Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Montreal Canadiens 2020-21 Season Preview


 

       The best way to describe the Canadiens is that they are an agent of chaos. They finished with a 31-31-9 record, and lost to the Red Wings of all teams four times. Yet, they go to the bubble, and eliminate the Penguins of all teams. Then, they compete well against the Flyers before getting knocked out. This chaos stems to GM Marc Bergevin, who sometimes makes absolutely amazing trades, and also sometimes gets robbed in a way that is so confusing, even armchair GMs could predict an easy downfall. Being Heath Ledger's Joker is a good way for entertainment, we already knew that, but not a great way to run a hockey team.

Additions: F Tyler Toffoli, F Josh Anderson, D Joel Edmundson, G Jake Allen, F Corey Perry, F Michael Frolik.

Subtractions: F Max Domi, F Nick Cousins, G Keith Kinkaid.

Best Move: Signing Tyler Toffoli to a four year deal.

Worst Move: Trading Max Domi and a third round pick to Columbus for Josh Anderson.

One Move I'd Make: Try to get assets for Jonathan Drouin, who is too expensive for a potential third liner.

Best Contract: Brendan Gallagher, one year remaining with a $3.75 million cap hit, followed by six years with a $6.5 million cap hit. 

Worst Contract: Josh Anderson, seven years remaining with a $5.5 million cap hit. 

New Division Rivals: Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg.

Pending UFAs: Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Jordan Weal, Corey Perry, Michael Frolik.

Pending RFAs: Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Victor Mete.


Forwards

The Canadiens have about seven second line forwards, and no pure first liner. Brendan Gallagher is the closest to that. Coming off of two consecutive 30 goal seasons, Gallagher only hit 22 last year, but in 59 games, so his goals per game was about the same. He also had a CF% of 60.6, which is just about as high as you'll see. Tomas Tatar scored 22 goals as well, and led the team by a lot with 61 points. The Habs probably won't have the cap space to bring back both Tatar and Phillip Danault, who is the third member of the top line. He had 47 points last year, and is an exceptional defensive forward who kills a lot of penalties. The Habs signed Tyler Toffoli, who scored 24 goals and was one of the few bright spots for the Kings last year before he was dealt. In his eight year career, Toffoli has never had a CF% below 50 or below his team's average. Nick Suzuki had a great rookie season as a 20 year old, scoring 13 goals with 41 points in 71 games. He finished ninth in Calder voting, and there may have been a case for a better spot. Suzuki is ready to become a full-time second line center. Jonathan Drouin had 53 points in 2018-19, but played in just 27 games last year, scoring seven goals with eight assists. The battle for the last top-six spot is between Drouin and Josh Anderson. The Canadiens obviously like Anderson, enough to trade Max Domi for him and then extend him for seven years. Anderson was limited to 26 games in 2019-20, but he scored just one goal. Anderson scored 27 goals the year before, but he may be suited better for a third line role thanks to his physicality. Jesperi Kotkaniemi really endured a sophomore slump last year, with eight points in 36 games. It became bad enough that he was demoted to the AHL at one point. He's only 20, so it's not like his career is lost or anything. Only Danault spent more time on the penalty kill among Habs forwards than Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen hit the 20 point mark and the 10 goal mark for the fourth season in a row. His 13 goals last year were his most since his rookie season of 2016-17. In his second season in Montreal, Joel Armia scored 16 goals with 30 points. The big winger had a career high 146 hits and 28 penalty minutes. Paul Byron had 10 points in 29 games last year. He kills penalties and is a two-time 20 goal scorer. The Canadiens don't really have another center in their bottom-six besides Kotkaniemi, which will prevent Corey Perry from being a full-time player. The pesky Perry recently signed with the team. He spent last year with the Stars, where he had 21 points in 57 games. Instead, the fourth line center will be either Jordan Weal or Ryan Poehling. Weal has 25 points in 65 games since joining Montreal in 2018-19. After scoring a hat trick in his debut in the last game of 2018-19, Poehling did not follow that up with success last year. He had just two points in 27 games, and in the AHL, he had 13 points in 36 games. The team signed veteran Michael Frolik, who is entering his 13th season, and will be playing for his sixth team. Frolik had a career low 14 points in 57 games for the Flames and Sabres last year. Charles Hudon has always tried to join the lineup rotation, but ends up failing. He played in 15 games last year, and had two points. 

Defensemen

Unlike the all-out brawl that is their forward core, the Canadiens have a more stable defensive system. The top two pairing should stay intact from last year, where both right handed shot defenders carry the load. That starts with Shea Weber, who I think we can say was on the winning side of the Weber/Subban trade from a few years ago. Weber scored 15(!!) goals in 65 games last year, which is funny because Joel Armia did even better and we don't care about that as much. Weber averaged exactly 24 minutes on ice a night, and with his signature hard shot, he finished with three Norris votes received. Ben Chiarot scored a career high nine goals and 21 points in 69 games, and he had a 54.5 CF%. Oddly enough, that was below the team average. Jeff Petry scored 11 goals with 40 points, hitting those marks for the third consecutive season. He had a 57 CF% with a GAR of 8.6. Petry played with Brett Kulak a lot, whose 113 games in two seasons in Montreal is more than he had in four seasons with the Flames. Kulak had seven assists with a 56.6 CF% in 56 games. The Canadiens traded for the rights of Joel Edmundson, then signed him to a four year deal with a $3.5 million cap hit. In 68 games for Carolina last year, he had a career high 20 points. He's a fine third pairing defenseman for a team that needs one. He could be a safety blanket for Alexander Romanov, who has offensive potential, but was blocked on a stacked CSKA Moscow team in the KHL. The 20 year old had seven assists in 43 games. Victor Mete entered 2019-20 with 120 games played and zero goals. He scored four times in 51 games, with 11 points. Romanov will push him out of the top-six. 

Goalies

The Habs decided that they were going to get their money's worth of Carey Price one way or another, as they overused him, as he started a league high 58 games. That led to a low .909 SV% and a 2.79 GAA. When he finally got a break and returned in the postseason, vintage Carey Price showed up, as he had a .936 SV% with a 1.78 GAA in 10 games. Since Price didn't have a backup at all last year, the team went out and traded a third and a seventh round pick for Jake Allen. In 24 games last year, Allen had a .927 SV% with a 2.15 GAA. 


Projected Lines

Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin - Nick Suzuki - Tyler Toffoli

Artturi Lehkonen - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Josh Anderson

Paul Byron - Jordan Weal - Joel Armia

Extras: Corey Perry, Ryan Poehling, Michael Frolik, Charles Hudon


Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber

Brett Kulak - Jeff Petry 

Joel Edmundson - Alex Romanov

Extras: Victor Mete


Carey Price

Jake Allen


Projection

The Canadiens have an all-around good team. But, they kind of get lost in the mix in a Canadian Division where everyone gets lost in the mix. Adding Anderson and Perry makes them tougher to play against, but in the end, it comes down to two of Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal not making the playoffs. I say it will be the former two, not the latter. 

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