2021 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens open up arguably the most unique campaign of their existence tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs after one of the busiest offseasons in recent history.
2019-20 Record: 31-31-9 (71 points). Defeated Pittsburgh Penguins in Qualifying Round, lost to Philadelphia Flyers in Round 1
2019-20 Scoring Leader: Tomas Tatar (68 GP, 22G, 39A, 61P)
Notable Additions: F Josh Anderson (Trade, Columbus Blue Jackets), F Tyler Toffoli (Free Agent, Vancouver Canucks), F Corey Perry (Free Agent, Dallas Stars), F Michael Frolik (Free Agent, Buffalo Sabres), D Joel Edmundson (Trade, St. Louis Blues), G Jake Allen (Trade, St. Louis Blues)
Notable Subtractions: F Max Domi (Trade, Columbus Blue Jackets), D Noah Juulsen (Waivers, Florida Panthers), G Keith Kinkaid (Free Agent, New York Rangers)
2021 Draft Picks: 1, 2, 2(TBL), 3, 3(WSH), 3(CHI), 4, 4(STL), 4(VGK), 5, 5(OTT), 5(PHI), 6, 7
After a surprise qualifying round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canadiens felt like they finally turned a corner in their rebuild. Consequently, they made a plethora of moves to address areas of weakness. Those areas were backup goaltending, scoring, leadership, and depth.
Coming into 2021, it’s hard not to give the Canadiens an “A” for their work. They signed Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, and Michael Frolik as free agents. They also acquired Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen (separate transactions) from the St. Louis Blues, and Josh Anderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and promptly signed them all to extensions.
Those six players address all four issues that Habs GM Marc Bergevin wanted to correct. Notably, all but Anderson comes with a Stanley Cup ring – invaluable experience to a club that has lacked it in the past.
In a reshaped North Division – one that consists of only Canadian teams – the Canadiens should be a playoff contender. Once they get there, though, it’s anyone’s guess.
The new playoff format will have each divisional no. 1 seed playing the no. 4 seed and the no. 2 seed playing the no. 3 seed. The winners then play each other in the second round and are re-seeded in the third round. This means that theoretically, Montreal could play Toronto in the Stanley Cup Final.
Of course, teams deal with injuries and Covid is definitely still a thing; just ask the Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens, like every other team, will certainly have to overcome some injury trouble, a test for their new depth.
In terms of scheduling, the Canadiens play the Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators 10 times. They’ll play a four-game series against the Senators between Mar. 28 and Apr. 3 and have three-game sets against Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto, the latter of which will close out the season on May 8.
The Habs play each Western team nine times.
Storylines to Watch
Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Suzuki and Kotkaniemi were the story of the 2020 playoffs for the Canadiens. Suzuki had four goals and seven points in 10 games and developed some chemistry with Jonathan Drouin. Kotkaniemi, meanwhile, also had four goals but how he elevated his physical style of play and work without the puck was impressive. If the pair can pick up where they left off in August, they’ll help make the Canadiens a difficult team to play against.
Alexander Romanov – Speaking of hard to play against, Romanov’s NHL readiness is one major development out of training camp. Canadiens players were taken aback by his compete level in practice and just how strong he is.
“He’s pretty physical,” Josh Anderson told Arpon Basu of The Athletic. “He’s strong, you see this guy in the gym every day. You see how big his legs are, that’s the one thing that stands out. Really strong kid and his work ethic is pretty incredible for a young guy too so he’s looking pretty good out there.”
The Canadiens have been deploying Romanov in the quarterback position on the second powerplay unit, so look for the kid to get ample opportunity in all situations out of the gate.
Josh Anderson – Anderson’s shoulder injury has been discussed and analyzed ad nauseam. He’s recovered and has been one of the most impressive players in camp. The Canadiens’ prized offseason acquisition says that it feels 100% and that he isn’t even thinking about it.
In terms of first impressions, Anderson’s skating is what has been standing out to his new teammates.
“It’s kind of shocking a guy that big that moves as well as he does,” said Jeff Petry. “He’s right up there with Paully (Paul Byron) as one of the fastest on our team.”
If you want a sample of Josh Anderson’s speed, and Alex Romanov’s backwards skating ability: pic.twitter.com/OSifqFXpEP
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 9, 2021
Jake Allen – Arguably the Canadiens most important offseason acquisition, Allen was brought in to bring some stability to a position that has seen significant turnover over the last few years. With all respect to Keith Kinkaid, Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski or Charlie Lindgren, Allen comes in just one year removed from being the long-time starting goalie for the St. Louis Blues. His winning pedigree and team-centric attitude will be a welcome addition to the Habs dressing room as well as an improvement on the ice.
Team Chemistry – Montreal has several new key players this season and it will be critical for the team to find chemistry quickly. A bad start in a normal season can jeopardize a team’s playoff hopes. Stumbling out of the gate with just 56 games could be insurmountable so there simply isn’t time for a feeling out period once the puck drops.
2021 Free Agents – The Canadiens have several important players to lock up before July 28, the most important being Kotkaniemi. He’s not alone though. Tatar, Phil Danault, and Joel Armia will all be unrestricted free agents after this season. Artturi Lehkonen can become a restricted free agent and Suzuki will be eligible for an extension.
The Habs and their players have been able to mitigate the amount of contract discussion through the first week of training camp but the longer that key players remain unsigned, the more of a distraction it could become.
April 12: Trade deadline (3 p.m. ET)
The Canadiens have put themselves in a position to be buyers at the deadline and have the draft picks and prospects to make a splash if they feel the right player is available. Bergevin, historically, is not an active participant in the NHL’s big player movement days. We’ve seen him make small deals over the last couple of seasons to recoup some draft picks and call it day. This year, however, the team appears to be all in but expectations for this season’s deadline seem murky at best, so just how active any teams are remains to be seen.
May 8: End of regular season
Montreal ends its 2021 campaign in Toronto with the final of three games against the Maple Leafs. With the two teams as favourites to contend for North Division playoff spots, these three games could already have some postseason atmosphere and implications.
July 21: Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft
The cost of adding the depth that the Canadiens have is that they now set themselves up to lose a relatively good player to Seattle when the Kraken select their team. Montreal has three players – Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry and Carey Price – with NMCs that must be protected unless the player agrees to waive. That being said, it’s virtually guaranteed that the Canadiens have no intention of trying to expose those players to Seattle.
The general thinking has been that Seattle will target Allen from the Canadiens, but there is every chance the Habs also leave Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen and Ben Chiarot, available.
Obviously, the Canadiens’ brass feels as this roster can compete, so they wouldn’t be too upset losing one of the above if they’re fresh off a Stanley Cup victory.
July 23-24: NHL Entry Draft
The Canadiens and their fans shouldn’t expect to be wondering about a potential draft lottery victory, but the team still remains an intriguing club heading into the draft. Montreal has 14 picks in the 2021 draft, six of which are in the first three rounds. Even if their selection isn’t near the top of the draft, they could very well dangle picks to move up for a certain player or even include as part of a bigger deal to improve their roster. That is, of course, if they don’t deal them at the deadline.
July 28: NHL Free Agency
Free agency is a long way away but, at the time of this writing, some of the league’s biggest names like Alex Ovechkin, Taylor Hall and Montreal’s Tatar remain without contracts. The Canadiens surprised in this year’s free agency by adding Toffoli and could be players again next summer if they can’t reach an agreement with Tatar.