Montreal Canadiens Habs NHL season 2021–22

The 2021–22 NHL season: What you can expect from this year’s Habs

Who’d have thought the Habs would be the team that would experience such drastic turnover after last season’s final?

Within four months, the Montreal Canadiens have gone from a thrilling run to the Stanley Cup Final to a nausea-inducing rollercoaster of an offseason.

Now, we’re about to find out how much the changes affect them for the better when the regular season kicks off on Oct. 12. The Habs open the 2021–22 season in Toronto the next day to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. Our home opener at the Bell Centre goes down Oct. 16, heralding the return of full capacity crowds at the arena. Back when only 7,500 fans could attend (35% capacity), Cult MTL (myself included) got to go to a recent preseason game against the Leafs, with the Habs pulling out an exciting 5–2 victory, thanks to huge performances by Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, AHLer Michael Pezzetta, and new boy Christian Dvorak.

Montreal Canadiens Habs NHL season 2021–22
Corey Perry, gone but not forgotten, with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki (The 2021–22 NHL season: What you can expect from this year’s Habs)

Whether or not they can find and sustain a winning formula is still to be determined, as the Habs tend to be notorious for starting hot in October before plateauing when the weather gets cold. But of course, hope always springs eternal in this city, and how things shape up for the Tricolore during the NHL’s first 82-game season since 2019 will be interesting to say the least. Here are some significant narratives surrounding the Habs going into this season.

A sea of arrivals and departures

Who’d have thought the Habs would be the team that would experience such drastic turnover after last season’s final, and not the salary cap-flouting Tampa Bay Lightning? After GM Marc Bergevin won his gamble of exposing Carey Price to the Seattle Kraken to avoid them selecting Jake Allen, things went just a little topsy turvy. First, he sparked a vicious backlash in Montreal and around the league after drafting a convicted sex offender who didn’t even want to be selected this year. He followed this up by watching Philip Danault and Corey Perry — two major pieces of the Habs’ Cup run — leave in free agency to Los Angeles and Tampa Bay, respectively. Tomas Tatar would also leave for the New Jersey Devils; Bergevin replaced him with Mike Hoffman. 

David Savard, Cédric Paquette, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Chris Wideman would also join the Habs as free agents, with goalie Samuel Montembeault later claimed off waivers. However, Bergevin surprised everyone by not matching Carolina’s $6.1-million offer sheet for Jesperi Kotkaniemi — a move seemingly done by the Hurricanes in retaliation for Bergevin’s 2019 offer sheet for Sebastian Aho, complete with a $20 signing bonus (#20 is Aho’s jersey number). After taking the compensation of a 1st and 3rd round pick, Bergevin flipped both picks — the 1st rounder being top 10-protected — to Arizona for Christian Dvorak. That’s a looooooot of ins and outs.

Competing in a stacked Atlantic Division

Although head coach Dominique Ducharme will be entering his first full year as the Habs’ bench boss (and first with the interim tag removed), the pressure will be on him and the Canadiens to replicate their success in this year’s postseason. On top of that, he’ll have to compete in a tough-as-nails Atlantic Division, rather than the comparatively weaker one-off North Division. Both Florida teams, the Panthers and Lightning, look like favourites on paper to win the division, with Boston and Toronto likely to go toe-to-toe with them. 

Though the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres both appear to still be in full rebuild mode, the Ottawa Senators — assuming they sign Brady Tkachuk soon, which is never a guarantee when your owner is Eugene Melnyk — are full of burgeoning young talent, and will unquestionably be a team to watch this season. At least we can’t say the Habs won’t be battle-tested.

Possible breakthroughs for young players

Today’s news: A huge extension for Nick Suzuki

Although Hoffman and Wideman are injured to start the season, they aren’t expected to be out long-term. (Even Price, who last week entered the NHL players assistance program, is expected to return before the end of 2021, possibly as soon as November according to GM Marc Bergevin.) However, Habs captain Shea Weber is expected to miss the entire 2021–22 season with a left foot and ankle injury that has caused him injury headaches in the past— and retirement is a very real possibility for him as a result. As such, the Habs will have multiple assistant captains (reportedly including Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki), rather than naming an interim replacement for Weber. Paul Byron, who’s suffering from a hip injury, is also expected to be out until the new year.

Not only does this allow for some of our newer faces to establish themselves in front of the Bell Centre faithful, it also presents opportunities for young players to make their mark. Ryan Poehling is expected to be right in that mix following an impressive season with the AHL Laval Rocket, racking up 25 points in 28 games. Other names to watch for possible call-ups include Jesse Ylönen, the aforementioned Pezzetta, Josh Brook (after he recovers from a knee injury), Mattias Norlinder (if he doesn’t go back to Sweden) and Quebecers Joël Teasdale and Rafael Harvey-Pinard. Oh, and this will be the first full NHL season for goal-scoring dynamo Cole Caufield, one that could very well land him the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year. Not too shabby. ■

Oct. 13 lineup (The 2021–22 NHL season: What you can expect from this year’s Habs)

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Cult MTL. For more on the Montreal Canadiens, please visit the Habs website.

For more Montreal sports coverage, please visit the Sports section.