Is 2020-21 the year the Montreal Canadiens reclaim the crown in Canada?
To say the last couple of decades have been harsh on the Montreal Canadiens would be a significant understatement given their alarming lack of recent success.
Despite being one of the most storied franchises in all of hockey, the Canadiens have been anything but a powerhouse in recent years, failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three of the last six years, while failing to make it past the Second Round in the three years they did make it.
Plus, the only reason Montreal made the postseason in 2019-20 was because of the expanded Playoffs format due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, otherwise the Habs would have missed the cut after suffering another disappointing year.
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Having not made the Eastern Conference Finals since the 2013-14 season, you also have to go way back to 1992-93 when the Canadiens last won the Holy Grail and the greatest prize in all of sports.
Therefore, it has been a tough time to be a Canadiens fan and you can understand why some would direct a lot of anger and ire towards General Manager Marc Bergevin, who has presided over Montreal’s slump into obscurity and mediocrity.
However, after a hugely impressive home run of an offseason where this roster was seriously retooled, it may be time to start getting excited if you are a fan of one of the most recognizable hockey brands in the world.
As is the case with the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and the Washington Capitals with Alex Ovechkin, the Montreal Canadiens will always be a contender as long as they have Carey Price in goal.
But, as has often been the case, the front office have been guilty of not surrounding Price with enough quality weapons needed to succeed. After all, we’ve seen time and time again that you can’t win with just one guy in the National Hockey League.
It looks as though the cavalry has arrived for Price, however, with Bergevin retooling this roster to perfection during the offseason.
After bolstering their pipeline with some high-end picks at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in defenseman Kaiden Guhle, left wing Luke Tuch and centre Jan Mysak to name just a few, Bergevin and the front office really got to work in Free Agency and on the trade market.
They addressed a huge bugaboo by trading for powerhouse forward Josh Anderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets, immediately adding a boatload of grit, snarl and tenacity to the roster while also supplying another scoring punch to their forward corps.
Bergevin then went out and added yet more firepower to his roster, signing UFA forward Tyler Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million contract. Given the Canadiens’ struggles to score off the wall in recent seasons, bringing in a player who thrives on doing just that was an incredibly smart piece of business.
But that wasn’t all.
Montreal also signed a number of core pieces to long-term extensions, including gritty forward Brendan Gallagher (six-years, $22,500,000) and underrated defenseman Jeff Petry (four-years, $25 million), in addition to signing goaltender Jake Allen to a two-year, $5,700,000 extension after he was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues prior to the offseason.
All of those moves were crucial and embodied the new direction the Canadiens are heading in, particularly the extension of Gallagher who is the heart and soul of this team and epitomizes everything that is sacred to this storied franchise.
Petry has established himself as a vital cog in Montreal’s top-four unit on the backend, highly effective in his own zone as well as recording 10 goals and at least 40 points in each of the past three seasons.
Full credit to Bergervin too for going out to trade for Allen and then extending him, even though the move didn’t make sense to some at the time. But, dig beneath the surface and it makes plenty of sense.
After all, Price has been overworked and left exposed on far too many occasions in recent years, so he now has the perfect running mate in Allen who can split the workload especially in what looks set to be a congested 2020-21 schedule.
Let’s not forget the addition of bruising blueliner Joel Edmundson either, who will bring plenty of size and experience of winning a cup to the Habs backend.
It is also important to consider how important veteran defenseman Shea Weber continues to be, with the man with one of the hardest shots in the entire NHL coming off a season in which he recorded 36 points (15 G, 21 A) in 65 regular-season games.
With the core now established, the Canadiens added some luxury pieces around it and they also have a crop of elite young talent coming through, including the likes of Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete who are establishing themselves as very good to elite NHL players.
Furthermore, with goalscoring machine and potential elite NHL sniper Cole Caufield not too far away from making the show, the future looks incredibly bright for the Canadiens who are desperate to appease their success-starved fanbase.
But, not content with what could transpire further down the road, Marc Bergervin went all out to make this roster grittier, more hard-nosed and a hell of a lot tougher to play against, while giving his offense more potent weapons and his defense more big-bodied monsters to play with.
Bosting a perfect mix of skill, speed, size and that nastiness you need in order to flourish in the hotbed of a Canadian market, Montreal is starting to resemble somewhat of a fully loaded, intimidating Death Star that will bludgeon every team to death, before finishing them off with sublime skill.
As a result, the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens are not your father’s Montreal Canadiens, instead they look every inch a loaded juggernaut that appears to be on the cusp of rising to the pantheon of elite NHL teams and taking back their crown as the ruling force in Canada.
Watch out, NHL and the rest of Canada, because things are about to get very interesting in Montreal.