Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 season preview

From Sportsnet


          There's always one team that misses the playoffs by a game in the NHL, and they normally come from the East. It was the Islanders in 2016-17, the Panthers in 2017-18, and the Canadiens in 2018-19. It always hurts to miss the playoffs, then get a middle round draft as compensation. It also doesn't help that both the Islanders and Panthers missed the playoffs the following season, both times by a much more significant margin. The Canadiens are trying to fend that off, and while they had a ton of cap space, their big move in the offseason ended up as an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes, which was matched. Their other offseason moves didn't amount to much, and their departures were replaced.

          Additions: Ben Chiarot, Nick Cousins, Keith Kinkaid, Phillip Varone, Riley Barber

          Subtractions: Andrew Shaw, Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, Nicolas Deslauriers

          Forwards
 After two consecutive underwhelming nine goal seasons, Max Domi was traded to the Habs from Arizona in what was perceived as a bad trade. But Domi broke out in a big way, with career highs in goals (28), assists (44), points (72) and plus/minus (+20). He also shot a career high 203 times. Tomas Tatar had a bad run in Vegas, with six points in 20 games, after being acquired for a first, second and third round pick. He was traded to Montreal with top prospect Nick Suzuki for captain Max Pacioretty. He rebounded with 25 goals and a career high 58 points and +21 rating. Brendan Gallagher proved to be arguably the most underrated player in the league. He scored 30 goals for the second consecutive season, with a career high 33, plus 52 points. Jonathan Drouin scored 53 points, led by a career high 35 assists. Phillip Danault broke out in a big way. He had a career high 41 assists, 53 points and +17 rating. His average ice time of 17:47 led Montreal forwards. He also finished 7th in Selke voting. Third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored 11 goals with 34 points in his rookie season, and while it doesn't live up to the seasons by the players picked above him, and even 4th overall pick Brady Tkachuk, but it is still promising. He looks to jump from the third line center spot. Paul Byron failed to score 20 goals for a third straight season, but his 15 goals and +16 rating aren't bad. In his first season in Montreal, Joel Armia scored a career high 13 goals, and he did it in just 57 games. 24 year old Artturi Lehkonen had career highs in assists (20), points (31) and plus/minus (+10). Nick Cousins comes from Arizona on a one year deal. He is coming off a season where he recorded career highs in assists (20) and points (27). Jordan Weal eyes a fourth line spot after scoring 10 points in 16 games with Montreal after a trade deadline trade last year. Matthew Peca scored a career high 10 points in a career high 39 games. Nate Thompson was re-signed after seven points in 25 games for Montreal.

            Defensemen
In his first year as a captain, Shea Weber scored 14 goals in 58 games, for a 20 goal pace. He isn't the player he once was, but he now could be underrated. At age 31, Jeff Petry scored a career high 13 goals and 46 points. He got Norris votes for the first time. Ben Chiarot signs a three year deal after a career season in Winnipeg playing with Dustin Byfuglien. His five goals and 20 points were career highs. Now 21, Victor Mete was a +17. In his 120 career games, he still hasn't scored his first goal. After being acquired for two depth players, Brett Kulak had career highs in goals (6), assists (11), points (17), plus/minus (+12), and pretty much every significant stat, and in just 57 games. The sixth, and maybe even fifth spot, are up for grabs. Mike Reilly, like Kulak, played in 57 games. He has 19 points in 76 games over two years for Montreal. Christian Folin is a righty, which could benefit him. He had four assists in 19 games for Montreal last year.

            Goalies
Carey Price isn't the same goalie he was in 2014-15, when he won the Hart and Vezina award. He is still a starter, but he's not worth the $10.5 million he earns annually. He had a .918 SV% and a 2.49 GAA in 2018-19. Former Devils backup Keith Kinkaid joins the Habs in the same role he had in New Jersey. He is coming off a career worst season, with a .891 SV% and 3.36 GAA.

           Deep Depths
It's never a good thing when two players in this section combine for $7 million in cap space. But Dale Weise and Karl Alzner are likely to be buried in the AHL this year. In his return to Montreal, Weise had no points in nine games. He played in three AHL games for Laval, and scored two goals. Alzner hadn't missed a game since 2009-10, but after a bad year one in Montreal, Alzner played in just nine games. He was waived, and played in 34 AHL games. After scoring 10 goals with 30 points in 2017-18, Charles Hudon played in just 32 NHL games, and scored five points. He needs to earn back a fourth line spot, but that looks unlikely. Philip Varone returned to the NHL last year, playing in 47 games for Philly. Former first rounder Michael McCarron has failed to impress, with just eight points in 69 career games. He had 21 points in 32 AHL games.

            Up and Coming
Ryan Poehling looks like the favorite for the fourth line center job. His NHL debut, which came in game 82 last year, will be impossible to match. He scored a hat trick. He had 31 points in 36 games at St. Cloud State previously. Noah Juulsen could be the favorite for the sixth defenseman spot. Over the past two seasons, Juulsen has eight points in 44 games. He was a first rounder in 2015. A first rounder by Vegas in 2017, Nick Suzuki eyes his NHL debut. He had 94 points in 59 OHL games, and 42 more in 24 playoff games. Charlie Lindgren looks to compete with Kinkaid for the backup job. In 18 career NHL games, He has a 2.89 GAA and .912 SV%.

             2019 draft class
Round 1, 15th overall: Cole Caufield
Round 2, 46th overall: Jayden Struble
Round 3, 64th overall: Mattias Norlinder
Round 3, 77th overall: Gianni Fairbrother
Round 5, 126th overall: Jacob Leguerrier
Round 5, 131st overall: Rhett Pitlick
Round 5, 138th overall: Frederik Nissen Dichow
Round 6, 170th overall: Arsen Khisamutdinov
Round 7, 201st overall: Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Round 7, 206th overall: Kieran Ruscheinski

              Management
Claude Julien returns as Head Coach for the third full season in his second stint as Montreal Head Coach. A Head Coach in the NHL every season since 2002-03, Julien's teams have a .592 winning percentage. Marc Bergevin has always been criticized, but that criticism seemed to vanish last year, when the Domi trade worked out great, Drouin rebounded and Weber outplayed PK Subban, whom he was traded for. Those three players were part of Bergevin's last three blockbuster trades.

             Projected Lineup.
Tomas Tatar - Max Domi - Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin - Phillip Danault - Paul Byron
Arttuti Lehkonen - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Joel Armia
Nick Cousins - Ryan Poehling - Jordan Weal
Extras: Nate Thompson, Matthew Peca, Nick Suzuki

              Victor Mete - Shea Weber
              Ben Chiarot - Jeff Petry
              Brett Kulak - Noah Juulsen
Extras: Mike Reilly, Christian Folin, Karl Alzner

                            Carey Price
                            Keith Kinkaid
Extras: Charlie Lindgren

                Prediction
The Canadiens were a good team last year, but they saw career seasons from Domi, Danault and Petry, and surprise seasons from Weber, Tatar and Drouin, plus the traded Andrew Shaw. If the returning players continue from their 2018-19 production, then Montreal could make the playoffs. But with Florida's big offseason, and Toronto, Tampa and Boston continuing to be powerhouses, plus a strong Metropolitan Division, the Habs will finish 5th and miss the playoffs in 2019-20.

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