Smart, passionate and somewhat biased commentary about the Montreal Canadiens (HABS) from a lifelong fan now living in Toronto (LeafLand).
Apr
30
2017

Painful End to a Good Season

I don't think Max Pacioretty will start the season as a Montreal Canadien.

I don’t think Max Pacioretty will start the season as a Montreal Canadien.

It’s been just over a week since the Habs’ 2017 season came to a crashing end and yet, the pain and hurt of this disappointment remains — and probably will until the start of the 2017-18 campaign.

Something about this year’s loss and the inability to get past the first round of the playoffs really stings, more than in other years. Maybe it’s because we’re collectively fed up with the team not truly competing to win. Maybe it’s because the best years of the team’s core are passing by.

Another year, another “wait until next year.”  It’s just not cutting it. Next season will be the 25th since the team’s last championship — the longest drought in the franchise’s history.

What’s worse, most of the comments from the players in the aftermath of their loss to the NY Rangers were consistent around the idea that this year they had a real opportunity to do something. I’m not so sure I buy into that.

For years now, scoring and the lack of a strong, first line center up the middle has plagued the Habs and has sold their team short. As good as Carey Price is, he can’t score goals. So yet another of his prime years have been wasted. The window to win is now that much smaller.

Let’s face it, the NY Rangers were a very beatable team — a team the Habs should have defeated. Instead, the year-long prognosis that the team lacked scoring punch came through all too well.

With the cutting of ties with coach Michel Therrien, the wrath of fans is now squarely focused on GM Marc Bergevin. All the pundits believed he’d go for it at the trade deadline and make a move to bring in an offensive player to help. The opposite was the result — while dman Jamie Benn was a nice pickup, Steve Ott and Dwight King weren’t what the Canadiens needed.

And this is especially the case when you take a good, hard look at the team’s captain, Max Pacioretty. Although a consistent goal scorer and one of the best in the NHL over the last five years, unfortunately he now has the reputation of not being a big game player. Not something you want on your resume, that’s for sure. He had a terrible World Cup, a terrible start to the season and it was all bookended by his listless performance in the first round.

If we see trends in championship teams from the last 8-10 years, although the supporting cast needs to rise to the occasion, the leaders do as well. One just has to look at Patrice Bergeron, Toews, Kane, Kopitar etc. Until he finds a way, Pacioretty’s postseason play will never have him included in this group.

And though he did his best to rile up the troops, the decision to drop the gloves in Game 6 was a mistake. Taking yourself off the ice for 10 minutes in a must-win game was a serious lack of judgment. This isn’t the type of leadership the Canadiens need.

And then there’s the “mysterious case of Alex Galchenyuk.” What to do with this mixed up young twentysomething!? To his defense, he was having a great season to start the year until he was hurt. And the injury really derailed him. He had trouble finding his game after that and didn’t seem to find his place in Claude Julien’s schema for the team. So what now?

Ultimately, the fact that PK Subban is still playing and Shea Weber is not means nothing. The Weber deal was a success for the Canadiens. Subban had a challenging 2016 year, Weber had a strong year and came to the team as advertised. Weber had a good series and if not for a few posts, the outcome might have been different. Subban is pulling his weight so far with Predators but the big difference for him is, he doesn’t have to be “the guy” in Nashville.

But the underlying issue that I outlined in this space last summer in the aftermath of the Subban/Weber deal was never addressed: my surprise not that Subban was dealt, but that he wasn’t dealt for a top-line offensive player.

So now it’s up to Bergevin to make a move, or moves, to most likely save his job and put the Habs in a true position to contend for the Stanley Cup while Price is still on top of his game.

My prediction for this summer is that Bergevin makes a move to trade Pacioretty for a another offensive player — someone who has the character he covets, and someone who can be that big-game player. So we’ll see what that looks like when it happens. John Tavares could be an option if he’s available, but how to pay both he and Carey Price remains, as the line from the movie “2001” goes: “…it’s origin and purpose still a total mystery.”

 

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