December 17, 2021
feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.
Similar: desire, want, hope for, long for, yearn for, crave, dream of, set one’s heart on
a desire or hope for something to happen.
While Santa Claus and his elves were busy reviewing wish lists this week, the Montreal Canadiens were involved in three games. On Tuesday they lost to the Penguins in Pittsburgh to the tune of 5-2. They welcomed the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and were able to claim a 3-2 shootout win, without one fan in the stands to enjoy it. The Saturday night game against the Boston Bruins was postponed due to COVID-19.
The games are no longer about wins and losses – they’re about building a wish list for the process to come in the New Year.
Can you imagine how depressing these games would be if Molson had not made changes at the management level? We were in such a place of learned helplessness that we weren’t even really expecting it. Now, it’s unimaginable that he could have taken any other course.
Instead, we’re watching these games through a lens where we can appreciate the development of young players and develop our own wish lists for how the rebuild/reset/retool can take shape.
My wish list is coming together nicely into five groups.
Group 1 is the new core of the Montreal Canadiens – it’s small and it’s young.
On my wish list, the new Habs core is a small group of young players. As of today, it’s Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov. My vision is one where Suzuki is an important top 2 centre and leader on the team. Caufield is a reliable goal scorer, and Romanov is a top-4 D, and all three players are committed long term. My wish is an identity built around these young bucks with swagger… and yes, I do believe they can get their swagger back when the shift begins.
Here is a wish list. Give Suzuki two wingers that make sense and let him figure it out. Play Caufield like you might have seen some game tape and he wasn’t drafted from the planet Ork. Let Romanov continue to do exactly what he is doing – growing right in front of our eyes. But that growth should also include time on the power play, and that will only be possible if another wish is fulfilled. Someone will have to give Dom a shake.
That core is incomplete. It lacks an elite talent, preferably a first line centre, that is unlikely to be obtained apart from the draft. If the Habs don’t win another thing until they win the lottery, that will be enough for my wish list.
Group 2 on my wish list is the secondary tier of young players.
The Habs have a significant group of young players who may grow into prominent positions. They are not all essential players, but they are young players in the right age bracket to grow and build with the core three. Perhaps some of them grow into essential players, and others will be moved as upgrades arrive. Any of these players are available if an upgrade is an option.
My wish for the three young centres, Ryan Poehling, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans, is that they are all given the best opportunities to grow into useful line-up players. My wish for Cayden Primeau is that he develops into the NHL starter he looked like against the Flyers and provides the Habs with a transition plan in net. My wish for Mattias Norlinder, Kale Clague and Sami Niku is ice time – lots of ice time – with the express purpose of assessing who has a future with the Montreal Canadiens. Norlinder’s assessment will have to continue from Europe.
Every single body in this group is 25 or under today. We can also work on the assumption that there are some prospects that may become the core. For example, I’m also wishing for a friendly chat between Jeff Gorton and Jordan Harris that ends in a contract.
The young core will need some veteran support.
Group 3 is the vets you choose to keep in support of that young core. If you had asked me a year ago who those guys should be, the names would roll off my tongue – Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher. A lot has happened in a year. My wish list in this category is a small group of strong veteran leaders who are invested in the kids to take over the team.
Carey Price – does he wish to retire in Montreal or to pursue a Cup? Either can work for the Canadiens. Price will retire before that contract ends and a transition tandem of Price and Primeau can still work. But Gorton should be considering his options. If Carey leaves, I like what Jake Allen offers as veteran support. He is a smart, thoughtful player who has a Cup ring and knows his role. He understands young players. He’s in a team-friendly contract for a tandem role.
I don’t believe Jeff Petry has fallen off a cliff, never to be retrieved. I expect he can fulfill his contract with the Canadiens and be a meaningful veteran support to the young core while doing it. There may be others who can fill a similar role for less, but the Habs would be selling low today and creating an event bigger hole on right side defence. I’d wait a year and reassess, unless a team offers a deal you can’t refuse.
Brendan Gallagher might be approaching the end of his tenure in Montreal. It was Marc Bergevin who signed that six-year contract with an AAV of $6.5M. Will the new sheriff in town get weepy while discussing Gally on a Zoom call? I’m doubtful. Pundits say he can be moved for value, and my wish is that Gorton fetches a return while the value is still there.
On my wish list, Josh Anderson is added to the veteran leadership group. He is under contract for five years beyond this one, with a $5.5M cap hit. He’s the right age and he has demonstrated he can bring a leader’s voice. More importantly, he has a skill set the Habs have lacked for years, and I wouldn’t entertain moving him until it becomes clear who Luke Tuch will become.
Group 4 is trade bait – these are the guys who should be eating Gorton’s attention in the next three months.
This group is comprised of two groups. The first is the group of free agents that should be moved in favour of picks and/or younger assets.
Ben Chiarot is topping the trade bait boards. My wish is that he is the first domino to fall, and that it happens soon. Every game he plays in Montreal is an injury risk, and ice time stolen from young players.
Mathieu Perreault, Cedric Paquette, Chris Wideman, and Brett Kulak are all unrestricted free agents and are available to the highest bidder.
Arturri Lehkonen is a restricted free agent. He is also a playoff beast. I love Lehkonen, but I also love what Weise and Fleischmann were able to fetch. If a team comes calling, Lukas Vejdemo is ready to grow into the role Lehkonen has filled. Can 62 fetch a late first? Wishful thinking? Probably.
Montembeault is a restricted free agent that is available if he’s on another team’s depth wish list.
The second group is players under contract who may be appealing to a playoff team and would represent a significant culture shift for the Habs.
Can Brendan Gallagher fetch a Pacioretty-type return? Different players, but similar value for different reasons. A young asset, a good pick and a salary dump that is still useful would be a deal Gorton cannot refuse for Gallagher.
Paul Byron plays his best hockey after the first 82 are done. If he returns to form after he returns – killing penalties, adding speed to a line up, and contributing the odd goal – he may be attractive to a playoff team. With one year remaining on the contract after this one, the Habs can afford to retain salary and/or take back an expiring contract to land another asset. If there is no deal to be done, Byron is a good soldier to provide veteran support in a retool.
Is there any interest in Jonathan Drouin? With one year left on his contract after this, is there a team wishing to add him to a group where there is less pressure on him to be the guy? Does his value change with salary retention? Gorton can move one big contract and change his ability to retain in order to increase return.
All three of these deals may be better suited to the off-season, but I’m wishing for at least one of these players to move for a solid return… relative to each player, of course.
Absolutely everyone else is available… some for a bargain, and some for a premium.
Joel Armia and David Savard are simply available. They were each signed to contracts this summer that were a little too rich, and my wish is that Gorton can find them a new home. But these contracts will not be easily off-loaded. As much as we have our own wish lists about who needs to go, not every bad contract can be moved. Bergevin left too many. The Habs will need veteran support through this retool, and some of them may come from a pool of contracts that cannot be moved without losing the deal badly.
Bergevin also left three good contracts that can be moved for value. Tyler Toffoli, Mike Hoffman and Joel Edmundson are all on moveable contracts, but there is no rush. On my wish list, Gorton times these perfectly so that he gets maximum value, and still makes good use of these players while they’re in Montreal.
Making my own wish list is fun, but I can’t wait to see Jeff Gorton’s unfold.
Here is my wish list in one graphic, and your wish list is as good as mine. In the weeks and months ahead, we will see Gorton’s unfold, and that may be the most exciting thing to watch this season. If Santa is listening, Habs fans are wishing for better times ahead.