The Skeptics Are Out After Canadiens Bumpy Offseason

The Canadiens will undoubtedly have an uphill battle to make the playoffs next season.

The Montreal Canadiens had a dream journey through the NHL postseason, coming up just short in the Stanley Cup Finals. As positive as that run was, the follow up in the offseason has been less than ideal. A team that was maybe a couple of pieces away from hoisting the Stanley Cup has been criticized heavily by everyone from fans to the media to even the Prime Minister of Canada.

With the start of the NHL season about 50 days away, let’s recap the topsy-turvy offseason that was for the Habs.

2020-21 Recap

It’s hard to believe that the upcoming season is right around the corner. Betting odds are already posted and MyBookie review found that the Canadiens will open as a +160 underdog at the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 13th. The hope is that this year’s regular season goes a little more smoothly than last years.

It’s hard to recall a team ever putting together a season like the Canadiens did last year. They started off as a Top 10 team, stumbled badly and fired head coach Claude Julien and assistant Kirk Muller, and gave Dominique Ducharme the lead duties. They didn’t markedly improve in the second half, so most people figured they’d be first-round fodder when the playoffs arrived. Instead, the team that won just 24 of 56 regular season games managed to win most of their playoff games up until they reached the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Fluke or not, they came that close, which is why it felt like their roster needed some minor tweaks in the offseason. Instead, the moves have left fans wondering if this team will remain competitive.

Habs Moves Come Under Question

The Canadiens front office can’t really move as much as a muscle without coming under scrutiny of Montreal fans and media. The team could decide to hand out free beers in the home-opener next season or hire a different person to pick up the dirty towels in the locker room and they’ll get questioned. Nonetheless, it does feel like the heat has been extra hot on the front office this offseason.

The main issue has been up front. The Canadiens averaged just 2.77 goals per game last season, which ranked them 15th in the NHL. It was pretty clear that if anything, they needed more scoring help, not less. However, their frontlines took a beating. The team’s No. 1 line of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher is now down to just Gallagher. On top of that, the team let Corey Perry go, which isn’t a huge surprise given that he’s in the twilight of his career at the age of 36. What was surprising is that he only signed for $1-million, so one would think that the Habs would have kept him at that rate. After all, he did have 10 points in 22 playoff games.

Of course, the team is ripe with a lot of young, burgeoning offensive weapons like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. And maybe Jonathan Drouin comes back and gives this unit a boost. But it would have been nice to at least maintain the same parts as much as possible and then add some help. Instead, we’re left wondering if they can even get back to last year’s level, which weren’t good enough until the magical playoff run.

And if you thought the personnel moves in free agency were under inspection, the scrutiny was much louder when the Canadiens made the controversial draft selection of Logan Mailloux. He was charged with distributing a sexual photo without consent and renounced himself from the draft. While most teams wanted to steer clear (or at least wait), the Canadiens took him in the first round. That let off a firestorm of criticism – even landing some harsh words from the leader of the federal government. 

In a perfect world, when a team falls just short of winning a championship, the offseason is focused on finding the final pieces of the puzzle. Instead, Habs fans are left discussing the controversial pick as well as whether the team still has what it takes. The good news is that after last year, everyone knows not to count them out.

What 2021-22 Holds?

The Canadiens will undoubtedly have an uphill battle to make the playoffs next season and that’s not because of anything they’ve done or haven’t done personnel wise. A switch back to the Atlantic Division is going to hurt their chances. To start, it means they’re back in a division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who not only just handled them in the Stanley Cup Finals but also swept them in the regular season series the last time they were in the same division (in 2019-20). Then there’s also the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. Finishing in the top three spots is going to be tight.

And then there’s questions about the offense and Shea Weber’s availability and Carey Price’s hip. And then there’s the Mailloux cloud. At the end of the day, the Canadiens can still make it all work; we’ve seen that. However, the offseason has been a bumpy ride and the skeptics are again once out again.

The Canadiens will get their 2021-22 season started on Wednesday, October 13th when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.