Let’s travel back in time with the Montreal Canadiens. Do images of the 1993 Stanley Cup Champions pop into your head? Well news flash: That was 25 years ago! It’s hard to think that it has been a quarter century since any Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup, but it’s true. But let’s look at more recent history and the end of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The Habs finished first in the Atlantic Division with 63 points in 48 games, but ended up losing in the opening round of the playoffs to the Ottawa Senators. Even so, there was a buzz in the city of Montreal, where Les Canadiens were ready to become the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference! They had a generational goaltender-to-be in Carey Price, who formed a solid tandem with Jaroslav Halak, splitting the games evenly. Max Pacioretty was emerging quickly as a fantastic goal scorer and a young upstart defenseman named P.K. Subban was also just coming into his own.
A year later, this team finished with 100 points in the regular season and went on a great run through the playoffs, including an awesome seven-game war against the rival Boston Bruins. They finally lost out to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the entire province of Quebec laid claim that this team would win the Cup the next year. The team performed extremely well in 2014-15, winning the division again, this time with 110 points, but again bowed out of the playoffs early, losing in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Price won not only the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, but also took home the Hart Memorial Trophy as well as the league’s best PLAYER. Aside from a couple of disappointing playoff losses to more seasoned teams, the future was looking up for the Montreal Canadiens.
Then, something happened.
The 2015-16 season saw Carey Price get hurt (while slipping on a puck in warm-ups, of all things) and miss all but 12 games of the season. The entire organization went into a tailspin; from the management group, down to the coaches and certainly down to the players. The team finished with only 82 point and completely out of the playoff picture, despite starting the season as the “best” team in the NHL.
June 29, 2016 was a significant date in recent Canadiens history. All-Star, Norris Trophy finalist and ultimate fan favorite, P.K. Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators for veteran Shea Weber. Now, Weber is definitely no slouch of a player, but he is four years older, a much slower skater and is locked into a MASSIVE 14-year, $110,000,000 (no that is not a typo) contract.
Despite the trade, 2016-17 season saw the Habs finish first in the Atlantic Division, but again losing in the first round, this time to the Rangers in six games. However, even before the early playoff exit, there were many questions surrounding the team. What would be done about Alex Galchenyuk? Was Max Pacioretty the man to take over the captaincy? Could Carey Price stay healthy? Could Shea Weber keep up with the faster, younger teams? Would new acquisition Jonathin Drouin become the number one center to be they needed?
Last season was the final nail in the coffin. Price went down with injury (again), Weber was lost as well, Galchenyuk was never used properly, Pacioretty became the whipping boy of the Montreal media and Drouin could never emerge as an adequate center. Montreal lost. They lost a lot. New coach Claude Julien was left exhausted and lost for answers on almost a nightly basis. The Canadiens finished with their worst point total since 2001-02 with only 71. They ended up as the third lowest scoring team, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes. The highest scoring player on the team totaled 54 points. Only two players cracked 20 goals! These are not the ingredients for success.
As training camp is set to begin next week, the roster troubles continue to snowball in a big way. The current captain of the team, Pacioretty, was actually traded LATE last night to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick. Shea Weber is still out until at least December and Galchenyuk was shipped off to Arizona for Max Domi, a player who has scored only 9 goals in each of his last two seasons.
The writing is on the wall for another poor season in Montreal, but somehow, general manager Marc Bergevin still has a job. What’s even worse is that he seems to have the ear and love of ownership, and remains under contract until the end of the 2021-22 season. Bergevin, by most accounts, is not the only problem in the mess that is the Montreal Canadiens, but you cannot have the blind lead the blind for another few seasons, can you?
Realistically, there is no easy fix for this franchise. The best solution is to bring in new management, strip this team down to the bones, trade all your best assets (including Price) and try to start anew. Unfortunately, that’s not going to fly in the pressure cooker that is Montreal. This whole situation is starting to look very familiar to myself, being a lifetime Maple Leafs fan. But for now, it’s time to take this team out to pasture and put it out of it’s misery, Old Yeller style.