You’re never going to hear an NHL player or general manager come out and say “we’re packing it in. This season’s done.”
These are professionals. While they are paid handsomely to play a game, they also play for pride. Still, there are times when it makes sense for a team to essentially eat the back half of a season in the name of a better draft pick.
The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of one of those times now.
On January 3, they lost for the ninth time in 10 games by allowing the Buffalo Sabres to claw back and win in the third period. Montreal doesn’t need to look any farther than the Sabres to see the potential benefits of tanking. Buffalo GM Tim Murray has spent the last two seasons moving veteran assets for futures, and we’re starting to see the fruits of those labors this year.
The Sabres are just 21-26-4, but there are some special pieces in place in Buffalo because Murray and Co. recognized what was best for the Sabres in the long run. And that happened to be ensuring they landed a talent like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 Draft.
While Auston Matthews might not be considered a “generational talent”, adding a forward of his ilk would exponentially help the Canadiens in the coming years.
Even if the Habs didn’t end up with the 6’2″, 194-pound Arizona native, there are numerous other players who could improve the team within the next season or two. If the last several months have been any indication, this is a franchise in dire need of help at every position. There are some elite pieces in place, but the Canadiens still rely on Carey Price for victories more often than not.
Price hasn’t played since November 25, and Montreal has been getting caved in on a nightly basis since. It’s one of the worst stretches of play in the team’s storied history, and it’s starting to impact attendance at the Bell Centre.
Stands at Bell Centre after 1st whistle in 1st period. Word from the street is scaplers are selling 2 for 1 #Habs pic.twitter.com/pT2H4cf8Em
— Douglas Gelevan (@DGelevan) February 4, 2016
The math here isn’t difficult. The Canadiens have a 12 percent chance to make the playoffs, and head coach Michel Therrien knows that a postseason appearance is unlikely. He said as much following Montreal’s latest meltdown at the hands of the Sabres.
#Habs Coach M.Therrien not looking to sugarcoat it tonight: "It will be very difficult for us to make the playoffs."
— Richard Labbé (@Richardlabbe) February 4, 2016
With 30 games left in the season, it’s time for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge to waive the white flag. It’s not a concept that fans of any franchise are going to enjoy, but this is a bad hockey team when Price isn’t in net.
It was an issue a year ago when the netminder carried a below average team to the postseason on his back, and nothing has changed since.
The Habs managed to take down the upstart Ottawa Senators but were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round two. Now without the defending Hart Trophy winner available, we can see what the Canadiens are truly made of. It may seem foolish to call for a team that is five points out of a playoff spot to call their season dead, but what has Montreal done to inspire confidence since the beginning of December?
They haven’t won back-to-back games since November 25 and 27. It’s not a coincidence that Montreal lost Price on the 25th and then went into an absolute tailspin. The Canadiens have won just six games since the 27th, and they’ve been picked apart on more than one occasion. Does it get any uglier than back-to-back 5-2 losses at the hands of the then last-place Columbus Blue Jackets?
Montreal has been mum about Price and when he’ll be able to return, but it’s been reported that the goalie is still walking around with a noticeable limp.
Saw Price walking last month and he was walking fine. Saw him tonight right after game and he had a slight limp. #DrawYourOwnConclusions
— BrianWilde (@BWildeCTV) February 4, 2016
The course of action here isn’t enjoyable, but it’s not complicated either. Shut Price down for the season and continue to ice the same lineup. Reading between the lines a bit, if general manager Marc Bergevin wanted to shake this team up then he would have done it by now.
Outside of “acquiring” John Scott, Montreal has stood mostly pat as they’ve plummeted down the standings. It wouldn’t make sense to trade a cornerstone piece just for the sake of doing so, but isn’t it odd that the Canadiens have stuck it out with Mike Condon even though there are a half-dozen goalies on the market now?
If the goal was to improve in the short-term, we would have seen a move several weeks ago when it became clear that the Habs couldn’t hack it without Price.
Condon hasn’t been the issue himself, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to upgrade in goal either. Yet nothing has happened, and that may be by design. We’ve seen the kind of impact rookies like Eichel and McDavid can have on their teams. Buffalo and Edmonton aren’t going to make the playoffs either, but they’re inspiring hope in their fans again.
Montreal is currently the eighth-worst team in the NHL. By shutting down Price and continuing to play like they have been, the Habs are likely guaranteeing themselves a top-five pick at the upcoming draft. This isn’t an organization that needs to take the scorched earth approach like the Oilers did. P.K. Subban is an elite defenseman and Max Pacioretty is one of the most underrated scorers in the league.
Assuming Price is able to bounce back at 100 percent next year, the Canadiens could be sitting pretty with a player like Matthews or Jesse Puljujarvi in the lineup. This losing stretch won’t be pleasant, but it’s time to look to the future in Montreal.