The 2018-19 Montreal Canadiens season went from being a pleasant surprise to a crushing disappointment when the Habs finished just two points shy of Columbus for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot. Most prognosticators were expecting a dormant season from a heavily turned over Montreal roster, but the Habs were able to ride stellar 5v5 play and the development of some key younger players to a 44-30-8 record.
Much of Montreal’s success last year was reflective of their puck dominance at 5v5. Montreal finished fourth in the NHL in both CF% and SCF% at 5v5 last season. It bodes well for their production this year, but with fellow Atlantic teams like the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres only getting better, Montreal will need their young players to continue to improve if they want to tread water in their increasingly difficult division.
After a failed attempt to lure restricted free-agent Sebastian Aho from Carolina, Montreal ultimately had a quiet off-season. They didn’t make a single trade and their free-agent signings were limited to Ben Chiarot and Nick Cousins to three and one-year contracts, respectively.
Montreal’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher did an incredible job of controlling play at 5v5 but lacked the offensive upside of a typical first line. The shape of their top-nine is very much up in the air with Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi each having a case for more ice time. The Canadiens boast a very deep group of forwards, but their lack of high-end talent puts a low ceiling on their offensive production.
Max Domi (C/LW)
- — Domi leads an otherwise underwhelming group of forwards in fantasy value. Last year’s 11.5 on-ice SH% casts doubt over Domi’s ability to repeat as a 70-point scorer, but his shot volume took a major step forward last year. An increase in ice time along with additional growth in shot volume could help Domi mitigate any potential regression this year.
Brendan Gallagher (RW)
- — Gallagher took full advantage of being stapled to the top line last season, scoring 33 times on 302 shots across a full 82 games. 30 goals and 20 assists again should be considered the floor for Gallagher. His opportunity and consistent shot volume make him a relatively safe bet. With an ATOI of 16:24 last season, there’s room for Gallagher’s usage to further increase in 2019-20.
Jonathan Drouin (C/LW)
- — Drouin is an above-average playmaker and should be heavily-featured again for the Canadiens this season, but his fantasy value is ultimately capped by a lack of goal-scoring. He is a lock for 30 assists but doesn’t have the shot volume or quality to push for 30 goals. The former No.3-overall pick seems destined for another 50-point campaign.
Tomas Tatar (LW/RW)
- — Tatar took full advantage of the opportunity given to him last season, scoring 25 times and adding 33 assists in 80 games for the Canadiens. His peripheral numbers look solid, but the real concern here is Tatar’s usage. His ice-time could seemingly take a hit with Montreal’s younger players all vying for more opportunity. He’d be a pretty safe bet to repeat last year’s performance if the usage is there.
Phillip Danault (C)
- — Danault is Montreal’s best two-way forward but is at risk of conceding ice time to Domi and Kotkaniemi this season. Danault led Montreal’s centremen in ice time last with year an ATOI of 17:47. His usage will be important to monitor early in the season. He could become relevant in standard leagues if he maintains his 5v5 usage and sees an uptick in power-play time.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi (C)
- — Kotkaniemi is an obvious threat to Danault’s ice time this season. The 19-year-old proved himself to already be a terrific two-way player as a rookie, registering a 57.0 CF%. He logged 11 goals and 23 assists while playing less than 14 minutes a night. Monitor his deployment early in the season; he could be a serious breakout candidate if the opportunity is there.
Montreal would have done well to bolster their blue line a little more in the off-season after relying so heavily on Shea Weber and Jeff Petry a season ago. Like it or not, 21-year-old Victor Mete could end up being an integral piece of this blue-line in 2019-20. He scored no goals but did add 13 assists in 71 games while playing 17:46 a night last season. He’ll jostle with Chiarot and Brett Kulak for minutes on the left-side this year.
Shea Weber (D)
- — Despite missing the first 24 games of the year with a knee injury, Weber still proved himself a valuable fantasy asset last season. He fired 166 shots on goal in the 58 games he did play, scoring 14 times and adding 19 assists. Assuming he can stay healthy, Weber is an absolute lock to hit double-digit goals again this season and is one of few defensemen who has a legitimate shot to top 20 goals, a mark he’s reached three times in his career before. A lack of assists caps his upside, but his usage and shot volume make him a very reliable goal-scorer from the backend.
Jeff Petry (D)
- — Petry was the workhorse of the Montreal blue-line last season, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Petry fired 172 shots on goal across a full 82 games while registering career highs in goals (13) and assists (33). Like Weber, Petry’s shot volume and usage give his production a very sturdy floor. Unfortunately for Petry, Weber is 100% healthy coming into training camp. He saw his ice-time, point production, and power-play time all drop upon Weber’s return to the lineup in late November, a trend that will likely continue into the 2019-20 season.
The Canadiens signed six-year vet Keith Kinkaid to back up Carey Price this season. Kinkaid’s career took a turn for the worse when he registered a 3.36 GAA and a .891 SV% in 41 games for the Devils last season. Montreal will hope Kinkaid can post something closer to his career mark of .906 in 2019-20 as they look to ease Price’s workload. Price started 64 games for the Habs last season, good for the second-most starts in the NHL.
Carey Price (G)
- — Price has been one of, if not the most, consistent goalies in the league since his rookie season in 2007-08. He’s never registered a SV% below .900 and finished with a .920 mark or better in six of his 12 seasons. At 32-years-old, his days of being a truly elite netminder could be behind him, but the uncontested minutes he’ll see behind a very good 5v5 team leave Price with plenty of upside for the 2019-20 season.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|B. Gallagher (27)||M. Domi (39)||M. Domi (60)||S. Weber (9)||J. Drouin (21)|
|T. Tatar (23)||P. Danault (35)||J. Drouin (52)||T. Tatar (7)||S. Weber (15)|
|M. Domi (21)||J. Drouin (34)||B. Gallagher (51)||B. Gallagher (6)||J. Petry (15)|
Canadiens in the DFO Top 300
- 70 — Carey Price (G)
- 114 — Shea Weber (D)
- 142 — Max Domi (C/LW)
- 158 — Brendan Gallagher (RW)
- 167 — Jeff Petry (D)
- 180 — Jonathan Drouin (C/LW)
- 199 — Tomas Tatar (LW/RW)
- 223 — Jesperi Kotkaniemi (C)
- 241 — Philip Danault (C)
|3||BOSTON BRUINS||45-28-9||99 PTS|
|4||FLORIDA PANTHERS||44-29-9||97 PTS|
|5||MONTREAL CANADIENS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|6||BUFFALO SABRES||39-36-7||85 PTS|
|7||DETROIT RED WINGS||33-40-9||75 PTS|
Their stellar 5v5 play should keep them in contention for a playoff spot, but Montreal had far too stagnant of an off-season to keep up with the top half of the Atlantic Division. The Habs will need some major improvements from their key young players if they want to keep pace with the new-look Panthers. The top three spots in the division are essentially spoken for, but Montreal should contend for that second Eastern Conference Wild Card spot again in 2019-20.