Habs Notes from the Second Round

May 16, 2023

Joseph Woll following the overtime loss that ended the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs

With the Seattle Kraken the last team eliminated, the second round of the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete. Before we are thrown into the Conference Final, we should take a minute to consider the the lessons that were learned in the second round.

Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes is sharp enough to be taking notes on how other teams are built and how they fare in the post-season. If I were Hughes, here are three things that would be in my notebook.

The emotional toil of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not for the faint of heart.

The New Jersey Devils were the first team eliminated from the second round. Just days after the elation of eliminating the Rangers, they were on the wrong end of a handshake line. They’re a young team, and they say you have to learn to lose before you can learn to win.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated on Friday night, after disposing of the first round monkey on their backs just days before. By Game 2 their fate was already sealed – giving up that lead for a loss on home ice was a kick in the gut that they never really recovered from. For a while in Game 5 it looked like Morgan Rielly would drag them into the fight all by himself, but the overturned goal was too much. The pressure was like the weight of all of Toronto’s asphalt on their chests. They couldn’t bear it.

When the Oilers were about to tie the series in convincing fashion, Pietrangelo couldn’t manage his emotions and watch Draisaitl score into an empty net. Nurse couldn’t resist instigating a fight. The result was the top defender for each team sitting in Game 5. It’s a double-edged sword. Every team needs some emotional players who will play on the edge and rally the whole group. But often there is a line, and the crossing of it can be an undoing.

The Leafs gave up on the emotional Nazem Kadri, while the Avalanche channeled his emotion into a Stanley Cup. The Leafs really could have used Kadri in that Florida series. Emotion is tangly.

We have repeatedly heard Hughes reference the importance of character. This has to be one element he is considering in his assessment of draft options. We know that when they drafted Juraj Slafkovsky, one consideration was their belief he could handle the Montreal market.

Who are the gamers? Who has to be dragged into the fight, and who does the dragging? Which players bring the emotional edge, and which ones have the nerves of steel? How many of each is just right? Who will score you a ton of goals in the regular season and choke in the playoffs, and who will look average in the regular season and jack it up as soon as he gets to game 83? It’s a delicate pot of soup.

The fans who are criticizing Hughes for talking about character and compete level should take a look at who is left. Adding elite skill is important, but a GM ignores the emotional side of the game at his own peril.

When burning assets at the trade deadline, it’s easy to get burnt.

The Rangers traded a collection of picks and prospects to make room for and acquire Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, two pending unrestricted free agents whose prime is behind them. Both players contributed, but the Rangers were ousted in the first round.

Patrick Kane of the New York Rangers

The Boston Bruins spent big, adding names like Orlov, Bertuzzi and Hathaway, because they thought they were legitimate contenders. They’ll have a long off-season to figure out who they can fit under the cap for next season.

Kyle Dubas added several pieces at the deadline, trading away high end picks and good young players to try to fill holes that have been obvious for years. All it bought Toronto was one won round.

The Oilers spent at the trade deadline, but used their best resources on players on players under contract, or can be retained for little. The Devils took the same approach. The Lightning, with cupboards bare from past spending, spent a fortune for Jeannot, who barely played for them but is under team control beyond this year.

At the deadline, my assessment was that Carolina had not done enough. They added Shane Gostisbehere for a third round pick and Jesse Puljujarvi for a prospect who was selected in the third round. Who knows if it will ultimately be enough, but they’re still in it. The Florida Panthers stood pat at the deadline and will face the Canes in the conference final.

The Seattle Kraken added Jaycob Megna for a fourth rounder, and took the Dallas Stars to seven games. The Stars made minor deals, adding depth (Evgenii Dadonov, Max Domi) for pieces that were not part of their future plans (Denis Gurianov, Anton Khudobin) and a second round pick. Vegas also added depth, with the most expensive piece they dealt being a prospect they drafted in the late first round in 2021.

The final four tinkered while the big spenders are playing golf. Never mind the teams who gave up useful assets to try and make the playoffs and failed.

Perhaps the trade deadline is not the best time to build your team. Perhaps the days of spending big on rentals should give way to saving your best assets for players you can control. Perhaps too much change to fill holes late in a season will just mess with team chemistry. Some teams will have a very quiet draft floor to think about these things, while others build for the future.

Winning a draft lottery isn’t everything.

Draisaitl was drafted 3rd overall 2014 and McDavid at first overall in 2015. Matthews was selected with the first pick in 2016 and Marner was the 4th pick in 2015. Tkachuk was taken 6th overall in 2016. Bouchard was the 10th overall pick in 2018. Hintz was the 49th pick in the 2015 draft. Stone heard his name called at 178 in 2010.

The draft lottery happened during the second round, and the Montreal Canadiens will step up to the microphone to select the fifth pick of the 2023 draft. Bedard sure would have been nice, and no one is challenging the significance of elite players. But in a deep draft, you don’t need the first overall pick to land a guy like Draisaitl, Marner, Tkachuk or Bouchard. There are gems to be found in later rounds – like Hintz and Stone – if you draft smart and have a gaggle of picks like the Habs do.

Four teams remain – Carolina, Vegas, Florida and Seattle/Dallas . Eichel is still in it and McDavid is not. Tkachuk is still there while Matthews’ locker is cleared. Aaron Ekblad is the only first overall pick that remains.

I can’t say it better than Stock Guy.

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.

2 thoughts on “Habs Notes from the Second Round

  1. I kept thinking of McDavid and Eichel all through their series. One was appreciated as a star and the other was treated as an unworthy pick although both could have been leaders for the teams drafting them. I believe that the important part of any draft is what the team plans for their choice. I would have loved to see Habs with the first pick but I will be just as happy when they develop this year’s pick to his full potential. The salary cap has created a situation where the cost of elite players can be detriment to team construction and development. Finding a balance between star power and complete team development will likely be the key for Hughes and Gorton. Will teams be able to keep their generational talent for the long term or will they eventually become high priced mercenaries chasing the Stanley Cup??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is every reason to believe a very strong player will be available at 5. Lots of angst around the Habs right now, but that’s par for the course. Until Hughes and Gorton give us reason to doubt them…


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