NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Montreal Canadiens
For the next 31 days, AFP Analytics is going to take a critical look back at how the season played out for all 31 NHL teams, starting with the last place team (Buffalo Sabres) and ending with the Stanley Cup Champions. In addition to a season recap, we will look at some major decisions the team will be facing this offseason.
Next up in our 31 in 31 season review is a look at the Montreal. If I were to list the order of GM jobs I would want to take from most to least desirable with regards to the team’s current situation, Montreal would be in my bottom five. This season certainly was a disappointment as they dealt with major injuries to key players, namely Carey Price and Shea Weber, however, I don’t think having either of those players at full health going forward is going to majorly change the team’s fortunes.
Season Bright Spots
I have some sympathy for Montreal fans as their team really did not have a lot go right for them this season and the future doesn’t look any better. The biggest reason for optimism though for Montreal is the fact they finished with a 50.53 in Corsi For % good for 15th overall. Corsi For % is usually a good indicator of where teams are headed and Montreal’s does signal a little optimism for fans.
Canadien fans had to be pleased with the production they saw from Paul Byron and Nic Deslauriers did for them this season. Paul Bryon has now put two good seasons together for Montreal, scoring 20 goals in each while also putting up positive possession numbers at 5v5. The most encouraging thing though about Byron is he was able to maintain a very high shooting %.
Nic Deslauriers came over from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Zach Redmond. I would hope Canadien fans didn’t expect much production from Nic Deslauriers when he came in. Hopefully, Deslauriers’s offense contribution was a pleasant surprise to Montreal fans. However, they probably shouldn’t get overly excited as Deslauriers’s shooting % was nearly 5% higher than his previous career high and he had the third worst CF% (46.63%) and Relative CF% (-3.43%) among players to play at least 30 games. I’m not so sure giving him a midseason contract decision was the smartest move (maybe for GM Marc Bergevin it was but he’s set the bar pretty low).
Brenden Gallagher is always one of those players that I don’t think he’s really that good but then go back and look at his stats and change my tone. He probably has been one of Montreal’s best players the past few years and he comes at a price of $3,175,000. An absolute bargain for a player that has the best possession numbers on the team (among regular players) and led the team in overall scoring.
The obvious place to start is with the injuries to the team’s two biggest stars. Shea Weber’s injury is hopefully not one that will lead to him having lingering effects. Weber has been a very durable player for his career so Montreal can be hopeful that this was a freaky blip on the injury radar. I don’t know if we can say the same for Carey Price.
Carey price has now had significant injuries in two of the last three seasons. Two seasons ago he struggled to recover from a knee injury and this year missed time with another lower body injury and a concussion. When he did play, he didn’t perform to the level that has become expected of him. By the way, next year Carey Price counts against the Canadiens’ cap for $10.5M for the next eight seasons. Spending more on one goalie than most teams spend on two seems like a suboptimal way to run a team, especially when that goalie is 30 years old and is signed until he is 38 years old. If I were a Canadien fan, I would be a little concerned.
Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty are two other players Canadien fans had to be disappointed with this season. There is probably a little more reason for concern for Galchenyuk than Pacioretty. Galchenyuk was a negative possession player for only the second time in his career. A deeper dive also shows that Galchenyuk played his most 5v5 minutes with Jonathan Drouin and dragged down Drouin’s possession numbers. Drouin’s numbers improved from 48.36% to 53.29% when he played away from Galchenyuk. Pacioretty, on the other hand, had very solid possession stats (a 5v5 Corsi For% of 53.31%).
There is a reason for optimism for both players and it starts and ends with their miserable shooting percentages this year. Both players had their career worst shooting percentages. A player’s shooting percentage generally will regress to the mean, meaning over time a player’s shooting percentage will move toward their career average. For example, Pacioretty had a career shooting percentage of 8.2% (during 5v5 play) heading into last season. This season he shot 4.72%, bringing his average down to 7.8%. We would expect to see Pacioretty to have a shooting percentage around 8% next season.
I also think there has to be a little bit of a bad taste in the mouths of Canadien fans when it comes to the Jonathan Drouin-Mikhail Sergachev trade. Drouin wasn’t bad and is signed to a reasonable long-term contract but it has to hurt to see the player traded away excel immediately and play a key role in Tampa Bay’s successful season. It also doesn’t help the team likely filled their void on blueline by handing out a long-term deal to Karl Alzner. Call me crazy but I would much rather have Sergachev and not have Drouin and Alzner (mostly Alzner). However, couple that with the continued sting of the PK Subban trade and fans must want Bergevin to be banned from using his phone.
Yikes. Remember when I said taking charge of this team would be one of the least desirable in sports? Well its mostly because the team is going to be hard-pressed to make too many major moves. The Canadiens, much like many of the other teams who finished this low in the standings, really lack top end talent. Outside of maybe Drouin, I don’t see any player on this roster who truly should be playing top line minutes for this team. They are also incredibly weak down the middle. It’s possible that bringing in some true top center talent, could go a long way to solving problems.
I would be surprised if Alex Galchenyuk is on the roster opening night. He seems to be a player that could benefit from a fresh start. There has been speculation that a trade with the Buffalo Sabres centered around center Ryan O’Reilly and Galchenyuk would make a lot of sense. I don’t know if I see the fit. The obvious detractor would be due to the two teams being rivals in their division. I don’t love using that argument as a reason to not make a trade.
Instead, I don’t think Montreal benefits from adding another long-term contract at a high dollar amount that they will likely regret in another year or two. Swapping O’Reilly for Galchenyuk would bring the team’s salary cap space to just above $10.5M. If they retain their restricted players for around $1M each, They’re quickly down to around $6.5M in salary cap space. This really isn’t much space to add the talent they need unless they make some other move.
That other move could involve Max Pacioretty, their current captain, who will be entering the last season of his contract. He’s signed for a very reasonable $4.5M and will hit the age of 30 next season. I would look to trade him this offseason. I think he could fetch a solid return from a contending team and would clear salary cap space for a significant player. The worst move the Canadiens could make is to sign him to a big dollar, long-term extension.
If you have read the entire offseason plan and connect the dots, it would be logical to think John Tavares would be a fit for the Canadiens. I agree. However, to make it happen, it probably means moving one or both of Galchenyuk and Pacioretty for prospects and picks. In other words, signing Tavares would likely be the only major roster change that would have an impact on the team next year. Tavares is really, really good but I’m not sure signing him to a deal that is at least at the level of Carey Price will really help this team. The upgrade Tavares would provide over the players the team will likely have to move seems like it would be less than you would hope if you are bringing in a star player.
Unfortunately for Canadien fans, it looks like the team is going to be spinning their wheels for many years to come. They have too much money locked up in long-term deals to players who are unlikely to perform at the level of their pay. The team has to hope it can add some impactful players in this year’s draft. Having the third overall pick and four second-round picks should certainly help, but many of the players they take will likely be two or three years away from the NHL. Fans better hope the possession numbers the team achieved this year were not a fluke and carry over into next season and translate to a better season finish.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the Detroit Red Wings. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.