Montreal, A True Hockey Market
Photo via NHL
Well, the 2022-2023 NHL regular season has come to an end; Montreal misses the playoffs for the second year in a row since making the Stanley Cup finals in 2021. What takeaways can we get from this year? We’ll look at the things that went right, wrong and what’s next for Le Tricolore.
Montreal was expected to be at the bottom of the standings this year, and they delivered, ending up last in the Atlantic Division, second-last in the Eastern Conference, and 28th out of 32 in the entire league. This standing gave them the 5th best odds at landing the first overall pick, a chance to get generational talent Connor Bedard, with an 8.5% chance of having the Canadiens’ ball be the chosen one at the draft lottery on May 8th. Overall, they had a record of 31 wins, 45 losses and 6 overtime losses, with a total of 68 points.
So, what went wrong? To address the elephant in the room: injuries. Montreal was injured to its bare bones, and almost the entire roster of the Laval Rocket, their minor league affiliate, suffered an injury of some sort. Montreal lost a record-breaking 751 games worth of man-games lost from injuries. Mangameslost.com mentions that “man-games lost” is “a term that refers to the cumulative loss of players (primarily due to injury) for a sports team. Every game that a player misses due to an injury counts as one man-game lost for his team.”
The list of injured players kept growing as the season went on, with many ending their season, including two of the biggest names in the league: Cole Caufield and Carey Price. Only one player out of the entire roster played all 82 games: the Habs captain, Nick Suzuki.
Though they certainly didn’t help, injuries were definitely not the only reason the Habs did not play well this year. The Canadiens are a very young team with lots of holes to fill, especially in terms of goaltending. With Carey Price not being available and most likely on the verge of retirement, who could take his place and can replace the superstar goaltender? I don’t see Jake Allen or Sam Montembault being able to fill those skates, so it’s a tough situation for the Canadiens.
Now, let’s talk about what went right. Despite the injuries, we saw new talent surfacing this season, which could guide the Habs to potential success. Obviously, Cole Caufield went insane on the ice until his injury. Nick Suzuki was incredible, leading the team in points with 66, and, as aforementioned, the only player to play all 82 games this season. We also saw the fruition of the trades made by Kent Hughes: Kirby Dach and Mike Matheson in particular were great new pieces for the Habs and let the fans embrace a new era of Canadiens Hockey.
The rookies were great, and the upcoming list keeps getting bigger: Arber Xhekaj is an absolute beast that will throw hands with anyone on the ice to let the other team know the Habs are not to be messed with. Juraj Slafkovsky had his season cut short but had times when he looked brilliant. Kaiden Guhle was a menace offensively and defensively. Homegrown product and 2019 7th-round pick sensation Rafael Harvey-Pinard came out of nowhere as a premiere goal scorer after Caufield’s injury. Add to that list the sheer amount of rookies in the Habs’ system, such as Joshua Roy, Logan Mailloux and Lane Hutson, and you have a recipe for a great future for Les Glorieux.
What about the fans? Did the team’s lack of success lead them away from the Bell Centre and lower crowd attendance? HELL NO. Montreal had its full season with the entire home games fully opened to fans for the first time since the 2018-2019 season, and boy did the fans know. Montreal sold out 38 out of 42 home games with a league-high average attendance of 21,078 fans per game in the Bell Centre's maximum capacity of 21,105. Even games that didn’t sell out had at least 20k fans. This was all within the first 19 games played in the season (including away games). It is absolutely insane how a rebuilding team that struggled as hard as the Canadiens did was able to bring a sold-out crowd night after night. All I have to say is, Montreal is crazy. Most teams would dream of having a crowd this dedicated even when winning, but a rebuilding team bringing these numbers is incredible.
So, what’s next for Montreal? They need to take the time to come back stronger and HEALTHIER next season, use those draft picks well, and let Kent Hughes cook. Whatever happens, the future is very bright for Montreal, and I cannot wait to see it pay off. GO HABS GO!