Habs Fast Rebuild Opens Unexpected Opportunities
A five game loss streak in late November appeared to signal a trend towards another difficult season for the Habs. Instead of falling apart, the Canadiens have sharpened into a cohesive squad which have consistently surprised opponents over the past couple of months.
As such, Montreal rises into longshot status for 2019 Stanley Cup futures, with a high likelihood of earning a wild card spot in the eastern conference. GM Marc Bergevin didnâ€™t anticipate that lineup changes would work out this quickly, giving the Canadiens fascinating options during the run-up to the trade deadline.
Coaching Pushes Habs Rebuilds Ahead Of Schedule
The modern NHL appears to facilitate rebuilds quicker than eras past. Contenders like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vegas Golden Knights sprung up seemingly overnight.
The Leafs won the Austin Matthews sweepstakes and watched Mitch Marner bloom into a more creative version of Martin St. Louis. Vegas bamboozled general managers across the NHL, identifying underutilized talent and leveraging expansion draft laws to the fullest.
Coach Gerard Gallant was the most important hire for the Golden Knights. Spurned by the Panthers, GM George McPhee convinced Gallant to take on the expansion job. In Toronto, the resurgence of the Maple Leafs has been directed by coach Mike Babcock, whoâ€™s quickly installed a new, no-nonsense culture in the locker room.
One of the main reasons why the Habs find themselves ahead of the rebuild curve would be Claude Julien, whoâ€™s imported his Stanley Cup experience into Montreal. Itâ€™s not a coincidence that Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have flourished as legitimate top-six threats after the trio flamed out with the Lightning, Coyotes and Red Wings.
Carey Price couldâ€™ve settled into a slump and Shea Weber might have experienced greater difficulty returning from a lengthy rehab process. Instead, the duo leads a team defense which allows the second-least goals in the east.
Instead of acting as sellers again, the Canadiens find themselves with unexpected options as the trade deadline approaches.
Stanley Cup Windows Close Quickly
Montreal will need to endure a gauntlet of difficult matchups to reserve a spot in the playoffs, despite a strong lead over a trio of wild card competitors – the Penguins, Hurricanes and Buffalo. This fast resurgence is built upon strong goaltending and team defense – characteristics which win championships.
GM Bergevin has accumulated a slew of prospects and picks, giving the club a multitude of options for talent acquisition and development. The most obvious path would involve patience and internal development, relying on picks and prospects stepping up.
Stanley Cup windows tend to be open for brief moments in time, sometimes disappearing for long stretches. The defensive heart of this club – Price and Weber – will only grow older, not better. If Bergevin happens to find a logical trade offer to boost offensive production, the team shouldnâ€™t hesitate.
A slew of fantastic forwards will be available, including elite producers with the potential of staying in Montreal for an extended run. Patiently drafting and developing players is an important part of constructing successful clubs, but few players ever develop the lethality of Artemi Panarin.
Mark Stone, Chris Kreider and Matt Duchene represent intriguing options who may fit into a Stanley Cup run now and in the future – at the right price.