Habs Notes from the First Round

May 5, 2023

Jeremy Swayman and Sergei Bobrovsky meet in the handshake line at the end of their first round series

The first round of the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete and once again the Montreal Canadiens were spectators. Their season may be over but the work isn’t done. This is the part of the season where smart GMs take notes on how other teams are built and how they fare in the post-season.

There is no rush for the Habs to obsess about the goaltending position.

What do Bobrovsky and Vasilevskiy have in common beside Florida employment? They’re the two highest paid active goalies in the league. Only one of them made it to the second round.

What do Vasilevskiy, Sorokin, Shesterkin, Georgiev, Grubauer, Oettinger, Brossoit and Hellebuyck have in common beside having names that are hard to spell? All eight of them were the sole netminder used by their respective teams in the playoffs. Only three of them made it to the second round.

What do Samsonov, Schmid, Raanta, Gustavsson, Brossoit, Skinner and Korpisalo all have in common? All seven were the primary goaltender for their teams in the first round while having AAVs of less than $3M – some considerably less. Five of seven backstopped their teams to the second round.

Count the guys who were starters in the first round because much better paid goalies have spent more time on the IR than in the net. Count the guys who were paid considerably less than their back-ups. The playoffs are when you look at stops, not cap hits.

What lesson can the Habs learn from all of this? If the answer were coming in this paragraph every GM in the NHL would be reading it before happy hour.

For years the Habs model was to build from the net out. Carey Price was exceptional, and got paid accordingly. They also played him like a rented mule and his body wore down. But the Stanley Cup was always just out of reach because the team around him wasn’t good enough. The Habs rose and fell on Carey, but couldn’t quite rise far enough and when they fell it was into a bottomless pit.

Here is the lesson of Carey Price – it serves no value to have the best goalie in the league if you haven’t built a winning team around him. There is only so much one man can do.

Perhaps the lesson from all the other guys in the first round comes from Carey too. The goalie is an important part of your team, but he’s only that – part of your team. There may be more than one winning formula where the net is concerned, but they all include building a solid team around your netminder.

So if Kent Hughes is taking notes, we should hope he’s reminding himself that he can afford to be patient with the goaltending position while he builds a solid team.

Contenders spend their money on skilled players, and then count on them to win.

The Toronto Maple Leafs took the Tampa Bay Lightning to overtime three times in Tampa. In two of those games, overtime goals were scored by guys named Rielly and Tavares. Tavares had a hat trick in the must-win second game. The Florida Panthers outlasted the Boston Bruins led by a Tkachuk. He and Barkov are at the top of the list on capfriendly.com, and also at the top of the scoring board for the first round of the playoffs.

The same holds true for Draisaitl and McDavid in Edmonton, Marner and Matthews in Toronto, Hintz in Dallas, and you get the picture. There is no replacement for skilled players who step up to be your best players when it counts. That’s why they cost so much.

Connor McDavid celebrates a win over the Los Angeles Kings

The Pierre-Luc Dubois saga continues to unfold in Montreal, and some have argued the Habs should not waste money on him because of their prospect depth. As Gordon Ramsay would say, let’s get one thing clear. The Habs have a deep prospect pool – and that’s what is is – depth.

These kids coming up the ranks will be the guys who develop long and are ready to come in and fill in the holes around the core when the Habs are ready to contend. Having that is essential to a winning team, but the elite players among them are scarce. The Habs will need to add bona fide stars to the mix, and a little luck on Monday night would help with that. But make no mistake. Kent Hughes knows he needs to add high end talent, and he will use all options to do so.

Whether that’s PLD or another guy is another discussion altogether, but they will add skill and it will cost them. Cole Caufield’s contract will also sting a little. Isn’t it about time the Habs learned to spend a little more for a Volvo or two instead of buying a gaggle of Chevys that sputter along and they can’t offload to save their souls?

HuGo wants to build a team that will be a consistent contender for years, and that’s not easy.

After an off-season that was focused on bringing another Stanley Cup to Boston, and a regular season for the record books, the Bruins were a first round casualty in the post-season. Last year’s Champs, the Colorado Avalanche, didn’t make it out of the first round a year later.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a lot of ugly years before their window opened, but they also had years of taking two steps forward and one back before they hoisted the Cup in consecutive years. The New York Rangers took their backward step this year after taking two forward last.

It takes years of being bad and drafting high, and a little lottery luck doesn’t hurt. A team needs the business acumen to manage the cap, and to buy and sell at the right times. Depth to survive injuries and mental fortitude to overcome exhaustion. Killer instinct balanced by steady production. High end talent balanced by clutch depth.

This thing they’ve set out to do is hard. Patience will be required.

The Lightning core dejected following an overtime loss to the Leafs

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.

4 thoughts on “Habs Notes from the First Round

  1. It’s great to read a sane view of the process of building a winner and how goaltending fits in. I like what Hughes is doing but I know we won’t all agree with all of his moves. Some will work out well and some won’t. No one is perfect. This management team has the opportunity to build a contender for Cup 25 and beyond. It will take time, a lot of patience and an inordinate amount of luck. We really need the luck meter to move from bad to very good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks David. I’ve been particularly struck by this year’s playoff goaltending picture. It’s all over the map. How does a GM decide the approach? Draft and develop a kid versus signing or trading for a proven player… striking a balance between experience and longevity… paying a lot for elite or settling for good enough and spending the money elsewhere. You can’t help but feel it’s a complete crap shoot in that position.


      1. Me too. I find it a bit like the final end of a curling game. There are two ways to get your winning point. A draw or a takeout. It doesn’t matter which is the most difficult. Either call is right if you make the shot. Hughes will face a lot of those decisions in Montréal. He has to be right on a lot of them to build a winner and he still needs a lot of good luck.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The way I see it, the rebuilding process has already been kick started and there are more quality pieces in place than some realize. Looking through the lens of good luck vs bad luck to date I’d have to say there has been far and away more good luck in that many of HUGO’s gambles look to have turned out right.

    Marty St Louis and staff (including Adam Nicholas) looks like a win. This started out as a test drive where Marty would finish out the season and by then the Habs would have a chance to settle on a permanent coach. HUGO may have uncovered a gem here.

    The success of the Kirby Dach acquisition is certainly signaling a steal for HUGO.

    The waiver wire pick up of Jonathan Kovacevic was another great move.

    Turning the disgruntled Jeff Petry into a younger Mike Matheson looks to be a win.

    Combine these with Montembeault’s ascent and the success of Guhle, Xhekaj and Harris.

    The failure of any one of these or even, what was statistically more likely, that most of these moves don’t work out and the rebuild stalls.

    But it appears that the good ship Habs has come through some rough waters and maybe there is smoother sailing ahead. A wonderful culture and strong team identity has been forged in that crucible. The defense appears to have cohesion, skill, grit and confidence and in time, with another key addition (and some subtraction too), the Habs can count on a young, mobile defense.

    The team has a dangerous top line and now needs to find the ingredients to build a skilled offensive second line to go with it. I am hoping that a heavier, energetic 4th line gets cobbled at some point soon as well.

    The upcoming draft and the summer which follows it will likely see a number of skilled young players coming on board to add depth and plug holes in the line up.

    The goaltending will be competent next season until it needs to be better than that sometime in the future. The organization appears committed to the reduction of the number of player injuries.

    I believe the team is further ahead at this point than it has a right to be. I also believe the team will display the character traits and the effort that will have fans delighted. I am not saying the team absolutely makes the playoffs next year or is a cup contender in a year or two. What I do expect though is for the team to inspire it’s fans, work hard and always play as a team. And that should be enough in the short term to make fans proud.

    Liked by 1 person

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