Week 17 in One Word: Reno

February 27, 2022



the process of improving a broken, damaged, or outdated structure

Similar: modernization, restoration, refurbishment

making something new, bringing something back to life

Week 17 had three games for the Montreal Canadiens, and for the first time this season all they did was win, win, win. Monday featured a beatdown of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the tune of 5-2, with the two Leafs goals coming late and when the win was already sealed. On Wednesday, the offense was rolling, and Samuel Montembeault earned a shutout in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Then on Saturday the Habs defeated the Senators in Ottawa on the strength of two goals from Artturi Lehkonen and a second win from the Hamburgler, with a final score of 2-1.

Here’s how I saw Week 17 go down.

It’s starting to look less like a rebuild and more like a reno in Montreal. 

When the Habs traded Tyler Toffoli, a player in his prime on a team-friendly deal, it felt like the rebuild cuts may go very deep. But something happened at the same time as that trade – the Habs started winning. Now we’re at five straight wins and it’s obvious to all what many of us knew all year – this team isn’t as bad as it looked under Dominique Ducharme. 

On Thursday, Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported that HuGo is looking to make a splash in free agency and “lure a big star or two to Montreal”. LeBrun used words like “roster transformation” and “roster makeover”. Some immediately shifted to the idea that it would be a quick reset and the Habs would be done. LeBrun’s words sound a lot like a reno to me.

Folks. A great reno should not be embarked upon with our eye on the bargain basement. There can be no big splash in free agency unless there are big cuts between now and then. The money just does not work. HuGo has never suggested we should all settle in for a five year tear-down and rebuild. But this is not a little paint and some new appliances kind of reno. Some walls are coming down and you will hardly recognize some spaces when the reno is complete. That’s my prediction.

An important feature of the reno is knowing where to spend the big money. 

Several years ago, I bought a condo and started a reno. My agent gave me some good advice. She said I wouldn’t likely live there forever, and to be sure and spend the money in place that would increase sale value and where I’d get my money back. That was some advice Marc Bergevin could have used.

Bergevin gave both of Paul Byron and Joel Armia four years at $3.4M per. Those contracts have probably set the minimum price for them to re-sign Artturi Lehkonen. So, you say, offload those contracts and spend the money in the right place. There are some issues with that.

Lehkonen is having an excellent season, but last year was rough. Last year many of you wanted him traded. Last year many of you felt the money was best spent on Armia. Many fans who want to keep Lehkonen and pay him today also want to keep Byron. But debating which bottom-six forward gets the big bucks is probably missing the point of HuGo’s vision for the Habs.

Teams that legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup, year after year – which is what HuGo has said is the goal – are spending their big money on top six forwards and top four defence. The rest of the line-up is filled out by lower paid contracts, either entry level or free agents or deadline additions. 

Do you want to use the money on Byron, Armia and/or Lehkonen, or do you want to go after Forsberg and/or Lindholm? I expect this reno to be noteworthy for its shift in where the big money goes. 

Every good reno needs a vision of the potential of what’s already there.

You don’t renovate a place that doesn’t have good bones and other characteristics you want to keep. If there is nothing worth keeping, you tear down and rebuild. That’s not where the Habs are, and HuGo has acknowledged this from go.

The team had come to a place where it was impossible to accurately assess potential. A coaching change was necessary. Enter Martin St. Louis. It may be short-lived – we’ll enjoy it while we can – but Marty is bringing out every ounce of potential in this group of players. Core members of the team are still missing. They’re as weak at centre and defence as they have ever been. And they’re winning.

Good players can look bad on a team with no vision. Similarly, good players can be made to look better on they are when the vision drives a “greater than the sum of it’s parts” mentality. Under Dom, everyone looked worse than they were, and that was a challenge for HuGo. Under Marty, it’s possible that many currently look better than they are, and that’s a new challenge.

We used to think this team was really bad. It isn’t. It was poorly coached. It’s a good team. But the challenge of this reno, I think, is to have the vision to shift the team from good to great.

This will mean a modernized defence group, without a doubt.

This will mean an offensive-minded team rather than playing to not lose.

This will mean targeting high end talent that matches the style Marty wants to play.

This will mean some good players will go so they can be replaced by great players.

A good reno keeps what is good, but not where something great will make the final product so much better.

It’s beginning to look like the renovated Habs will have a new cornerstone.

I’m not sure how we can come to any conclusion other than this. Carey Price has had another setback. He’s not skating anymore but focusing on off-ice workouts. If he plays at all this year, it will be a few late season games. 

As I’ve written before, I’ve never believed Carey would finish the entire contract. But I never expected such question marks around his future at this stage. So much is still unknown. But I know this much is true. The renovated version of the Habs will not be dependent on what happens in net.

There is a new focus for this reno and it’s not on stopping pucks. 

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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