especially as his player profile probably calls for him to spend some time in the American Hockey League. If it had been any other draft year, any other top prospect, the Canadiens would probably have had little recourse but to keep Slafkovsky up, put him in the best position to succeed, properly insulating him with good players, all resulting in a few extra wins in the standings.
As it stands, the best place for Slafkovsky may very well be the AHL right now, at least as the Slovakian winger adjusts to the North American game. It certainly isn’t with the Habs at the bottom of the lineup, getting just 11:26 per game. Now that Slafkovsky’s injured, it’s almost a moot point, but he’s on the verge of returning, at which point the Canadiens have a decision to make.
For the record, it all works the other way too. With expectations as low as they are for the Canadiens as a whole, they don’t have to force Slafkovsky into the NHL lineup, like they arguably did with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Alex Galchenyuk, former third-overall selections that didn’t exactly work out one way or another. Really, this rebuild’s going to take some time, to the point that the Canadiens have far from missed out on Bedard and company. The rebuild really only got started with Slafkovsky.
2. Evgeny Dadonov, Mike Hoffman Contracts
With all that in mind, any criticism directed to forwards Evgeny Dadonov and Mike Hoffman is misguided. Looking at the big picture, having underperforming forwards on your roster when you’re unofficially hoping for a high draft pick is a blessing in disguise.
It’s true, they only have two points between them, but things get all the more twisted when you consider both (one goal, one assist) belong to Hoffman. Even pointless, Dadonov arguably deserves all the more slack considering the circumstances that brought him to town in the first place, as the price the Habs had to pay for the Vegas Golden Knights to agree to take Weber’s contract, so that the Habs could gain more long-term flexibility.
So, even if he (and Hoffman) are underrated, it’s not like they were ever expected to contribute in a meaningful way (unlike, say, Sean Monahan). In Dadonov’s case specifically, he was expected to be an anchor. That’s arguably far from a bug in his deployment. It’s a feature, especially with the Habs rebuilding. The fact is Monahan is the exception. Generally speaking, if you’re taking on a bad deal like the Habs did with Dadonov, you’re getting what you signed up for, not to mention the logical desire to take on additional bad contracts (in exchange for futures for example) if the opportunity presents itself (and the cap allows for it).
Of course, the Canadiens would like both Dadonov and Hoffman to pad their resumes to up any potential returns ahead of the trade deadline. Nevertheless, that could be asking a bit much. Securing a high draft pick in part by giving each of them a regular shift? It’s simply more realistic. That higher draft pick is all the more beneficial too, all things considered.
1. Joel Edmundson, Mike Matheson Injuries
Needless to say, injuries to left-handed defensemen Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson sped up the Habs’ timetable regarding the development of their defense of the future. Had the two been healthy out of training camp, there definitely wouldn’t have been three spots open for fellow lefties Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj.
There had been suggestions of a rotation in and out of the lineup on defense taking shape (with the since-sent-down Justin Barron) out of training camp. That potential plan has obviously fallen by the wayside to the point the team’s entire left side consists of players literally 22, 21 and 20 years of age.
On paper, that combination just doesn’t make for a playoff-caliber defense. Maybe not in practice either, but, with the Canadiens far from actively looking to compete this coming season (at least in the boardroom), it’s all of little consequence. No one should really be expecting the Canadiens’ defense to keep opposing teams’ offenses in check when healthy, let alone when two of the team’s four defensive veterans are injured (David Savard, Chris Wideman).
Having given up a 19th-ranked 3.00 goals per game and 21st-ranked 31.0 shots per game heading into action Thursday night, those concerns have proven justified, in spite of the admittedly small sample size. Nevertheless, the general consensus is the Guhle, Harris and Xhekaj have risen to the challenge.
It goes to show the sky hasn’t started falling despite rookies being placed in prominent positions in the lineup, which is a nice change of pace from team philosophies of old. Part it has to do with the current mindset of the team. Part of it is also current circumstances, with Edmundson and Matheson destined to push at least two of the three rookies out of the lineup at any given time once they both return.
Nevertheless, it instills confidence in the future that the Canadiens have quality defensemen waiting in the wings, quality players throughout the lineup really… with the hole left by Price in net being the biggest one to fill. That was always going to be the case though, based on the legacy he leaves behind. There’s no silver lining there, just a reflection of what he’s meant to the team for the last decade plus.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.