The Canadiens ended the 2017-18 season with just 71 points, their worst finish since the 2000-01 season and a far cry from their 103-point campaign in 2016-17. They continued to dismantle their former core this off-season, sending Alex Galchenyuk to the Coyotes in June and Max Pacioretty to the Golden Knights in early September. The P.K. Subban trade started a domino effect that’s resulted in somewhat of a forced-rebuild for the Canadiens. Barring some sort of extreme bounce-back season from franchise-goalie Carey Price, the Habs seem destined for another bottom-five finish in 2018-19.
|➕ Max Domi (Trade)
➕ Tomas Tatar (Trade)
➕ Joel Armia (Trade)
➕ Nick Suzuki (Trade)
➕ Matthew Peca (Free Agency)
➕ Tomas Plekanec (Free Agency)
➕ Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Draft)
With his suspension for sucker-punching Aaron Ekblad being limited to the preseason, the newly-acquired Max Domi will start the 2018-19 season on the Canadiens’ top line. The Habs have opted to play him with Jonathan Drouin and former Winnipeg Jet Joel Armia, bumping reigning 30-goal scorer Brendan Gallagher down to the second line. With 278 shots last season, Gallagher is by far the most productive player left on the Canadiens. Don’t be surprised to see him get bumped up to the first line sooner than later.
Tomas Tatar, acquired from Vegas in the Pacioretty trade, is set to start the year alongside Gallagher and Phillip Danault on the second line. He’s coming off his fourth-straight 20-goal season but was limited to just four goals and two assists in 20 games after being traded to the Golden Knights at the deadline. Danault is a competent two-way forward but doesn’t have the offensive upside that you would like to see from your second-line centre.
Nick Suzuki was also acquired in the Pacioretty trade and will battle for a roster spot with this summer’s No.3 overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi. One of them may crack the opening night roster and challenge Danault and veteran Tomas Plekanec for ice time as the season unfolds. The 19-year-old was the key piece in the Canadiens’ return for Pacioretty. He scored 42 goals and added 58 assists in 64 OHL games last season. We’ve yet to seehim play an NHL game, but the former No.13 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft certainly possesses the offensive upside that Danault and Plekanec lack. He’s the reason why Corsica ranks the Habs’ projected fourth-line as the best in the league. They obviously lack star power, but the Canadiens’ forward corps still has a respectable amount of depth.
With Shea Weber out until at least mid-December following knee surgery, the Montreal blueline is looking particularly vulnerable heading into the 2018-19 season. The Habs have four guys in their top-six that would have a hard time breaking camp with any other team in the league, with Jeff Petry and David Schlemko being the notable exceptions. Petry excelled in Weber’s prolonged absence last season, posting career highs in goals (12), assists (30), and shots on goal (178). He should continue to see north of 23 minutes a night this season as the Habs’ only legitimate top-pair defenseman.
Schlemko played just 18 minutes a night last season but is a capable defenseman at 5v5, posting a 50.9 CF% across his 10-year career. He should see more minutes this season given how thin the Montreal blueline is. With Weber’s return far from a guarantee, it could be a long season for the Habs defensively.
After a remarkable four-straight seasons with at least a .923 SV%, Carey Price came crashing down to earth in 2017-18. He posted a .900 SV% and a 3.11 GAA across 49 appearances for the Habs. Statistically speaking it was the worst year of his career, and given the state of the Montreal blueline, things won’t be getting any easier for Price in 2018-19. He has shown the ability to bounce back before; Price registered a .927 SV% in 2013-14 after posting a .905 SV% in the lockout-shortened season the year before. Durability is always a concern with Price, but he is more than capable of reclaiming his elite goaltender status. Unfortunately, the makeup of the Canadiens’ roster makes it difficult for Price to top 35 wins either way. Barring another injury to Price, veteran backup Antti Niemi should only see about 20 starts this season.
|Brendan Gallagher (25)||Max Domi (42)||Jonathan Drouin (63)||Jonathan Drouin (8)|
|Tomas Tatar (24)||Jonathan Drouin (41)||Max Domi (57)||Tomas Tatar (8)|
|Jonathan Drouin (22)||Nikita Scherbak (29)||Brendan Gallagher (50)||Brendan Gallagher (7)|
- 92. Carey Price — G16
- 155. Jonathan Drouin — C36
- 156. Brendan Gallagher — RW32
- 160. Jeff Petry — D41
- 226. Max Domi — LW36
Predicted Atlantic Standings
The Habs were a bottom-five team last year and got considerably worse in the off-season. The rebuild is already well under way, and you have to wonder how many of these veteran players will still be a Canadien by the trade deadline. A Vezina-worthy season from Price could help keep this team out of the league’s basement, but they are a longshot to make the playoffs either way.