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2021 Canadiens: Pretender or Contender?

You are definitely going to set yourself up for some criticism in this town if you attempt to criticize a team that is 5-0-2. I get that and I also understand why fans are so excited about this team's prospects going forward.

But given all the moves made in the offseason (and the last few years with the LT signings of Price and Weber) and the cap ramifications coming in this offseason and beyond, one has to ask the question: did they do enough? Point blank: Are the 2021 Montreal Canadiens a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

Going through the rosters of the past Cup Champions in the last decade or so one thing jumps at you: they had a couple of legitimate superstars. Often, up the middle and at times even on defense. Not just very good players, but superstars. Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kopitar, Doughty, Backstrom, Carlson, the Great 8, Datsyuk, and the list goes on. These teams did not all have elite goaltenders (Anti Niemi and Brayden Holtby come to mind but they were just able to raise their game at the right time), and contrary to popular belief, they were not always the biggest, heaviest teams. But they had the stars.

There were, however, a couple of exceptions. The 2011 Boston Bruins and the 2019 St Louis Blues come to mind. Neither had superstars down the middle. No 40 goal guys on the wings either.

So let us look to see if we can find similarities with the current edition of les Habitants.

When it comes to the Beantown Bruisers, a center line of Bergeron, Krejci, Peverley and Campbell was a solid group that played hard, smart, two-way hockey. They also had experience and grit. Not far off from what the Canadiens top 3 centers bring to the table night in and night out, although the Bruins group had the more in terms playoff acumen. They could role four lines. They were deep on the wings too. All things we are seeing from the Habs' current roster. Their defense was anchored by Chara and a nothing more but a hodge-podge of hard working, physical players. The Canadiens likely have the edge in that department. Had it not been for the extraordinary run from Tim Thomas (and the Pacioretty injury- oops should I not have brought that up), however, I'm not sure they would have raised the Cup that season.

The 2019 St Louis Blues also boasted a strong group of centers. Ryan O'Reilly was and still is one of the game's best 2-way players. But the rest of their centers were not an elite group. They had hard working defensively responsible wingers, and, again, similar to the Canadiens a deep defense, with Pietrangelo and Parayko being the main lynchpins. The Blues, like the Bruins of 2011, got timely scoring from players like David Perron and Brayden Schenn, again hardly elite-level players. They also had a goalie who stood on his head at times. That season, like in 2011, there were more talented, star-studded teams, but the Blues were nevertheless able to come out on top.

So while the Canadiens, on paper at least, seem to have some clear cut commonalities with the Bruins and Blues championship teams, it will undoubtedly come down to the 10 million dollar man. If Les Canadiens want to be serious contenders come playoff time, The Price will have to be Right.

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