Even five points from a playoff spot, Kent Hughes and the Canadian will not deviate from their plan in this second year of reconstruction: we will not accelerate the process unnecessarily. The CH, after all, is also just four points from 28th overall and a top-5 pick. Here are five issues to watch between now and the end of the season.
Contrary to appearances, there are no more menage a trois among the Canadiens goalkeepers. There is Samuel Montembeault and the two others. Montembeault has played eight of the team’s last fifteen games, Allen three and Primeau two. The Quebecer also started three of the last four games of the CH.
Swapping one of the two auxiliaries would nevertheless be healthier. But neither Allen nor Primeau have much value on the market. But getting rid of Allen, ordinary at best for two years, would allow the Montreal organization to free up $3.85 million on its payroll next year.
And at this time of the year, Allen, an experienced goalkeeper despite his uneven performances, will be of more interest to a top club than a goalkeeper still green like Cayden Primeau.
But who will want an overpaid, inconsistently performing goalkeeper? Hughes has reportedly already turned down an offer for Allen, Elliotte Friedman reported this week. But was Friedman fueled by a rival CEO out of a desire to shake up the market?
Monahan has everything to please a Stanley Cup contending team. He occupies the position of center, but also that of winger if necessary, can face the best opposing lines, is effective on the power play, offers adequate production with 23 points in 39 games, a production of almost 50 points over a full season and has a 57% efficiency on faceoffs.
This 29-year-old striker also receives a salary of only 1.9 million, a few months before his full autonomy.
Hoping for a late first-round pick for his services is not utopian. This choice would be in addition to the first round choice offered by the Calgary Flames two years ago to free himself from his contract.
The injury suffered by Christian Dvorak, lost for the rest of the season, does not favor the departure of another experienced center, but Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes will never lose the long-term perspective. With a good offer, Monahan will finish the season elsewhere.
The situation was discussed here the day before: there is an overabundance of the left side on defense, especially with the emergence of Jayden Struble recently. There’s Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Struble. Jordan Harris, a lefty, was moved to right and forms a pair with Struble. Arber Xhekaj, a regular in Montreal last year, continues his development in Laval within the first duo with right-hander Logan Mailloux. Lane Hutson will likely join the team at the end of the season. Adam Engström, also left-handed, could imitate him at the end of his season in Sweden.
Xhekaj, 22, arguably possesses greater value than Harris and Struble because of a combination of offensive skills, imposing size at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and pugilistic talent. He could fetch a first-round pick, they say. The CH must think seriously before getting rid of a defender of this caliber. But Struble’s game is not devoid of robustness either, he offers better defensive performance and he is nine months younger.
If the draft were held today, Montreal would hold the ninth overall pick. But he is tied in the standings with the Calgary Flames with one more game remaining and holds a single-point lead over the Wild and Sabres. A slight drop in the rankings would give him sixth place, perhaps even better if he wins the lottery.
The CH management and its recruiters have been spying on the best prospects at the World Junior Championship, the next big international meeting at the end of April in Finland.
The 2024 crop offers some nice variety at the top, with consensus top pick Macklin Celebrini, but other forwards like Cole Eiserman, Ivan Demidov, Konsta Helenius, Trevor Connelly, Cayden Lindstrom, Berkly Catton, and right-handed defensemen Sam Dickinson Artyom Levshunov, Anton Sylayev, Adam Jiricek, Zayne Parekh, and left-hander, Zeev Buium.
The CH will always take the best player available, but we will not spit on a right-handed defender or a scorer if the evaluation is ever close between two prospects from different positions.
We will undoubtedly give a few young players the chance to shine at the end of the season, especially if veterans are traded or injured. Winger Emil Heineman is in Montreal at the moment. Among the other candidates, Sean Farrell, 17 points in 24 games in Laval, has just been injured.
Rookie Joshua Roy started the season strong with 18 points in his first 14 games, but just 9 in his next 18. He recently recovered with six points in his last seven games. We nevertheless risk wanting to let it mature in Laval.
Logan Mailloux has always been a good offensive defenseman, but he has improved significantly defensively in recent weeks. This is a good candidate for an exploratory recall by the end of the year.
On merit, Brandon Gignac, 26, the Rocket’s top scorer with 30 points in 32 games, would probably already be in Montreal, but this center must first obtain a National League contract and he will have to be kept with the Canadiens if we call him back, otherwise he must go through the ballot.
But the Rocket is back in the race for a place in the playoffs thanks to eight victories in ten games and we will not want to strip the club of its best elements for evaluation purposes only.
On the other hand, the arrival as reinforcements in Laval of David Reinbacher and Adam Engström after their respective seasons in Europe could allow some recalls in defense in Montreal.
The Canadian must not be very happy to see the Flyers leak information about a potential exchange between the two organizations for David Reinbacher, as reported by a Philadelphia journalist.
The Flyers have indeed offered their fifth overall pick in 2022, Cutter Gauthier, for the CH’s fifth overall pick in 2023 in the hope of getting their hands on defenseman David Reinbacher, at the dawn of the 2023 draft .
The Canadian’s refusal is easily explained. Gauthier already did not want to play in Philadelphia and there was no guarantee that he would have wanted to join the Montreal organization. Imagine the CH sacrificing their choice in the top 5 for a player who would have thumbed their nose at them in turn?
Gauthier is not unanimous either, despite his title of MVP at the World Junior Championship. This power forward will undoubtedly become a good scorer in the NHL. But his detractors don’t like his decision-making with and without the puck.
This young man does not enjoy the best social reputation either. This followed him from the American development program to Boston College. His refusal to meet Daniel Brière and his right-hand man Brent Flahr at the World Junior Championship constitutes further proof of this.
It is not yet known whether David Reinbacher will become the hoped-for defender. But before he was drafted by Montreal fifth overall, at least two clubs inquired about the availability of the Canadian’s choice in order to get their hands on the young man.
Reinbacher already had the pressure of keeping up with Russian striker Matvei Michkov, chosen two ranks later. He will now have to fight against two imaginary enemies, Michkov and Gauthier. We would understand the management of the CH to be pissed off today…