It’s time, kids. Let’s get to the biggie.
The Montreal Canadiens
Montreal is a truly beautiful city, especially if you like Subway restaurants and strip clubs, and who doesn’t? Its buildings trace a legacy of culture and cosmopolitan exchange against the skyline which is—ah, fuck, it’s snowing again? Its streets echo with the steps of generations who have passed through this timeless place, and also the dubiously essential roadwork that is paid for by a sweaty bureaucrat named Jacques picking up a briefcase in a bathroom on Rue Ste. Catherine. Even if it’s been surpassed in population, influence, money, and the ability to turn right on a red light by Toronto, Montreal remains a great reminder of how a thing can have been cool at one point even if it’s obviously in decline and has been for decades.
Speaking of, have you heard: the Montreal Canadiens have the most Stanley Cups? Yes, they won virtually all of them during a period where there were six teams or when the league had just expanded so rapidly that there were new franchises made entirely of Muppets, but you can’t deny their achievement or their determination to honour every single goddamn player on their teams with a nine-hour torch passing ceremony reminiscent of a war memorial. They will not rest until Guy LeDude who was a 4RW in 1957 is appropriately celebrated.
The Habs are very proud of their history, and justly so, even if it’s probably time to shut up about it now that several graduating classes at McGill University have lived their whole lives without seeing the Habs win jack shit. (Hey, what about 1967? Leaf fans don’t bring up 1967. Everyone else does.) Perhaps it’s time to stop staring back towards an ever-more-distant past and look at the present.
Marc Bergevin’s team thinks it’s ready for contention, and it’s not hard to see why. After finishing...uh...24th in the NHL last year and being gifted a playoff appearance by a ridiculously inclusive format and the decrepit Pittsburgh Penguins, the Habs were placed into a trash can by Philadelphia. Nothing daunted, Marc went all-in, adding:
a) A bad defenceman he overpaid, which I’m sure will go better this time
b) A backup goalie, thereby spending $15M in net in a league where spending on goalies guarantees you nothing
c) A winger who scored one goal last year
d) Geriatric scumbag Corey Perry
e) Tyler Toffoli, who is fine
Put all that together for a team that lost much more than it won, and apparently you have a group that’s going to win the division. It all makes sense when you remember that this is the year Jonathan Drouin will turn into a centre and score 90 points through the power of being Francophone, as Bergevin apparently expected when he made the hilariously bad choice to trade Mikhail Sergachev for him.
After all this time, and despite spending mounds of cap space, the Habs have resolutely neglected the most important position in the sport. It’s hard to win in hockey without centres. Yes, I know Philip Danault should have won the Selke according to a nerd chart somewhere, but the guy had 13 goals. Meanwhile, Habs fans have, you will be shocked to discover, been perhaps slightly overrating some of the team’s prospects. I guess when they said Jesperi Kotkaniemi would be a solid middle-six centre we should have clarified whether they meant in the Liiga. Ryan Poehling had one goal in 27 games last year, so I suppose Habs fans should be grateful Bergevin didn’t give him $38,000,000.
The strength of this team, of course, is its defence. It’s not the best in the league or anything, but—oh, hang on, I’m hearing we have a report from our man on the beat.
♫One of these things is not like the others♫
♫One of these things, doesn’t belong♫
Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are still two solid RHD at this stage, and since players never decline in their mid-30s, the fact they’re making a combined $14M against the cap in 2025 is nothing at all to worry about. I guess when you have the chance to build around a core of nine generic middle-six wingers, you have to sacrifice a certain amount of future flexibility to do it. On the bright side, it doesn’t look like the second contracts for the Habs prospects are going to cost much.
Anyway, their coach is still Claude Julien, who is exempt from being made fun of in this article because he’s coming back from a heart attack and I actually kind of like him. Julien was probably the best option they had anyway, given that the guy before that was Michel Therrien and the guy before Therrien was sent to prison for being Anglo. Their GM, as noted, is still Marc Bergevin, who has mastered the trick of aggressively making moves while the team never really does a whole lot in any larger sense.
Look, we know what to expect from the Habs. They will play hard and get a lot of shots, and everyone will wonder why they don’t score more (because they don’t have players who are good at that). Carey Price will be talked about in tones of hushed reverence based on the goalie he was in 2015. Their powerplay will suck butt because their strategy is still “Shea Weber takes a point shot” years after everyone realized that was a bad idea. They will probably make the playoffs this year because the Canadian division isn’t very good, and they’ll wait breathlessly for a superhuman Carey Price performance to win them the Cup because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. But the Habs are what they’ve been since Patrick Roy left town: a prestige mediocrity coasting on dated glories.
Let us all raise a glass, and toast Guy LeDude. Hell of a player.