Habs Give A Glimpse Of Great Things To Come In Bittersweet Finish
The Montreal Canadiens gave us all a quality end to the season with their 6-5 shoot out win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and I am definitely grateful for that. The win was powered by a spectacular performance from future top 6 C, and current World Jr's top F and MVP, Ryan Poehling. The debut of the blue chip prospect was better than anyone could imagine. Ryan only played 10:47 in his NHL debut but destroyed his opposition as a member of the 4th line (with a little movement here and there).
Poehling's hat trick and shoot out winner gather all the attention, and rightfully so, but also consider that he posted a 63 CF% and 73.7 FF% playing a mainly 4th line role with a bit of PK time. Poehling was simply head and shoulders above his bottom 6 competition in his first every NHL game after coming out of his college playoff series (where he missed time due to injury as well).
All in all, this bodes VERY well for the future of the Montreal Canadiens. A future that we now have to wait until September to see again, but it is coming nonetheless.
The center position used to be a wasteland for the Canadiens and now we have an emerging top line pivot in Danault, a potential top 6 C in man boy Kotkaniemi, a relentless and versatile Domi, and now a clearly smart and talented Ryan Poehling. Poehling has been regarded as having Ryan O'Reilly potential as well.
This Canadiens team of the near future could be the best we have seen in 25 years due to this level of Center depth.
Oh, and we can add Nick Suzuki to that mix too. Suzuki put up 94 points in 59 OHL games this year and has turned heads all season. Some seem to believe he is a winger at the NHL level but all I really care about is his ability to be an impact player. Impact players figure things out and Suzuki seems to be a smart player. Add to that he is a right handed shooter and the Habs biggest hole up front being on 2nd line RW and I daresay the Habs could start the 2019-20 season with Poehling and Suzuki on the roster.
This young Habs squad will definitely look a bit different next year in my opinion. I think one or two of Armia, Weal, Thompson, and Hudon will be gone. I want them to keep Weal most of all and if Armia's contract demands (RFA) are within reason I would like to keep him as well.
I liked what Thompson brought to the team so I could see him staying as a platoon guy, but I think Hudon might be moved or not qualified. I like his motor but he just can't make it all work consistently and there are a good number of young players coming in that will need consideration too.
I think the Habs will look to offload a LW in order to square up the top 6 RW spot despite my alluding to that spot being occupied by Suzuki. You can't predict that a rookie can come in a play top 6 mins out of the OHL.
With two seasons left on his deal I could see Petry moved after his career year of 13 goals and 33 assists. The soon to be 32 year old has put up back to back career years actually and his value couldn't be higher. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some in front office who are regretting not dealing Petry at the deadline considering the price Jake Muzzin fetched. But the Habs saw a shot at playoffs and allowed the team to shoot for it. That doesn't mean they couldn't move Petry at the draft or afterwards though.
I know some people reading that are saying "Why deal Petry now?" and I can see that side of the coin as well. Allow me to justify what I'm thinking by suggesting that Erik Karlsson is not afraid of the Canadian market and is clearly going to be searching for a UFA deal that works for him on July 1. Karlsson to Montreal would give them one of the best, if not the best, top 4 RD set up in the NHL and would definitely help a terrible PP. Karlsson was clearly at home in Ottawa and if the possibility came up to join a up and coming team, close to home, and be paid well he would consider it. If Karlsson expresses an interest in MTL then they should sign him, cap hit be damned, and then they can move Petry for what I'm sure would end up a very solid return.
Karlsson would also be 3 and a half years younger than Petry so the Habs would get younger and have more offense from the back end. It would also allow them to split some of the big minutes between EK65 and Weber as well, which would put them in a better position for any playoff stretch drives.
The Canadiens will have the cap space to absorb an impact player on the UFA market (estimated $18 mill in space with no top 2 line players to resign. Realistically they could have about $13 million in space to spend on adding an elite player to the mix and I really like the idea of adding Karlsson and trading Petry for more top picks/prospects/or a RW. Outside of Karlsson is the chance the Habs back up the money truck to A Panarin, also a right shot playing LW, but I just don't see the Habs banking a huge cap hit and the next season on an apparent mercenary type player when the focus seems to be on building with players that want to be together.
Maybe I'm wrong but it's just how I view that right now. I would rather toss a $10 mill per offer at EK65 and move Petry for offensive help.
No matter the outcome of the UFA frenzy, the Canadiens gave us a look at what's to come and the future looks bright if not immediate. The key will be utilizing this stable of elite youth and letting them flourish. Players like Poehling, Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Brook, and Romanov have all shown they have nothing left to prove in the lower levels as they dominated. Should these players be given a chance to play their games at the next level, possibly even together at the same time next year, the Canadiens could come back even faster and more dynamic than they showed this season. I know the D men will likely take more time unless they have the wheels like Mete, but there is definitely a chance one of Brook or Romanov could surprise us all.
All in all, a great season filled with excitement, development, and potential ended in bittersweet fashion, but the lesson was obvious. Consistent effort every game, regardless of opponent would have put them in the playoffs. 3 points is all the extra effort they needed out of a 96 point team and they would have been gaining valuable playoff experience in front of one of the leagues best Goaltenders in Carey Price. Those 3 points are likely what will keep some of our heart and soul players up at night for the next couple weeks.
I looked through the schedule and I see obvious missed opportunities in losses to LA, Buffalo, NYR, Edmonton, New Jersey, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Anaheim, and of course the losses to Columbus and Carolina. The Habs took some lesser teams too lightly and now have to see that 3 points more out of all those losses against the teams I listed would have made this year a miraculous one.
I know the lessons will be taught and I have faith the Habs will come back with a vengeance next year with another injection of youth and maybe a fresh new face or two on the blue line.
Bottom line is after the last couple drafts and trades that have come out of the MTL braintrust, I have full confidence in management heading into another crucial offseason. In my next blog I'll likely touch on some of the players I would love to see the Habs land in the 15th overall range, unless they win the draft lotto.... which they should after being shafted with no playoffs on a 96 pt campaign, but I don't think the dancing ping pong balls will care much about that....
Go Habs Go