Our Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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What a season 2020-21 was for the Montreal Canadiens. A scorching hot start fueled by Tyler Toffoli’s revenge tour against the Vancouver Canucks led into a major slump that caused a coaching change. That change didn’t do a whole lot but it kept the team afloat, just enough to sneak into a playoff spot, the last one in the North Division.
They were the team with the fewest points of all playoff qualifiers and were basically written off before it even started. After falling down 3-1 against the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, Montreal went on an absolute tear. They won the next 3 games to beat Toronto. Then they swept the Winnipeg Jets in round 2. Vegas proved a little bit more difficult but they still took the Golden Knights out in 6 games, with no help from the officiating and a little bit from Marc-Andre Fleury.
A true underdog makes the Cup Finals. Unfortunately the luck or soul selling deal or whatever force got the Habs through the playoffs ran out as the Lightning completely annihilated Montreal in 5 games.
Regardless of the ending, this season was fantastic to watch and got a ton of people on Montreal’s bandwagon, myself included as I impulse bought a Habs jersey after the Vegas series. You know what, maybe it was me buying the jersey that ended the run.
Anyways, the feel good story kind of ended right there as this offseason has been rough for the franchise. Despite just having his contract extended with the team, GM Marc Bergevin could be in hot water depending on the results of the investigation into the disgusting scandal in Chicago.
That same water is already being preheated due to the organization (well, Bergevin has the final say so it’s on him) drafting Logan Mailloux, who is currently being charged and fined in Sweden for sharing images of a sexual encounter with someone without their consent. Mailloux’s conduct was known prior to the draft and he requested teams not draft him, but Montreal did anyways, with a first round pick no less.
On the ice, the roster has taken a serious hit. Phillip Danault, their Selke calibre centre, left in free agency. As did Tomas Tatar, although he had sort of fallen out of favour with the team. Captain Shea Weber will miss the season (and possibly retire) due to injury. Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet with Carolina. And Saint Corey Perry signed in Tampa Bay.
Montreal is going to be a very different team with a major shift in team dynamics heading into the 2021-22 season. With the shift back to the old division alignments, leaving Montreal in the top-heavy Atlantic Division, their underdog Cup Final run is almost certainly a fluke. There is a good chance the team doesn’t even make the playoffs this season.
Montreal Canadiens Roster Additions
Montreal Canadiens Roster Subtractions
Montreal Canadiens Roster Overview
In recent years, Montreal has been a very deep team at forward and tends to roll 3 lines. Despite all the losses at forward, they still appear able to have 3 fairly solid lines to continue this trend. I do think we will start seeing a bit of a separation this season with the rise of players like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, however, as they will be taking on most of the offensive/scoring chances.
Those two, Suzuki and Caufield, are definitely ready to be the team’s first line. For the first time in a long while, Montreal will have a high-end offensive threat. Suzuki put up 41 points in 56 games in his second season in the NHL (he had 41 in 71 games his rookie season). He is now without a doubt the team’s #1 centre.
Caufield is still inexperienced, as he only played 10 regular season games but he did become a regular fixture for the playoffs, playing 20 games and recording 12 points. We know Caufield is a dangerous scoring threat so it makes sense to put him in these opportunities to score as soon as possible. I could see either Tyler Toffoli or Mike Hoffman joining these two on a regular basis early in the season. Toffoli impressed with 44 points his first season in Montreal to lead the team in scoring.
Christian Dvorak, acquired after the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet went unmatched, seems poised to take the second line with Brendan Gallagher. After a few seasons of playing primarily with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, Gallagher will be looking to establish himself with new linemates. To start the season, Jonathan Drouin or Mike Hoffman are likely candidates for the left wing there.
Jonathan Drouin will be an interesting player to watch heading into the year. He took some time away from the team through the end of the regular season and playoffs in 2020-21, but has rejoined the team for 21-22. He is going to be stuck in a mess of left wingers. Drouin, Hoffman, Toffoli, and even Dvorak are potentially able to be a top-9 left winger. Drouin also indicated an interest in playing centre, which would create even more uncertainty over where he plays.
He will likely start the year in the middle six to help gauge where his game is at and to give more two-way coverage from his linemates. This is why I see Drouin fitting in on the second line with Dvorak at centre, as Dvorak typically has a positive impact on the defensive side of the game. But, Drouin has had chemistry with Suzuki in the past and a top line of Drouin-Suzuki-Caufield could be in the works for later in the season.
Jake Evans and Josh Anderson are generally projected to be two-thirds of line three. Once again, the last available winger from the Toffoli, Drouin, Hoffman trio will fill in on the left side of this line. Jake Evans will be tasked with a significantly increased role this season but his energetic, grindy playstyle should serve him well on a line with Josh Anderson.
This leaves a fourth line of Arturri Lehkonen, Cedric Paquette, and Joel Armia with Mathieu Perreault filling in at any of these positions, when needed. Armia is a player who can play higher in the lineup so he might get swapped up if the team needs to blender things up.
Montreal will also be looking to Ryan Poehling to have a better showing than the last couple years in the NHL. After his incredible debut scoring a hat trick, the next season he played 27 games and only recorded 2 points. In 2020-21 he didn’t even make the NHL team and spent the whole season in the AHL. Poehling has a great chance to make this team because Montreal will absolutely want his size and strength to help bolster an otherwise small forward group. Only 3 of the 14 forwards on Montreal’s projected roster are over 6’0”, so Poehling at 6’4” with centre capabilities is a valuable asset for the team.
The loss of Shea Weber will be massive for the Habs blueline. Even though he was starting to show signs of aging, Weber was still playing over 22 minutes per game, splitting powerplay duties with Jeff Petry, and was the top penalty killing defender. Luckily, Montreal has another #1 capable defender in Petry, but that does not cover the loss to Montreal’s defense as a whole.
Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson were by far the most common defensive duo for the Canadiens last season, and they did so with great underlying numbers. Expect them to stick together. Interestingly, Edmundson is not normally this good and he may have had one of, if not the best, season of his career alongside Petry. We will probably find out pretty quickly whether or not the 20-21 season was an anomaly or if this particular pairing with Petry or place in the Habs organization is just the right fit for him.
David Savard was signed to help replace a bit of what was lost with Shea Weber’s injury. Now, Savard is about as stay-at-home as they come for defenders, so the entire offensive side of Weber’s absence is left unfilled. Savard, however, will block shots, hit, and play penalty kill.
Savard’s d-partner is likely Ben Chiarot, who played major minutes last season primarily with Weber. Personally, I would like to see Alexander Romanov up on this second pairing. Chiarot and Savard are both bigger, slower, defensive defenders. Romanov has a bit more speed and dynamism to his game that is a better fit for a middle pairing. Additionally, the steady presence of Savard as a partner would help Romanov develop his game and utilize his strengths.
If Romanov plays on the second pairing with Chiarot on the third, Chris Wideman may take the final RD spot. If Romanov and Chiarot are swapped, then Brett Kulak is more likely to fill the final spot.
After playing some 4D chess and toying with the brains over in Seattle, Montreal has managed to retain their goaltending tandem from last season. Carey Price was left exposed in the expansion draft in order to protect Jake Allen. He was left unselected in part due to concerns over an injury he was getting surgically repaired and rehabbing over the summer. Seattle was deterred in selecting Price due to some mysterious language used to describe the severity of the injury.
It turns out, Carey Price is expected to be mostly ready for training camp and if that’s the case, should be fully ready for the regular season. Although he didn’t have a great regular season at all, he found his Hart Trophy form in the playoffs. They will need Price at 100% for this season with all of the roster changes year-over-year.
As mentioned, the Habs were able to protect Jake Allen which is great news for the team. Allen had slightly better numbers than Price last season, which is great news if the team needs to roll a 1A/1B tandem due to injuries or slumps.
Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 Prediction
4th-5th Atlantic Divison
Although I say they have a shot at 4th and sneaking into a wild card playoff spot, if the Habs finish 4th in this division there is a major chance that the Metro will take both wild card spots. The likely finish for this team is 5th as I find it hard to see them beating Boston, Tampa, Florida, or Toronto in the regular season standings. But hey, look at what this team did last season, who knows!
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