A quick pass through the neutral zone lands on the stick of Artturi Lehkonen, and he buries it! The Montreal Canadiens are headed to the Stanley Cup Final. That moment was just eight months ago but it seems like a lifetime. Today, the Habs are projected to finish the year with 39 points, a total that would eclipse the 2016–17 Colorado Avalanche for worst in the salary cap era.
We knew Montreal would be depleted this season. Vezina-winning goaltender Carey Price, who many would say carried the team to last year’s finals, had meniscus surgery during the offseason and has yet to lace the skates. Captain and shutdown defenseman Shea Weber’s career is likely over due to battle scars. Faceoff wizard Phillip Danault fled to Los Angeles as a free agent. The signs were there for a drop in the standings, but becoming pulseless on the ice was not in the cards.
Because it’s not just that the Habs are losing — it’s how they’re losing. Recent thrashings by the lowly Devils and Sabres show just how noncompetitive this team is. Newly hired president Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes finally pushed the default emergency button last Wednesday by firing head coach Dominique Ducharme and replacing him with recent NHL forward Martin St. Louis in the interim. St. Louis was a small but fierce player — can he jumpstart the development of the Habs’ own undersized sniper Cole Caufield?
Whatever the case, Montreal management should have its sights on the future. First up is the March 21 trade deadline, where Gorton and Hughes will be selling veteran assets like the aforementioned Lehkonen and quality blueliner Ben Chiarot. In July, Francophones should be attending the NHL Draft in Montreal, where, if they officially win the loser’s race, the Canadiens will have the best odds at drafting consensus top prospect Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs. Fans must be prepared for an ugly on-ice product until a new generation of Habs takes place.
Other tidbits from around the league:
- The race for the Art Ross Trophy — awarded to the player with the most points in the regular season — is heating up, with Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Alex Ovechkin and teammate Connor McDavid all within three points of the leading Leon Draisaitl.
- Gorton and Hughes officially kicked off trade deadline season on Monday by shipping right-shot winger Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames for a first-round-pick-highlighted package. Planned or not, Toffoli makes it three former Vancouver Canucks that Calgary has obtained — alongside goaltender Jacob Markstrom and defenseman Chris Tanev.
- Boston’s own Brad Marchand was suspended six games after sucker-punching and high-sticking Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry in a 4–2 loss last Tuesday. Marchand now becomes the all-time NHL leader in an uncelebrated category — most suspensions.
- The Islanders, hit by a COVID-19 outbreak in November, have played the fewest games of any team and are paying the price for that. New York has 17 games scheduled in March alone and will finish the season with 11 games in 18 days.
- For the first time in 13 years, the Winter Classic will return to the beloved Fenway Park in 2023!
Enjoy the action this week!