The Montreal Canadiens believe that they have taken their first steps toward a brighter future.
On Monday morning, owner Geoff Molson spoke to the media about a new vision that included Jeff Gorton as the head of hockey operations, working in partnership with a yet-to-be-named francophone general manager.
The future started to take shape on Monday and that’s the focus of our Call of the Wilde on a night that the Canadiens were once again unable to win two straight this season falling to the Vancouver Canucks.
If the Montreal Canadiens are serious about doing this right and thoroughly, they need to get to work now. Owner Geoff Molson spoke of a full rebuild this morning when he met the media and that he is not afraid of that.
But what does a full rebuild mean to people?
In truth, to do it right, a full rebuild is a three- to five-year project. Firstly, the public has to be ready for that. It sounds great to just answer, “Sure, that sounds fine”, but that is a lot of pain on a lot of nights. A full rebuild means that the Canadiens do actually hit rock bottom or close to rock bottom, and then they build a base that is sustainable.
That is where the Canadiens have failed over and over again. They have never fallen far enough to build a sustainable base. They never have had the courage to do a full rebuild. Instead, they did what Marc Bergevin liked to refer to as a ‘reset’.
Sadly, a reset does not create a base that is strong enough. Instead, the weak foundation crumbles over and over again. That’s why the Canadiens draft top five every three years.
That leads us to another truth that never gets said, and it is this: A team cannot do a full rebuild when the goalie is too darn good to pull it off.
It is impossible to do a rebuild when the goalie is Carey Price. He masked so many issues with a save percentage that was too good to lose enough to reveal the actual structural weakness in the base. If you want to look like you need to do a full rebuild? Get .885 goaltending. The base has not been good for a very long time.
The Montreal base has had two decades of not being strong enough down the middle at the centre position, except last season. The Montreal base has had years and years of not enough talented puck-moving defencemen meaning that too much hockey is played in front of the amazing goalie. That goalie covered up so many blemishes.
Subtly, this has led us to a place where the club has not been all that entertaining over the years. There has not been an exciting player since Alex Kovalev or PK Subban. Those two players got fans out of their seats with their skill set in those seasons. Kovalev was the last point-per-game scorer and that was 2008. They haven’t had a 40-goal scorer this century.
A team designed to play in the offensive end of the ice with puck-moving defenders taking it up ice, and then centres who can pile on some points in the now easily won offensive zone, would be welcome in the years to come.
Montreal will always support hockey. The Canadiens will always be popular, but wouldn’t it be grand to actually be exciting as well? It’s been a long time since the brand of hockey played at the Bell Centre was exciting.
So what is the work ahead?
Firstly, the amazing goalie deserves a chance to get out of here. He has put in the time and the work. If this is a long-term project, Price should not be a part of it, and one presumes he does not want to be a part of it. Let him waive his no-trade clause in his contract.
After that, the Canadiens would pick up enough of the salary cap dollars in the contract to make a trade palatable to a highly-ranked team just shy of a goalie to vie for the cup.
Immediately, the Edmonton Oilers come to mind as a possible home for Price. He loves it out west. He is from the west. He has family from around that area, and so does his wife Angela. In the offing would be Price going to Edmonton with the Canadiens picking up about half of the cap dollars in the deal. GM Ken Holland sends back draft choices, prospects and goalie Mikko Koskinen to make the Oilers fit under the cap.
Perhaps Dylan Holloway can come to Montreal, if the Canadiens pick up a larger portion of the salary cap for Edmonton. The Canadiens rebuild starts with a flourish, and the Oilers immediately become cup contenders.
Next, Ben Chiarot, while being a massive part of the team right now in terms of minutes played and even power play time, must be moved as soon as now. Chiarot is an unrestricted free agent, and he is getting in the way of a rebuild because he helps the club win games. If someone wants to give the Canadiens a first rounder, take it. There are a lot of teams not making the playoffs now in a 32-team league.
That means it’s going to be more of a buyer’s market at the trading deadline. As soon as someone wants to give up a first rounder, take it.
It is hard for people to realize that the goal in a rebuild is to draft high while you build for three to five years out from now. The Canadiens are doing great so far at that as they are in a position to pick top five. That’s the goal.
It isn’t just all of the unrestricted free agents that would be traded, though. Anyone who wouldn’t be playing great hockey when the rebuild is done must be moved. Check the birth certificates of all of the players. If their age starts with a three in 2023, they are already wearing out their welcome as soon as right now. A proper rebuild isn’t achieved hanging on to aging players.
How will we know that the new management team is doing the proper actions to create a sustainable pathway? The key actions are these: puck-moving defenders are sought, another high talented centre skates for the CH soon, Carey Price is freed to go win a cup somewhere, Ben Chiarot is dealt, older players are dealt before their value descends, young talent gets more minutes of ice in either Montreal or Laval to benefit their development, and Dominique Ducharme stays as the head coach because this season is already lost.
After the pain, the Canadiens should be a team built to play hockey in the offensive zone and to be exciting, instead of a team built around a goalie and stay-at-home defenders staying at home all the time.
I, for one, cannot wait for this. I hope the right men will be in place to do this right. I believe that Jeff Gorton, judging by his acumen to acquire Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox when he was a prospect, is the right man for the job. Gorton’s track record is exemplary.
He can build a winner, and he can build an exciting team as well. Starting clean, he has the mandate to build something sustainable.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.