Tumultuous, to say the least.
What a week in Canadiens preseason hockey.
Roster cuts, ugly losses, trade rumours, all capped off with a thrilling finale. Definitely a lot to write about.
As a lot has happened since I last wrote, I thought I’d go event by event and give you my thoughts:
Monday was a regular day until the Maple Leafs came to town. Our hated rivals to the west decided to leave their star players on their end of the 401, and only brought the bare minimum of veteran players to the game. I feel very bad for the people who bought tickets to the game at the Bell Centre on Monday. Financially, this was a savvy move by Leafs management. Why should they play an entertaining hockey game in front of fans that paid the opposing team to attend? People in Toronto would buy more tickets if they knew that they were going to see Matthews and Co., and not Nick Shore and Co. The money from the tickets goes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not the Montreal Canadiens. However, this made Monday’s game really boring. The Canadiens players – only half of whom had a shot at the NHL roster – were outplayed by the Toronto Marlies, I mean, Maple Leafs, and lost 3-0. It’s understandable that bubble players would play harder in the preseason than veterans, because their NHL future is decided this time of year, but the Canadiens had more skill in their lineup, and therefore should have won the game. Michael Hutchinson, the goalie for the Maple Leafs, was great, stopping all 38 shots he faced, and Charlie Lindgren, the goalie for the Canadiens, was not as great, stopping 22 of 25 shots he faced. Hutchinson’s autograph is on my blocker, just sayin’.
On Tuesday, the Canadiens placed Riley Barber on waivers. He cleared and went to Laval in time for their training camp. Barber looked all right in the preseason, but he is better suited for an AHL first-line role, and a call-up player in case of injuries.
Wednesday started off with a trade rumour. Both Elliott Friedman and Eric Engels of Sportsnet said that Jonathan Drouin’s name was being shopped around on the trade market. Drouin had severely underperformed in the preseason, and people were wondering if the Canadiens were losing patience with him. I think that the Canadiens may trade Drouin at some point this season, but as Drouin is very streaky, they should wait until Drouin is on a hot streak, in order to maximize the return for him. The problem with trading for Drouin, however, is that no matter how frustratingly inconsistent he is, Drouin is still right now a top-6 winger, and has the potential to be much more. If Drouin gets traded and suddenly realizes his potential, the Canadiens would have had to get a massive return for him in order to not lose that trade. As well, Drouin is an essential quarterback to the Canadiens’ power play, and while it’s hard to imagine making the power play any worse, trading Drouin is one way to do it. Another way is to have me quarterback the power play. Also on Wednesday, the Canadiens played the Maple Leafs again, this time at Scotiabank Arena. The Leafs, as promised, brought out their big guns this time. Auston “Captain Underpants” Matthews, Mitch “Hasn’t-Done-Anything-Stupid-Enough-to-Merit-a-Nickname” Marner, John “Pyjama Boy” Tavares, and Morgan “Same Nickname as Marner” Reilly were all donning Maple Leafs jerseys Wednesday night, while the Canadiens put out the half of their NHL roster that did not play Monday night. The Canadiens lost 3-0, again, but got robbed of a power-play goal because video review was not available at this game. Meanwhile, the Canadiens were outplayed by a wide margin. The reason it wasn’t, say, 8-0 was because Keith Kinkaid stood on his head, stopping 46 of 49 shots. I think they’ve found a solution to the backup goalie problem. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki had good games, too.
The Canadiens contributed to the NHL Salvation Army on Thursday, placing Matthew Peca, Phil Varone, Karl Alzner, Xavier Ouellet and Dale Weise on waivers. All of these players are veterans, showing that the Canadiens are not afraid to give roster spots to the kids if they show they deserve it. This trend continued throughout the week, with Cale Fleury, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling all still with the team as of Sunday night. Meanwhile, Marc Bergevin put an abrupt end to the Jonathan Drouin trade rumours saying, “I don’t know where (those reports) come from. Most of those reports are from somebody in his basement in Toronto, so I don’t pay attention to that to be honest with you.” Of course, Bergevin threw cold water on P.K. Subban trade rumours a week before he was traded, and it’s only natural for him to stand by his players, so we should take what he says with a grain of salt. In my opinion, Drouin will get traded, but it is pointless to trade him now, when he is underperforming. His value is at a lower point now than it will be later in the season. By the way, a return for Drouin alone should include a top-4 left-shot defender, and a return for a package including Drouin should include said defender, plus a top-6 forward, preferably a sniper, to fill Drouin’s role. One more thing, Guy Lafleur underwent successful heart surgery on Thursday.
Friday was relatively uneventful, though Shea Weber won the Jean Beliveau trophy for his charitable work and community involvement.
The Canadiens played almost their full NHL lineup against the Senators last night, leaving out only Jonathan Drouin. This left a lot of people wondering if Marc Bergevin had a trade that he was finalizing, and therefore didn’t play Drouin because you can’t trade a guy halfway through his shift. Alas, it didn’t happen. Canadiens fans enjoyed a thrilling game last night, with the Canadiens jumping out to a 2-0 lead, with goals by Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, and then blowing it, allowing goals by Bobby Ryan and Anthony Duclair. The Duclair goal was both embarrassing and spectacular. The embarrassing part was that it was shorthanded. The spectacular part was that Duclair can skate like a mix of Connor McDavid and Paul Byron. Anyway, Carey Price made a rare puck-handling whiff, giving Filip Chlapik the easiest goal he’ll ever get in the NHL. 3-2 Ottawa. Then, with less than a minute to go, Brendan Gallagher tipped in a Jeff Petry shot to tie it up. I would just like to mention that all of the Canadiens goals at this point were scored by a member of the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line. That line is legendary. In overtime, after trading breakaways, Nick Suzuki emerged as the hero, with a wraparound effort that ended with the puck in the back of the net. Suzuki has had a great camp. He has definitely earned a spot on the team. It was a great game to watch. I only have one complaint: against a team like Ottawa, the score should have been much more lopsided.
Sunday saw the Canadiens put Charles Hudon and Charlie Lindgren on waivers. I see one or both of them getting claimed. Hudon has top-9 potential and Lindgren could become a serviceable backup. Both are on contracts close to the league minimum salary. There’s just too much to pass up in this situation.
On to the regular season, folks, this should be a wild ride.
Full season preview to come soon.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo