Montreal Canadiens Habs to-do list

23 things we want the Habs to do in 2023

From trade, draft and Laval manoeuvres to moving Carey Price to management to giving Slaf more ice time to ditching the cursed Reverse Retro jerseys, the Canadiens have a long to-do list for the new year.

We are 37 games into the 2022–23 NHL season, and the Montreal Canadiens are not good. Perhaps not quite as bad as we’d initially feared, mind you, but still pretty ass. The Habs sit dead last in the Atlantic Division, and 10 points removed from being the worst team in the Eastern Conference. As of now, their -38 goal differential is bottom of the Atlantic, good for second-from-last in the conference and fourth-from last in the league. 

So yeah, not ideal.

But just like with every new year (until we all inevitably forget about whichever flimsy New Year’s resolutions we made before the clock struck midnight), hope springs eternal — and there’s plenty Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes can do in 2023 to inject more of that hope and optimism into the Habs’ fanbase after the emotionally draining decade that was Marc Bergevin’s tenure as GM. Here are 23 examples of items that should be high on the new regime’s to-do list this year.

1. Find a new power play coach, and/or an overhaul to their approach with the man advantage

Alex Burrows — perhaps the only Habs staff member who will ever be interviewed by Nardwuar — just isn’t cutting the mustard.

2. New assistant coaches in general

With all due respect to Burrows and Trevor Letowski, both of whom were decent NHLers in their day, they’re also holdovers from the Marc Bergevin era. Get rid, and then continue washing off the stink from that frustrating decade.

3. Connor Bedard

‘Nuff said.

4. Consider trading both our first-round pick and Florida’s (from the Ben Chiarot trade) to move up in the draft

This is an infinitely more likely scenario than us landing Bedard, and one that isn’t impossible depending on where both we and the Panthers finish. Given how absolutely stacked this draft is after the first overall pick, with Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Brayden Yager, Will Smith and Matvei Michkov (even if the latter won’t be able to come over for three more seasons) all being excellent catches should we find ourselves in their range.

5. A clear sign of progression and growth for our young guns

Subpar prospect development has held this team back for years and years, and it hurts knowing how much better we could’ve been had Bergevin not completely neglected that element of the organization. The HuGo era is our opportunity to put that right.

6. Shorten Jean-François Houle’s leash in Laval if the team keeps losing

The Rocket aren’t performing to preseason expectations in the AHL, and we remember how multiple bad seasons under Sylvain Lefebvre crippled our ability to develop young talent. We don’t want a repeat of that here, and certainly not by the son of this team’s worst-ever GM.

7. Give Juraj Slafkovsky every opportunity to succeed

Currently, the 2022 first overall pick has shown signs of serious promise, even if he remains fairly raw at the NHL level and still getting fully acclimated to North American ice. The big, brawny Slovak has 10 points in his first 25 games in the show despite an average of less than 12 minutes of ice time per game (Nick Suzuki, for example, gets an average of 21 minutes, and both Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach get between 17 and 18 minutes per game on average). Give Slafkovsky more ice time, let him make mistakes without immediately punishing them for it like Michel Therrien or Claude Julien would’ve, and watch him elevate both his game and self-confidence.

8. Get places on the team for Jesse Ylönen and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard

The former clearly possesses good offensive upside, and would be on the big club if it weren’t for the logjam on the wings. The latter plays with a ton of heart, work ethic and sheer tenacity, and would be a solid fit for a consistent bottom-six job — quite fitting for a player whose nickname is “Lavallagher.”

9. On the blueline, give opportunities to Justin Barron and Nicolas Beaudin

Both are currently in Laval, and both are on pace to be the two highest-scoring D-men on the Rocket based on point percentage. Better yet, Barron is right-handed, and Chateauguay native Beaudin is a former first-rounder with upside still yet to be tapped into.

10. Get rid of the deadwood without having to sacrifice a first-round pick to do so

Easier said than done, given how much the Flames had to give us just to get Sean Monahan’s contract off their books, but it’s a critical order of business for Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes. Players fitting that dubious bill include Evgenii Dadonov, Joel Armia and Mike Hoffman, with Jonathan Drouin and Christian Dvorak also being trade chips even if their respective values are low. Josh Anderson, a player who excites and frustrates fans in equal measure, should also be in play.

11. Speaking of Mike Hoffman, he should stop searching his name on Twitter

Seriously dude, what do you stand to gain from seeing people talk shit about your performance — many of those criticisms being valid, too — and then go on a huge blocking spree? How does that serve you positively? Just let your puck skills do the talking — always a much better way to silence your critics.

12. Figure out our goalie situation

Given how Carey Price is all but retired at this point, it goes without saying that this should be one of the top priorities for this regime. Whether that’s trading for a late first-rounder to draft one of the top goalies in 2023 (Michael Hrabal and Carson Bjarnason of the USHL and WHL respectively are thus far the first names that come to mind), or trading for a top goalie prospect from another team, this is critical to resolve in the new year. As much as Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault are a serviceable enough tandem, they absolutely cannot be our long-term duo in net.

13. Acquire another first-round pick, even if it means trading Sean Monahan

Though the former longtime Calgary Flame has enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts after prolonged issues with hip injuries, he’ll also make an intriguing trade chip for playoff teams who can afford to take him on. Lots of Habs fans want to see him stay — frankly, so do I — but at his age, he’s better off on a contender than a quasi-rebuild project. More likely than not, Monahan is here for a good time, not a long time.

14. Stop wearing those Expos Reverse Retro jerseys

They’re ugly as fuck, and they’re also cursed. Even Marty St-Louis doesn’t like them.

15. While we’re at it, change the goal song, too

That “da na na na, HEY!” song is fun, but also extremely generic — not to mention a missed opportunity by the Canadiens organization to give the goal song to a local band or artist. (Skiifall, anyone?)

16. Have Cole Caufield hit the 40-goal mark

The pride of Stevens Point, WI has 18 goals on the year in only 30 games. With 52 still to go, 40 isn’t out of the realm of possibility — and nor is 50, should he maintain his current blistering pace.

17. Get Cole Caufield to go up to Dominique Ducharme and howl with laughter in his face

Seriously, imagine having a bonafide sniper on your team and doing everything in your power to restrain his creativity and place him in a role that doesn’t suit him — and costing him the Calder Trophy last season, to boot.

18. Speaking of exciting young American forwards, sign Sean Farrell and give him some game time with the big club

The 21-year-old Massachusetts native is in his second season at Harvard, but could easily come over and play for the Habs at the tail end of the season, once Harvard’s college hockey season has ended. Farrell racked up six points in four games for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics this year, and his point-per-game pace is currently around 1.64 (including an average of one assist per game), leading all players on the Crimson. One to watch in the next couple years without a doubt. Jayden Struble, a D-man playing at Northeastern University with both of Kent Hughes’ sons (and formerly with his close friend/current Hab Jordan Harris), could also get a look after his four-year college career ends this season.

19. Figure out the logjam on the left side of defence

Aside from the aforementioned Beaudin, Harris and Struble, the Habs also have Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Mattias Norlinder and pint-sized offensive maestro Lane Hutson, who’ll be with the U.S. national team at the upcoming World Juniors. 2022 draft picks Adam Engstrom and Petteri Nurmi are also putting up respectable totals with their European club teams. Problem is, each of these players are left-handed, so a trade of some kind will have to happen to add help to the right side. Either one or more of the names mentioned above will have to be sacrificial lambs, or one of the guys on the big club will, with Joel Edmundson being a likely casualty.

20. Make sure Carey Price doesn’t feel rushed into coming back in any way whatsoever

I also don’t want fans or my fellow journos to immediately vilify him or paint him as a deliberately insensitive asshole, like many of you did after that controversial and ill-timed gun post on his Instagram. But enough about the off-ice stuff for now; as far as Carey Price the hockey player goes, we shouldn’t put him under any undue pressure while he remains on the long-term injury reserve, and quite possibly will never play again. But if any NHL player has enough drive and determination to get himself back into game shape against such monumental odds, it’s Carey freaking Price. Even if he does do that, and the team manages to snag an unlikely playoff spot, I wouldn’t be quick to reactivate him off LTIR in time for Game 1 of the first round. If a comeback is doable in any way shape or form, the least the Habs can do is give him all the time he needs.

21. But if this is indeed the end of the road for Price’s NHL career, get him a nice, comfy place on the Habs’ management team

Perhaps he could be our primary consultant on goaltending talent, either at the pro or amateur level, or both. Either way, there’s no one whose judgment I’d trust on that more than his.

22. Go hard after certain UFAs next summer

This is even if it’s just to later flip them for picks at the deadline if we’re bad again next year. For example, John Klingberg reportedly almost signed with the Habs this past summer before signing with a pitiful Anaheim Ducks team. He’ll be a UFA again next summer, and has publicly stated his interest in joining the club, so Hughes would do well to make another run at his services even if he’s to get moved for futures on deadline day.

23. Kent Hughes needs to keep going with his “buy low, sell high” mantra

So far, that philosophy‘s been coming up roses for him: trading Ben Chiarot for an unprotected(!!!!) first round pick and prospect Ty Smilanic; flipping Alexander Romanov for a first rounder he’d then use to acquire Kirby Dach; sending Brett Kulak back home to Edmonton in exchange for the second round pick we used to draft Hutson; and having the Calgary Flames add a conditional first rounder for us to take Sean Monahan for a bag of pucks. These are just some of the changes he’s made to put his stamp on the team, but he’s thus far gotten incredibly good value for the prices he pays. In some cases, he’s committed sheer highway robbery. So far, so good with our favourite former NHL player agent!

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