The Montreal Canadiens’ dismal season continued with the team’s 51st total loss Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, but for fans of the storied franchise, the end is near. Or is it?
What’s more important for the Canadiens isn’t getting this brutal 2017/18 campaign over with, however; Montreal must figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
That may require some soul-searching and a front-office shakeup in the offseason, but some new faces on the roster are likely needed as well.
Where they stand
The Canadiens earned their 50th and 51st total losses Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sunday over New Jersey. Montreal has 39 regulation defeats, but their 12 pity points for losing in overtime and the shootout inflate their record slightly.
This is the first season the Canadiens have dropped 50 or more games overall, without counting ties from before the 2004/05 lockout.
The Canadiens’ last disappointing season was 2015/16, but this is their worst campaign since 2011/12. The last time they lost at least 40 games was 2000/01.
Having said that, this is Montreal's worst season in recent memory.
With 68 points, the Canadiens (28-39-12) are 28th out of 31 NHL teams after Sunday’s loss. They’ve gone 3-7 in their last 10 contests., and they’re 14th out of 16 Eastern Conference teams.
The Canadiens also sit sixth in the Atlantic Division, ahead of the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. All three will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.
Montreal’s 18-14-8 home record isn’t terrible, but going 10-25-4 outside the Bell Centre makes the Habs the NHL’s worst team on the road.
In recent years, the Original Six team's offensive shortcomings have been well-documented. But their current -53 goal differential is third-worst in the NHL ahead of Ottawa (-64) and Buffalo (-73).
The Canadiens have also scored the second-fewest goals in the league with 199. The only squad below them is the Sabres with 187.
More production desired
It goes without saying Montreal’s regular-season success in recent years has been based largely on star goalie Carey Price’s heroics, but even Price has had an off year. His .902 save percentage and 3.07 goals-against average over 46 games are ranked 68th and 60th overall, respectively.
Many would argue Price’s strong campaigns in recent years masked the Canadiens’ shortcomings, which have now been exposed. Far too often, Price has kept Montreal in games with an arguably average team in front of him.
That may be catching up to him.
With three regular-season games left, the Canadiens’ only 50-point player is Brendan Gallagher (30 goals, 21 assists), while Alex Galchenyuk’s 49 points (18, 31) aren’t far behind.
It’s still early to judge the trade that brought winger Jonathan Drouin to the red, blue and white from the Tampa Bay Lightning last summer in exchange for defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, but Drouin hasn’t been bad statistically with 43 points (13-G, 30-A).
The optics aren’t great though with Sergachev blossoming with the Lightning with 39 points (9-G, 30-A). The move looks to have weakened an already-thin Montreal blueline, even if general manager Marc Bergevin was grasping at straws to improve the Habs’ offense.
Highly-touted rearguard Shea Weber playing hurt and showing possible signs of decline hasn’t helped the Canadiens’ cause, nor has former 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty’s underachieving year.
Pacioretty has just 37 points (17-G, 20-A) in 64 games this season, down by 30 from last year’s 67-point campaign. The Canadiens’ depth situation below their captain is questionable... at best.
Bergevin’s reign as Canadiens' GM has seen an interesting mix of questionable trades and hefty contracts, all while the team keeps declining.
Fan favourite P.K. Subban has flourished since being dealt to the Nashville Predators in 2016 for Weber, who’s still under contract for the next six full seasons at $7.85 million per year.
Price is also facing a hefty payday with the eight-year, $10.5-million deal he signed last summer, while Karl Alzner is locked up at $4.62 million per season until 2021/22.
Then there’s Jeff Petry’s contract handcuffing the Canadiens at $5.5 million a year until 2020/21, along with Drouin at $5.5 million per year until 2022/23.
Galchenyuk also carries a $4.9-million salary cap hit for the next two campaigns, barring any trades or buyouts.
Even with the cap ceiling reportedly surpassing $80 million next year, the Canadiens still don’t have much room to go after a bona fide defenceman or a No. 1 center – both of whom would want big money.
Several Montreal players with albatross contracts are also either on the back end of 30 or not far from it. Generally, that’s when they begin declining.
Massive salary dumps aren’t impossible, as evidenced by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild. But they’re not easy, and if it happens in Montreal, the Canadiens may need to keep some cash and not fully wash their hands of their deadweight deals.
Montreal also may be regretting the Weber and Drouin trades, given how well Subban and Sergachev have performed in their new homes.
Many Canadiens fans have likely realized a full rebuild is in order, meaning head coach Claude Julien and most of the front office needs to go. The roster must eventually be gutted and the prospect cupboards restocked.
Needless to say, there wouldn’t be much sense in Bergevin having to repair the mess he created. Just allow someone else to fix the damage and start fresh.
Or Montreal could make a few tweaks in the off-season, then hope Price returns to form next year. Either way, it's going to take time.
Fans are waiting...
What do you think? Do the Montreal Canadiens need to rebuild? Or will a retool suffice? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.