Our Montreal Canadiens 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
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The Montreal Canadiens were perfectly average last season, sitting with a 31-31-9 record (.500 P%). That is not good enough in the NHL to make an impact, generally. Except for 2019-20. The Canadiens were the greatest beneficiary of the expanded Return to Play Format and became the lowest ranked team to make the trip into the postseason bubble. The Habs took advantage of this and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to make it into the actual playoffs, much to nearly everyone’s surprise.
This team is a lot better than many give them credit for. The last 6 seasons, they’ve been consistently inconsistent, rotating between having one good year then one average/bad year. Technically, 2019-20 was their off year so following recent trends and factoring in the roster development of the team year over year, the Canadiens are going to be a highly competitive team in their division for 2020-21.
GM Marc Bergevin has pulled off some wizardry over the last 12 months and has been excellent at asset management, getting fair value in trades, and filling roster holes. The only real blemish on this record is the Josh Anderson contract, which is a huge and long-term risk for an unproven and injury prone player (though it does have the chance to work out, we have to wait and see). The acquisition of Jake Allen fills the hole at backup goalie that allows the Habs the freedom to take a load off Carey Price. Tyler Toffoli brings in more depth scoring. Josh Anderson brings a physical presence and more possible scoring. Adding Joel Edmundson gives the team another reliable option for their top-4 defenders. Adding in the development of prospects, such as Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Alexander Romanov, onto an already strong and deep core roster, and the Canadiens are set to improve greatly.
The future is bright for the Habs, with prospects like Suzuki already making an impact in the NHL and others like Cole Caufield and Cayden Primeau developing and setting themselves up to join the NHL team over the next few seasons. Marc Bergevin is fully committed to stockpiling draft picks for this ever expanding prospect pool, as well. In 2018, he had 11 draft picks. He had 10 picks in the 2019 draft. 8 picks in 2020. And, he already has 14 picks for the 2021 draft. Quantity does not equal quality, but the more chances they have at selecting future NHLers, the better chance Bergevin has at building and maintaining a high-end team for a long period of time.
Montreal Canadiens Roster Overview
Montreal doesn’t have much in the way of high-end, superstar talent. But, they have 3 great second lines and some of the best forward depth in the league.
Tomas Tatar led the way with 61 points in 68 games and tied for the team lead in goals with Brendan Gallagher at 22. Phillip Danault centres those two. This top line, Montreal’s most utilized combination at forward, is one of the best lines in the NHL due to it’s strength in two-way play. Leading the league for forward lines (minimum 250 minutes TOI) in Corsi for Percentage at 61.92% while sitting 12th in Goals for Percentage with 58.94, these three may not dominate in the way that offensive superstars do, but they definitely control the game when on the ice. They should be resuming duties as the team’s top line.
The second and third lines will wind up interchangeable and probably experience a bit of shuffling over time. On the wings, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, and Jonathan Drouin will battle for playing time. The team’s centre depth is reliant on prospect progression, so Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are slotted in as middle line centres, assuming Suzuki does not experience a sophomore slump and Kotkaniemi bounces back from scoring 8 points in 36 games in 2019-20.
Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, and Paul Byron are the next step down the Habs’ depth chart, but all three will often play well above where bottom line forwards usually do, with Armia averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per game and Lehkonen and Byron down near 14-15 minutes.
This depth and versatility bodes well for Montreal in what is expected to be a fairly compressed schedule. By spreading out the workload and not relying on any one player or line for everything, the team’s fatigue level as a whole will be better off.
Quite simply, the Habs are stacked on defense for 2020-21. Shea Weber, the captain, may be hitting his mid-30’s but he is still a workhorse averaging 24:00 in ice time per game. Jeff Petry is not far behind and despite usually anchoring the second pairing, averages 23:39 in ice time per game. Last season, Ben Chiarot found himself a nice little niche in Montreal, where he became relied on often to partner with Weber or Petry on the top lines. This was a bit of a breakout year for him in that regard, as he set a new career high in points (21 in 69 games) and smashed his old high in average ice time by playing just over 23 minutes per game. His old career high was 18:37 in 2018-19.
Last season, the Habs relied on these three in basically every situation and were top-heavy in that regard. To help mitigate that potential weak spot in the lineup, Marc Bergevin brought in Joel Edmundson to play with whoever Chiarot is not with at the moment.
Additionally, adding Alexander Romanov will provide another potential option for a defender alongside Brett Kulak and Victor Mete. Romanov is touted as a dynamic, physical, and engaging defender so he will be exciting to watch and could get some time with experienced vets like Weber and Petry to help him play his game and learn to play NHL defense.
For once, the Habs won’t have to rely entirely on Carey Price. He had a bit of an off year in 2019-20, playing in 58 games with a 2.79 GAA and .909 SV%. But, due to the lack of a reliable backup, Price had to be the guy every game. The addition of Jake Allen as a back-up goalie for the Canadiens lifts a ton of weight off of Price’s shoulders. Although Carey is capable of playing 80% of the total games, it is not ideal to plan for that and lack a solid second option incase of fatigue or injury. Jake Allen will provide that option for Montreal.
If the league wants to maximize total games for the 2020-21 season, then expect a fair amount of back-to-backs and having 2 dependable goalies makes it so much easier to get 4 points out of a back-to-back series.
Montreal Canadiens 2020-21 Prediction
2nd – 4th North Division
The Canadiens will be a competitive team this upcoming year. The switch in divisional alignment removes the amount of top tier teams the Habs are competing against and makes the path to a top spot much easier than in the old Atlantic Division. But, the middle of the North Division is entirely up for grabs with a lot of teams at a similar level of play so competition will be fierce for points in this group.
That concludes our Montreal Canadiens 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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