After learning about Saturday’s bombshell announcement that Cole Caufield will require season-ending shoulder surgery, many fans of the Montreal Canadiens are ready to fast forward to June and prepare for what they hope is another eventful summer for general manager Kent Hughes.
While the upcoming offseason will undoubtedly be more enjoyable than the final 35 games of the 2022-23 campaign, there are still a few reasons to keep tuning in and follow what the team will be up to over the few months. After all, the undermanned Habs did beat their archrivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second time this season at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
Who Stays, Who Goes?
The NHL Trade Deadline is just under six weeks and with his team’s injury curse, Hughes must be hoping he’ll still have healthy players that he can move for future assets from now until March 3. He’s probably going to have to bring in some extra bodies, either through waivers or via trade, just to fill roster spots. Not to mention that the Laval Rocket are dealing with their own injury issues while they hang onto a playoff position in the American Hockey League (AHL) so it wouldn’t be optimal to decimate their lineup further with more call-ups.
The good news is that Sean Monahan is close to returning and will be Montreal’s most valuable pending unrestricted free agent on the market. Given the demand for defencemen, there’s a good chance Joel Edmundson that moves as well and maybe the offers for Josh Anderson will suddenly become too enticing to pass up. Regardless, there may be as many new faces arriving into the fold as the number of familiar names who will leave. In addition to draft picks, management will be looking to add older prospects on the cusp and who are further along in their development like Justin Barron, the player acquired in the Artturi Lehkonen trade last year.
Changes are just around the corner and Hughes will surely give the fans more reasons to be excited about the future.
Something to Prove
While the Canadiens aren’t icing anything close to their best lineup right now, many players have been given an opportunity to not only prove that they belong in the NHL, but also that they should be part of the franchise’s future.
Barron, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Anthony Richard, and Jesse Ylönen have been patiently waiting in the wings for this chance while leading the way for the Rocket, and they have made the most of it since getting the call. Barron was sent to Laval at the end of training camp to continue his development and restore his confidence. He’s shown noticeable improvement since returning to the big leagues while his three teammates are also trying to find a permanent chair in Montreal.
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Following Saturday’s win, Habs head coach Martin St. Louis made the point to commend Jean-François Houle and the Rocket coaching staff for having their players ready to step in when called upon and for instilling NHL habits, words that managers of a rebuilding team want to hear.
While losing Caufield for the season is a devastating blow, it will increase the Canadiens’ odds in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes and help them secure a Top 5 pick. Habs fans will be monitoring the standings with keen interest as they hang onto the hope of their team possibly drafting a generational player. They may even get two balls in the lottery if the Florida Panthers miss out on a playoff spot thanks to the Ben Chiarot trade.
The potential to add multiple cornerstone pieces this summer in a deep draft is worth paying attention to and it starts with where the team finishes in the standings.
New Career-Highs for Suzuki?
Unfortunately, Caufield’s shoulder injury will prevent him from continuing his quest to reach the 40-goal plateau this season, but there are other possible Habs milestones to track. Captain Nick Suzuki, who has been named an all-star for the second straight year, is enjoying a great year and seems well-positioned to establish new career highs across the board in goals, assists, and points if he can stay healthy. It will be tougher without no. 22 riding shotgun, but certainly within reach.
Meanwhile, Kirby Dach has already surpassed his best points total with the Chicago Blackhawks in just 47 games and has taken his game to a new level with the Habs. His continued growth will be fun to follow. Not to mention that Josh Anderson seems well on his way to hitting 20 goals in a season for the first time since joining the Canadiens, rookie Arber Xekhaj will keep turning heads like only he knows how, and Samuel Montembeault’s breakthrough season will be a big talking point.
There were always going to be ups and downs during the rebuild and this team will continue to face adversity, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any silver linings to be found or compelling storylines abound to keep the fanbase engaged until game 82.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.