Lack of star power hurting the Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens right wing Tyler Toffoli (73). Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Montreal Canadiens right wing Tyler Toffoli (73). Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

What a rollercoaster ride the 2020-21 season has been for the Montreal Canadiens so far.

They started off the year red hot, seemingly firing on all cylinders and looking like they could truly compete for first place in the North Division. Unfortunately, the Montreal Canadiens followed that hot start up with a 4-5-3  stretch through the month of February and now sit at at 11-6-6.

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Despite the recent skid, they do still sit in a playoff spot, though barely. They currently occupy the fourth and final playoff seed, but the Calgary Flames are right on their heels trailing by just three points. The downfall in play has led to some big changes, as recently General Manager Marc Bergevin made the decision to fire both Head Coach Claude Julien and Assistant Coach Kirk Muller.

These changes may help short term, however coaching isn’t the main problem in Montreal. Though Habs fans may not want to hear this, there is a reason most had them as a bubble playoff team at best heading into this season. Overall, they have a very solid team. In fact, they have one of the deepest teams in terms of depth in the entire NHL. There is one thing missing though, and it is a major one.

Star power.

Tomas Tatar (90)
Tomas Tatar #90 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Superstar Talent Needed for the Montreal Canadiens

How many years now has it been that the media has been saying the Montreal Canadiens desperately need a number one centerman? Sure, they have Nick Suzuki, who is on the right path to becoming just that but isn’t there yet. The jury is still out on Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and while Phillip Danault is both a solid and underrated two way player, he doesn’t provide nearly enough offensively to be a top line center in the NHL.

It isn’t just the center ice position in Montreal that is lacking star talent either. Last week, I was reading an excellent piece from Sportsnet’s Justin Bourne that truly blew my mind. In the piece, Bourne brings up the fact that outside of Corey Perry (who at 35 is a shell of his former self), the highest single season point total by a player on this Canadiens team is Tomas Tatar with 61, which he had in 2019-20.

Don’t get me wrong; 61 points is a very solid NHL season. But for that to be the highest of any forward (excluding Perry) on your team? That either states that your team is very young, or lacks star players. Montreal entered the 2020-21 season with the 13th youngest roster in the league, meaning that the latter is the true issue.

Carey Price (31)
Goaltender Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Price’s Struggles

The one superstar talent the Canadiens are supposed to have is their goaltender Carey Price. However, early into the 2020-21 season he has been anything but, posting an ugly 2.83 Goals Against Average (GAA) along with a .898 Save Percentage (SV%).

Make no mistake, Price is playing well below what he is capable of and will improve. In fact, he has already started to do so in his last few starts. The question is however, just how good is he at this point? While many still talk about the 33-year-old being one of the NHL’s elite netminders, it seems that’s no longer the case.

Recently, Harman Dayal of The Athletic put out a tweet saying that in 183 games since the 2017-18 season, Price has .909 SV% and a -38.6 goals saved above expected. Given that he still has five more seasons remaining at a $10.5 million cap hit, his play is becoming both a major concern and a liability.

With Price’s cap hit, he should be playing like the league’s best goalie on a consistent basis, something that he has failed to do as of late. The problem is that many are beginning to notice his downward trend, meaning he would likely be very hard to move. If they aren’t able to move him, then it makes it that much harder to bring in star talent upfront given the league’s salary cap.

Bergevin at Fault

While it is fair to criticize Price’s play, you can’t blame him for taking the contract he did. Almost anyone is going to take the money they are offered. If this falls on anyone, it is the man who signed him to the deal in GM Marc Bergevin. Paying anyone, let alone a goalie north of $10 million per season is quite risky in the salary cap era, and even more so when the goalie is already in his thirties.

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Sure, if Bergevin didn’t give Price both the term and money he did he risked losing the veteran netminder, which would have been very tough given that he has been the face of the franchise for many years. In choosing to sign him however, they are now stuck with a struggling goalie on a very hindering contract that has made it difficult to bring in star players upfront. Until that is dealt with, the Montreal Canadiens may continue to stay in the position they are in for some time.