It does not get harder on a three-game road trip than Florida, Carolina, and Tampa. Night one was a loss 7-4 in Sunrise. Night two in Raleigh found the Canadiens taking on another division leader — the Hurricanes.
Carolina dominated, winning 4-0.
There’s very little to discuss here. The Canadiens gave it their best. They didn’t get embarrassed, but there is nothing to note, either.
Montreal worked hard. They had structure, but they met a superior group. That’s all. Just an extremely good hockey team showed them what near-perfect hockey looks like.
The Hurricanes look like a title team. They were a Rolex in this one. They had 26 shots in the second period alone. The Canadiens didn’t have a single high danger scoring chance.
Carolina is what Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes are hoping to build.
While the contest with the Panthers had a frantic exchange of chances on Tuesday, the Hurricanes simply shut it all down.
Carolina doesn’t exchange, they control. They owned the tempo of the entire contest. The way Florida plays makes it feel like they may be ripe for a series loss in the playoffs. The way Carolina plays makes it feel like they are a title team.
There are nights when the Canadiens don’t look like they are that far away from competing seriously again, but then they face a team like Carolina and quickly one realizes, “So that’s what a complete team looks like”.
Montreal has been averaging 10 high-quality scoring chances per contest recently. The Canadiens have been playing high-event hockey. In this one, they were shut down.
In the long run, though, that’s good. No one should want this new management team to look at the player personnel and think this is a Habs’ team that has the goods to fight for a playoff spot next season. In their present construction, they do not.
They’re 20th in the league since Martin St. Louis took over, and that’s not good enough. They need much more talent on defence, including some puck-movers. This is going to take some time to figure out who among the blue line prospects can move the puck well at the NHL level.
Puck-moving defencemen don’t just arrive, unless you are Cale Maker. Nine times out of 10, even the better puck movers need time to get comfortable. Also, absolutely a must is a power play quarterback from the point.
Another top-six centre is an absolute need, too. Also, a first line winger that works with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki has to be found.
The experiment with Joel Armia in this one did not work at all. Armia fits the first half of the equation as a puck-winner and a board-battler, so one would think he is the type of player needed. However, he can not distribute well enough. It’s nothing to win the puck, but then not be able to link with the two spark plugs he’s lined up with.
The Canadiens want to play exciting hockey, but they don’t have the players just yet. The important part is the management team does have a plan they want to execute. Here’s hoping they are patient.
A title team is not built in two months. Getting all of the necessary pieces takes seasons, not two or three months. Some pieces are in place and already starring, some pieces are in the prospect pool and have high hopes, some pieces are the twinkle in a GM’s eye hoping to acquire and draft.
Time: To rush it is to make mistakes; to let it harvest patiently is to reap the full benefits.
Take the time to do this right.
Kent Hughes is trying to clean many players off the books in the next three months in order to make a splash in the summer during the free agent season. Hughes would like to remove a lot of money from the budget to ice a much-improved team next year, and a team in the style of Martin St. Louis. On the block will be Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and many others.
Petry is 34 years of age and has requested a trade, so he can be with his family again. Julie and the kids have had difficulty with the more strict rules in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, they have gone back to the United States to live, and Petry would like to rejoin them. His days are numbered in Montreal. He has asked for a trade.
The trade will take place in the summer when the market opens up with expiring contracts allowing an acquiring team to have the budget to afford Petry.
Weber will also move this summer to a team that is trying to make it to the floor of the salary cap. This almost happened already with the Arizona Coyotes at the trading deadline, but they were unable to make it happen in time. This maneuver also gets easier in the summer for both clubs who will have a better idea of their budget.
It is argued that the LTIR player Weber can just be taken off the salary cap during the season. This is true, but during the off-season the contract is actually on the books, so the general manager has a difficult time with the cap in the summer months while trying to acquire players.
And the word is that Jeff Gorton and Hughes want to acquire players. The organization’s evaluation is such that they do not believe in a long-term rebuild. In fact, they believe a simple restructuring of this lineup with a couple of additions can turn the fortunes of the club around quite quickly.
Their recent play has given them much hope. They view it, though, as not a rebuild, but an overall restructuring under St. Louis’ ideas of what makes an exciting and effective hockey team.
The biggest rumour is Kris Letang will be pursued. He will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. He fits the vision that the management team has of a more exciting club in the future. Montreal has not had a power play quarterback since Andrei Markov was told to take it or leave it from Marc Bergevin and did, in fact, leave it.
Word is that Hughes and Gorton are willing to part with many draft picks in exchange for the rights to players that they would like to negotiate with before they become UFA. This is an exchange of lower draft picks that they have in surplus.
It’s not feasible to sign all of the draft picks, and having too many is actually not good strategy overall.
It’s difficult to know exactly what comes together, but if it does get rolling, expect many moves in the off-season to improve the club. If the pair have their way, don’t go too far from your laptop — news could come at any time leading up to the draft, the free agent frenzy, and beyond.
It’s an exciting time. The HuGo union has produced excellent results so far. It’s suddenly an exciting team compared to the one that was like paint drying the entire season only six weeks ago.
This is likely to be the busiest summer in a long time in Montreal. There may be some surprises for you. Imagine who is not a Martin St. Louis player, and expect the possibility that each one of them could be moved.