The Montreal Canadiens 2017-2018 season didn’t go nearly as planned. The reward for a bad season? Usually a really good draft pick, which is exactly what they got. They will pick 3rd overall in next months NHL entry draft and if Dahlin and Svechnikov go 1 and 2 like everyone thinks they will, the Canadiens will have an interesting choice to make. Do they pick the power forward out of Boston University Brady Tkachuk, or the more skilled sniper from the Halifax Moosehead’s Filip Zadina. Both are going to be solid NHL players and while Zadina might help the Canadiens score more goals as early as next season, I would think the Canadiens would be better of drafting Thachuk third overall. Why? Zadina is a winger, Tkachuk is a centre, and the Canadiens need talented centres.
Now staying on the topics of centres, it seems as if the the Canadiens are prepared to make a serious run at a POSSIBLE upcoming UFA, John Tavares. Not surprising, as Tavares would solve a lot of problems for this team. Drouin could now focus on being a 1st line winger with Tavares, and take some pressure off of captain Max Pacioretty in terms of needing to be “the guy” to provide consistent offence. However, it’s going to take a lot of money to sign Tavares, pretty much all of the available cap space for next season in fact. So unless trades are made, if they sign Tavares he might be the only big change to this team next year. Is Tavares enough to take this team from near the bottom of the NHL standings into a playoff spot next season? I’m not sure, but that might not be the Canadiens goal for next season. Tavares is the type of player that can make all the players he plays with better, he’s one of the best centres in this league, and I don’t doubt that the Canadiens will try everything they can to convince him to come to Montreal.
Now he may come to Montreal, but he might also not. Heck, he might not even reach the free agent market in Lou and company can convince him to commit long term to the Islanders. It’s an odd thing to say, but it almost seems like the Canadiens don’t have a backup plan for if they don’t sign Tavares. Now they probably do, Stastny is another talented centre hitting the market they could go after, but is it even worth it? Committing another 4 or more million dollars to a 2nd line centre for the next 3-5 years? If they think they can win a cup with him as maybe their top line centre then go for it, I just don’t see it making long term sense for this team. Max Pacioretty was in a lot of trade rumours at the deadline and could be moved this off-season. Now for what could they get for Max, they could get a really good draft pick and free up some cap space. They might also be able to package him up with 1 or 2 second rounds picks (they have 4 2nd’s this year) and get a really talented cheap young player with high potential.That would be smart in my opinion, as the Canadiens do already have some really big contracts on the books.
Price is still an elite goalie and his 8 year, 84 million dollar contract kicks in next season. Drouin, Petry, Galchenyuk and Alzner are all making more that 4.5 million dollars a season for 2 or more seasons. Then there is Weber’s contract that has a 7.857 million dollar AAV for 8 more years. He’s a great defensemen, but that contract is going to last until he is 40 years old. It’s going to start looking really bad really soon. I don’t see this team trading Drouin, and Petry and Alzner will be tough contracts to trade right now without retaining salary. With those two I would recommend keeping them for one more season, hope they perform better then they did last year, and then maybe it will be easier to move them at the trade deadline or next off-season. Pacioretty and Galchenyuk would be easier to trade and get a good return for.
This team performed bad last year and typically you would thing a bottom 5 team should rebuild, but is that the best thing to do in the prime of Price’s career. Weber is still an amazing defensemen, and what if they do get Tavares. It’s a rare case of an off-season plan kind of depending on a free agent signing. If they land Tavares they can re-tool but shouldn’t rebuild. A healthy season from Weber, Price playing the way we know he is capable of, and finally a first line centre in John Tavares, I can see this team competing for a wild card spot next season. If they don’t land Tavares, I would think the focus would have to change to unloading a bad contract or two in the next few seasons and implementing young players like Scherbak, Juulsen and whoever they draft third overall into more prominent roles and see what they can do. Then in a couple years when someone like Tkachuk (if they draft him) or maybe even Poehling might be ready to take on a 1st line centre role, this team is ready to contend.
This organization might be a long ways away for contending, or it might not be as far off as we think. A goalie like Price is a prime example. When he isn’t himself, this team struggles. When he is on his game, he steals so many wins for this team. This team doesn’t know what direction to go in this off-season and it can’t be just based on Tavares. This team will win more games with a Price at 100% and no Tavares than Tavares on the team with a struggling Price. A sense of direction moving forward is needed from the Canadiens this off-season.
If I were GM, I’d go after Tavares but with or without him I have to unload a few expensive contracts and shouldn’t be focused on contending for at least the next 2-3 seasons.