NHL OPENING DAY – Did Habs Really Improve? by Jamie Gilcig – HOCKEY CRUNCH

October 10, 2022 – There’s a lot of excitement in la belle province as the season kicks off against The Leafs. The Habs didn’t win a pre season game this year, but this scribbler predicts a pounding of Toronto tonight.

It’s not that the team is that much better. It’s just good drama.

Under Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, and Martin St. Louis the team “feels” better.

This is not a season of competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup. In other media it’s been called a “development” year. I’m not sure what that is, but let’s look at key factors.

Did the Habs build their core from last season?

Did the Habs develop or acquire a top six or top 4 Francophone player?

Did the Habs improve their coaching?

Did the Habs improve the cap value?

The Canadiens only have one player I’d consider a core player at this stage, and that’s Captain and Centre Nick Suzuki. That also is being a bit generous as the Gilcig Core System is very clear on the roles of a team’s core, especially a Cup contending corp. Answer. Negative.

A francophone player? It didn’t feel like a priority of the team. The good news is they didn’t scrape the barrel just to get a francophone onto the roster like they did last year. Negative.

Coaching? I like Marty St. Louis. I liked Luke Richardson as a coach much much more. Sadly Richardson left the team to prove himself in Chicago and the Habs didn’t really get an established hand or two to help support St. Louis. While Marty gets a free pass this year as some of the youngun’s improve, Montreal can put you on top of the mountain, but it also can chase you from that top. Negative.

Cap value? This is an interesting category. The Habs have a lot of pieces in play. While they won’t get much for many of their veterans they probably can get something if they can get off to a good start. Of course that would mean risking not getting a top five draft pick, but a lot more value can be earned if managed well.

It’s going to be a fine balancing act for Messers Gorton and Hughes.

For me there are too many “projects” including first overall pick Slavkovsky. He has some tantalizing qualities, but then so does Joel Armia. Slavkovsky simply hasn’t put up NHL top line numbers yet. He needs a good season in the AHL and maybe bring him back after the deadline. I wouldn’t even give him an early audition in the NHL. Clarity can be really helpful in development and frankly he didn’t show enough in the pre season to earn a spot on the big team.

The team’s strength is its depth of very talented young D men. Kaiden Guhle, and the player I’ve enjoyed the most since Lyle “Flyboy” Odelein, Arber Xhekaj should make the opening night roster. The Habs need Xhekaj and his mean streak. This writer thinks that Arber might be considered for some time on wing too as Power forwards are at a premium now in the NHL and Arber has shown enough offensively to be of consideration, especially if the team trades out Josh Anderson.

I would’ve also traded Jake Allen in the final year of his contract and grab the 1st. A goalie of his talent and contract would be worth far more than games the team will lose this season. That to me is maxxing out cap management. Yes, he can be still traded and still will have value, but you have to max out.

Montreal really does need a good start, especially for its veterans.

Some stories to watch out for will be Stumpy Gallagher who might be tradeable if he can put up some points early in the season.

While never fast, I really like Sean Monahan. While the easy play if he gets back anywhere near to his form would be trade him as a deadline chip, he makes a potential keeper if he’s willing to sign with the Habs as a 3rd line option who could play up.

Kirby Dach to this writer is Winnipeg bound if he can put up good numbers and finally land Pierre Luc Dubois who always should’ve been a Hab. The Habs certainly have enough to make the deal happen if they want it to, and Winnipeg needs to reload.

Suzuki, Dubois, & Monhan would be a strong Centre corps. Certainly stronger than Montreal has had in decades potentially.

Jonathan Drouin I’m predicting will have a contract year renaissance. He should be able to be a 3rd line PP specialist with a reasonable contract moving forward if he wants to stay in Montreal after this season.

The team picking up Kovacevic on waivers to me says the team wants the younger D men to get more minutes of ice time in Laval. While not a bad thing overall, it does question some of the boys projections.

Laval will be a lot of fun to watch this season.

The Habs as a team are moving forward. Are they moving forward fast enough? Especially for the Montreal market?

Only time will tell, and how management handle their assets this year will define them one way or the other.

This will be the biggest year of the change.


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