April 20, 2023
With the 2022-23 season complete and the off-season already underway for the Montreal Canadiens, the thing on everyone’s mind is this – How close are they, and what missing pieces are between the current version of the Habs and contender status?
Of course, the real labour is figuring out the missing pieces. What is the perfect winning formula? Who decides what makes a complete team. Fans, pundits, and hockey experts have differing opinions about what comprises a Stanley Cup contender. Back in January I proposed my model revolving around centremen.
Pierre McGuire is no stranger to hockey analysis. He has commented frequently on his 7-player profile, which he says has been developed based on conversations with Scotty Bowman, that be believes is characteristic of a legitimate contender. How do the Habs measure up against this formula?
The 7-Player Profile
According to McGuire, the seven players that should be present on any team striving to be a Cup contender include the following:
- A number 1 all-star centre
- A number 2 all-star centre
- A top power forward
- A specialist/utility player/agitator/shutdown centre
- An all-star offensive defenseman
- A top shutdown defenseman
- An all-star goalie
Is this the perfect list? This article won’t debate the wisdom of the list, but rather assess the Montreal Canadiens against it and consider where the Habs might need to improve. In each area look for a grade of Achieved, TBD (to be determined), or Gap.
Target 1: A number 1 all-star centre
Nick Suzuki scored 26 goals and added 41 assists for 67 points this season. He achieved this increase while playing with everyone but your Aunt Mable. He will turn 24 this summer, which means there is still room for growth. There is little doubt that with a healthy Cole Caufield, or another goal scorer, next to him that he can score 80 points per season.
Kirby Dach scored 14 goals and added 24 assists in 58 games this season. Pro-rated over 82 games, that equals 20 goals and 34 assists for 54 points. He’s just 22 years old. It’s reasonable to expect that Dach will increase these totals over the next couple of years as he ascends to his prime. The third overall pick from the 2019 draft may well evolve into the top centreman on the Montreal Canadiens.
The future at centre ice looks promising with several other centremen in development. But that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. Should another centre prospect fall into their laps at the draft, or should one become available by trade like Dach did, the Habs should pounce. There is no such thing as too many centremen and an upgrade, or prospect that complements what they already have, should be claimed if available.
Grade: Achieved, with room for improvement
Target 2: A number 2 all-star centre
Any questions that are unanswered in the first target are answered here. We don’t know whether Nick Suzuki or Kirby Dach will develop into the prototypical first line centre, but we know for sure that Suzuki is already an all-star second line centre. Dach had his season hampered by injury, but his stats for an 82-game season translate into second line production.
Target 3: A top power forward
Last summer, the Canadiens took Juraj Slafkovsky at first overall because they believe they can develop him into a top power forward. He is the best hope for the Habs in this role, but it will take time and nothing is certain.
Marc Bergevin traded for Josh Anderson because he believed that, when healthy, Anderson would be a top power forward. General managers across the league would call him a good power forward that they covet, but “top” is a reach.
At the trade deadline, Kent Hughes took a flyer on Denis Gurianov with hopes that the Habs development program could graduate him into the power forward he was projected to become before he was drafted. We have seen glimmers of that potential, but consistency is lacking.
I might be a very rare bird for saying so, but I believe Emil Heineman has the potential to develop into a middle-six power forward. But even if he reaches the ceiling I’ve set for him, I don’t see him meeting that “top power forward” standard.
Target 4: A specialist/utility player/agitator/shutdown centre
Cole Caufield obliterates this section as a specialist. He is an elite goal scorer and a power play specialist who was on pace this season for 46 goals and 18 assists. There is no doubt that Caufield fits the McGuire definition of a specialist. But I believe there are others to consider.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard has the makings of a utility player. He can play on any line and produce. I think we saw enough this season to feel confident that he is an NHL player and his profile is one of a utility man.
Brendan Gallagher is the agitator, but there are real questions about how much longer he can fill this role for the Habs.
Owen Beck is a promising option to become the third line shutdown centre to fill a hole left by Philip Danault’s departure.
Target 5: An all-star offensive defenseman
If the first guy that comes to your mind is Lane Hutson, you are firmly in “to be determined” territory. Hutson has spent the season tearing up college hockey and, if he continues, next year this time he may have already signed his entry level contract. The real piece to be determined is whether he can translate to the NHL.
The guy that comes to my mind is Michael Matheson. He missed significant time to injury this season, but dominated when he was healthy. He scored at a pace of 14 goals and 44 assists over an 82-game season. What would his potential be with a legitimate partner on the top pair?
Grade: TBD, but it’s very close
Target 6: A top shutdown defenseman
The Montreal Canadiens are currently recovering from the defensive model instituted by Marc Bergevin. In Berge’s world, six shut down defenders collapsing on the goalie for 58 minutes was solid gold as long as you could pull off a goal or two in the other two minutes.
In his prime, Shea Weber was a top shutdown defenseman. When healthy, Joel Edmundson was certainly a top-four shutdown defenseman. Both are past tense. In the present tense, no one fits the bill.
Montreal’s best hopes for a top-pair shutdown defenseman rest on Kaiden Guhle. Too much was asked of him in his rookie season, but there is every reason to believe that Guhle can develop into that top shutdown guy. It’s coming, but it’s not here yet.
An area to watch for the Habs is that both guys with potential to be their top offensive defenders are left-shot. Guhle is also a LHD. There is no ideal RHD partner to complement them.
My view is that we will see Kent Hughes explore options to improve their futures on right side defense. Is there a solid all-around defender who can shut guys down and complement one of Matheson or Hutson on the top pair that can be obtained? It’s a tall order, and one that may have to be filled through the draft.
Grade: TBD and possibly a Gap
Target 7: An all-star goalie
If I simply offered up a “Gap” grade here and said no more, most of you would understand.
Jake Allen is a placeholder. Samuel Montembeault is showing more potential than anyone imagined when he was acquired, but it’s just that – potential. Cayden Primeau remains a question mark and decisions will need to be made about his future. Jakob Dobes had a solid college career but is a newbie in the pro ranks.
There is no doubt that the goaltending position remains a question mark for the Habs. Fortunately, there is no rush to fill the position. Hughes can continue to explore through draft, trade and free agency while kids in development have a further assessment period. Decisions can be made once the Canadiens have matured and are closer to contender status.
Priority Targets for the off-season
The assessment based on the McGuire 7-Player Profile suggests there are several areas that should be areas of focus for the Habs for this off-season.
The priority target, in my view, is a top-pair, complete, right-handed defenseman who can both complement Matheson and/or Hutson and pair with a guy like Guhle late in games to play the shutdown role. Rumours have suggested that the Habs have such a player in their sights in David Reinbacher. He is the top defender in the draft and is already looking solid while playing against men in the Swiss National League.
Another option is for the Habs to use the Florida pick in a package to acquire a young defender by trade. The New Jersey Devils may be a good trade partner. There are also a couple of right-handed defenders available as free agents this summer who would be upgrades for the Habs – Matt Dumba and Damon Severson – but neither quite fit McGuire’s profile.
The secondary target that I am proposing for the Habs combines two profiles – the ideal addition would be a power centreman. As I have noted earlier, my perfect model focuses on winning the middle to win the game.
Now if the Habs win the first overall pick on May 8th, we won’t be taking measurements. Connor Bedard will wear the bleu, blanc et rouge. But if it’s the second overall they win, Adam Fantilli fits this bill nicely as an elite centre who plays a power style. If the Habs draft at 5, 6 or 7, the group gets a little murky and it would be hard to justify drafting for such specificity.
The more obvious option is Pierre-Luc Dubois. Whether by trade this off-season or free agent signing in the summer of 2024, it feels more likely than not that Dubois will eventually join the Montreal Canadiens. If I were the GM, I’d remove all doubt and try to acquire him this summer for a reasonable return. The Habs have many assets to work with that should be appealing to the team who can’t keep Dubois regardless. The trick is for Hughes to pay more than a team that would be fine with having him for one season.
An eventual target for the Habs is an all-star goalie. There is no rush in this area since it is likely a position that can be filled apart from the draft when the player is older, more developed, and less of a gamble. When the Habs are closer to ready, if no one in the system has shone Hughes can go hunting at that time.
That said, there is no doubt that Hughes is aware of this gap and will not be obtuse to options to add an all-star goalie if they present this summer.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, and the offer an opportunity for the Montreal Canadiens to measure themselves against contenders. The McGuire 7-Player Profile is not a bad place to start.
9 thoughts on “The Habs and the McGuire Profile”
Thanks for the informative article Lori. . In my opinion, we need A number 1 all-star centre. Trading for Dubois would relieve the pressure. Easier said than done.
I have a feeling it happens before the draft or on the draft floor…
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Lori, You made my day. May your feelings run true. Cheers. Kerry
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Trading chips can from Montreal’s abundance of Left wingers and Left D-men. As we saw last summer involving Hughes trades, it will take trading quality plus draft picks to obtain a specific young talent at right defenseman and/or center..
Hi Lori, In reviewing Pierre McGuire’s seven targets I would assume that Target-4 is a specialist shutdown centerman that is also fast & feisty. . not a winger like Caulfield nor a Gallagher?
Based on how I’ve heard him describe it, he’s not saying all those traits are present in one person. He’s saying every contender has a specialist who does one thing exceptionally well. I would suggest a winner has more than one. Los Angeles has Danault shutting down McDavid. Tampa has Perry getting under the Leafs skin. I think Lehkonen was the utility guy in Colorado last year.
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Through your article, you have organized the current roster into a framework that suggests the Habs might be closer to a playoff team than many believe. Provided, of course, the upcoming off season is as successful for HUGO and the Habs as the last one was.
We have also seen a strong and positive culture and a clearly defined team identity appear over the past two seasons. These along with effective player development may also provide a catalyst to move the team forward.
Lastly Habs have a heap of prospect and draft capital that we fans have always imagined would be used to acquire missing pieces. HUGO is on record saying the organization favours the acquisition of NHL ready players to accelerate the rebuild.
All this to say that the coming 12 months might just be, to use a word heard often during the pandemic, unprecedented!
Thanks as always for your thoughts.
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I agree with your “The priority target, in my view, is a top-pair, complete, right-handed defenseman, Rumours have suggested that the Habs have such a player in their sights in David Reinbacher. ” This prospect looks good although I would chase New Jersey for Simon Nemec. Simon is going to be a very good dman.