The Montreal Canadiens came crashing back to earth during the 2021-22 NHL season. A year after making the Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens finished the 2021-22 season in last place with a record of 22-49-11. This was not entirely surprising as the team began to struggle under former coach Dominique Ducharme. It has now been 29 years since the Canadiens won hockey’s ultimate prize. So, how does the team go about getting back to their previous dominance?
Former NHL player Martin St. Louis finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 14-19-4 after replacing Ducharme as head coach of the team. The interim tag was removed from St. Louis in June as he was given a three-year contract extension. The fact that St. Louis is from Laval, Quebec, Canada is the reason for him getting the head coaching job in Montreal. Fair or not it had everything to do with St. Louis being able to speak French.
Nick Suzuki was recently named the youngest captain of the Canadiens. This happened after former captain Shea Weber was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. Suzuki was recently quoted as saying that his French can get better. The fact that he is only 23 years old means that Suzuki has lots of time to grow into not only a great player but a great captain for the Canadiens. Both current and former Canadiens players said that they were proud of Suzuki and knew that he can handle the responsibility of the letter after the news broke.
Suzuki played all 82 games for the Canadiens in 2021-22, which was his first full season in the NHL. In these 82 games, Suzuki scored 21 goals and added 40 assists for 61 points. This was 18 more than Cole Caufield with 43 points. Caufield is also a young forward that the Canadiens can look to build around moving forward.
General manager Kent Hughes is a Montreal native. As such, he is very comfortable speaking French. The former agent was named the 18th general manager of the Canadiens in January of 2022. It is interesting that Quartexx, the company that Hughes was an agent for, represents two current Canadiens in Josh Anderson and Michael Pezzetta. Hughes may use these connections with Quartexx to improve the Canadiens’ roster moving forward.
Hughes also made a big bet on signing Kirby Dach. Dach is a 6’4” center who was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. The fact that Chicago is in the midst of a rebuild meant that Dach could not reach his full potential. The general manager must feel that the Canadiens can help the 21-year-old from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada reach this potential. In three seasons Dach has only scored 19 goals in 152 games played.
The Montreal Canadiens drafted left-winger Juraj Slafkovský out of Kosice, Slovakia with the first pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft which caused some controversy all the way up till draft day. At only 17 years old, Slafkovský has already proven that he can play against older competition. In the 2022 winter Olympics, he led Slovakia and the tournament itself with 7 goals and the team won their first medal, a bronze. This was after struggling and only recording 1 assist in three games in Slovakia’s qualifying for the Olympics. The 6’4” winger is NHL-ready and should slot into the Canadiens’ top six.
Goaltending is arguably the most important part of any hockey team. The Canadiens have had some of the best goaltenders in the history of the NHL. From Ken Dryden to Patrick Roy of the past to Carey Price in the more recent past, it has been a long time since the team’s goaltending position was in question. Price was put on long-term injured reserve after injuring his knee in 2021 and if his recent social media post is any indication, his career may be over.
The team recently signed Cayden Primeau to a three-year contract extension with an average annual value of $890,000. This contract is a vote of confidence for a goalie that has limited experience at the NHL level. Primeau has a4.21 goals against average and a .874 save percentage in 18 games in goal for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens are clearly trying to signal their past success with the hiring of St. Louis as head coach and the naming of Suzuki as the 31st captain in the storied history of the franchise. The issue with this is that the team gave up more than 60 goals than the average team during the 2021-22 season. Four of the Canadien’s defensemen will miss the start of the 2022-23 season due to injuries. That is in addition to the departure of Weber.
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