Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Pool Outlook for Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens almost made that miraculous comeback to the post-season in 2019, being right there in the last few days of the season, but some poor stretches midway through the season kept them out of a lot of the tie-breaking situations, but ultimately, that didn't matter too much, as they were 2 points short of Columbus for that last wild card spot in the east. 

Given that this team was 28th overall last season and they were going to be starting the 2019 campaign with their captain on the shelf, not to mention a couple of other key injuries, they managed to overcome some of those long odds to put together a fairly respectable season.  The expectations were pretty low, but the emergence of Tomas Tatar and the rookie, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, renewed some hope in front of Carey Price, who played his heart out through the season.

The challenge now will to be building upon a decent season that came up short in Montreal and they have got a lot of the key pieces already in place, which should help.  There could be a good push from some of the young players that they have already in the system and are ready to make the jump, plus they do have some roster spots available for the taking in the free agent marketplace. 

Fortunately for the Canadiens, Carey Price was back to being himself and he tried to carry the load for this team, but it was just too much weight to carry by himself and thus, the team fell a bit short.  Price was a busy boy, appearing in 66 games for the Habs, posting 35 wins and 79 points this season, good enough for 5th among all goalies and 34th overall.  A healthy number one will be key to any success that the Canadiens have next season and at least their franchise player is trending in the right direction again.

There was certainly an uptick in scoring for the Canadiens, as they had 11 skaters that were also pool worthy this season, which certainly brought them much closer to the playoffs.  Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron all figured into the top 200 forwards this season, which is very solid.  Domi emerged as a top scorer, ranking 45th among all forwards in scoring, leading the way for these forwards.  The blueline provided some decent offense as well, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and Jordie Benn all figured into the scoring a fair bit this year, Petry ranking 15th among all defenders this season.  Weber was solid, despite not starting play until Week Nine and he got up to 44th among defensemen in the back two-thirds of the year.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Montreal should be and will be better in 2019... talk about a low expectation bar to set, but it's true. How much better depends on their two highest paid players in Price and Weber and their respective health. If these guys are 100% heading into camp and into the regular season, Montreal will be set to compete. Moving some pieces around in the summer may be in their best interest, since the years of failure in recent memory might weigh heavily on some of the longer tenured players on the roster and bringing in some fresh faces could be what this team needs to take a new approach to the year. They're not that bad, they get to add a premier forward at the draft and there is still some talent waiting in the wings, so it's hard to think that they won't be better than 28th overall in 2019.

Yes, the Canadiens were definitely much better than 28th overall in the standings in 2019, that was going to be a given, unless there were some unforeseen circumstances, but we covered all the foreseeable events, so the improvement was certainly there.  The additions to the club, both at the trade deadline last season and the entry draft were huge for this club, adding scoring and solid play down the middle and they were definitely competitive.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

It was a very disappointing season for defenseman Noah Juulsen, who wasn't able to claim one of those spots on the blueline in training camp, thanks mostly to injury troubles at the beginning of the season.  He couldn't quite get his feet set with the team and then in December, he was sent down to the AHL and was having vision problems down there after his facial fracture and missed most of the back half of the season, unable to come up and play for the big club again in 2019.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jonathan Drouin 5.500 Shea Weber 7.857 Carey Price 10.500
Tomas Tatar 4.800 Jeff Petry 5.500 Charlie Lindgren 0.750
Andrew Shaw 3.900 Karl Alzner 4.625
Brendan Gallagher 3.750 Noah Juulsen 0.863
Paul Byron 3.400 Christian Folin 0.800
Max Domi 3.150 Victor Mete 0.748
Phillip Danault 3.083
Dale Weise 2.350
Nicolas Deslauriers 0.950
Jesperi Kotkaniemi 0.925
Ryan Poehling 0.925
Matthew Peca 0.650

A team that grows together, wins together.  11 of 12 pool worthy players are signed on for next season for the Canadiens and they are adding some top end talent in Ryan Poehling, luring him out of college and into their lineup, so this team has the ability to be special, right out of the gate.  There has to be a real sense of optimism among the Montreal faithful.  They will be a popular team at the hockey pool draft, one would have to believe.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The only pool worthy player not on the roster at the time of this post is defenseman Jordie Benn, as he heads to unrestricted free agency, if he isn't extended before July 1st.  His 22 points may earn him a bit of a raise from the $1.1 million he counted against the cap in 2019, so we'll see where that lands him. 

On the restricted free agent list, there are some notable names, if not worthy, in Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, both had some positive impacts on the team this season and could find their way back in the lineup again next season.

I have the Canadiens with a fairly thin 20-man roster up above and that has them in at $66.4 million, still $16.6 million clear of the projected cap ceiling of $83 million.  This can certainly make them aggressive in this off-season, possibly to bolster the blueline.

The scoring depth at the forward position appears to only be getting better with Ryan Poehling being signed out of college, one year early.  The Canadiens were able to offer the 6'2" and 200-pound forward the ability to jump into the lineup for the team's last game of the season and he posted a hat-trick in that game, which should make us poolie salivate at the prospect of taking him in the draft this fall.  He'll definitely be one to watch, but how early do you want to take him?

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

With much of the top defensemen available already snapped up in this mock entry draft, to date, I think the Canadiens won't be digging too deep, unless they have a real good line on a top defender and bump him up.  From this spot, they would be wise to take a good skating forward, which is really their MO these days.  Well, how about finding a new brother combination in the draft, adding Ryan Suzuki to the mix, who has skating, vision and some finish and uniting him with his brother, Nick, who they acquired from Vegas last fall.  That has to be a very entertaining idea.

If the Montreal Canadiens are going to make, or at the very least, compete, for the playoffs, who is going to come out of the Eastern Conference picture right now?  I guess that can't really worry about that, but they will be eyeing up some of those teams, looking to knock one of them out next year and I think they have a really good chance at doing that, all things considered equal.  This team has had its share of health concerns over the last couple of seasons and if that sort of thing can be overcome, their scoring depth and a premier goalie should allow for another shot at the playoffs.  I like the direction they're going in and barring a complete disaster, they should be right there.

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