The Canadiens desperately need a No. 1 center and have an aging defense corps. Unless they solve their identity crises, they could be in for a couple of bumpy years.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
It’s a question that has dogged the Montreal Canadiens for years and will continue to do so until they address it, either from within or outside the organization. What are they going to do with that enormous, gaping hole down the middle of their lineup? And if they fancy themselves as a serious Stanley Cup contender in 2019-20, they have a couple of years to come up with an answer.
Whether or not it is a player who is listed as a center, left winger and right winger – one Alex Galchenyuk – is as much an unknown as it was when he broke into the NHL five years ago. Even though the Canadiens signed him to a three-year deal worth $4.9 million a season, the organization is no closer to knowing what it has in him. He hasn’t had a sustained opportunity, but hasn’t been terribly impressive, particularly in his own end, when he has had a chance.
Could newly acquired Jonathan Drouin be the answer at center? Or perhaps by that time it could be Ryan Poehling, a raw talent who is at least two or three years away from prime time work in the NHL. Or it could come via trade, but the Canadiens have been trying that one for a while and it hasn’t worked out.
Beyond that, things are a bit of a mixed bag for the Canadiens. They have a defense corps that will be ancient by NHL standards in three years, which raises questions about whether they’ll be able to keep up in a league that is already fast and trending toward more speed.
Of course, you know they’ll be set in goal with Carey Price now under contract for the next nine seasons. Price has basically bet the rest of his career that the Canadiens will win a Stanley Cup at some point. And while he’ll have a lot to say about whether they do that, it’s the other position down the middle of the ice that needs to be figured out.
GOT IT: The Canadiens have the man who is generally regarded as the best goaltender in the world at the moment. There’s no reason to believe he won’t retain that status, or at least remain in the conversation, for the next couple of seasons at least. They also have a veteran defense, which could be a good or bad thing depending upon how it ages.
NEED IT: Have we mentioned that the Canadiens desperately need a No. 1 center? Well, in case you haven’t taken the hint, it’s precisely what they need. And they will not be a serious contender until they get not only a No. 1 guy, but also depth down the middle of the ice.
CAP WATCH: After signing Price and Galchenyuk this summer, the Canadiens will have nine players under contract taking up a total of $48.6 million in cap space in 2019-20. Assuming the cap stays somewhere in the $75 million range, that leaves only $26.4 million to fill out the remainder of the roster.
BOTTOM LINE: The Canadiens have been tinkering and tearing down, trying desperately over the past couple of years to figure out exactly what they are. Unless they solve the identity crises, they could be in for a couple of bumpy years.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild
Up next: Nashville Predators