Updated: Jan 22, 2021
So the prognosticators, forensic experts and the casual fans have made their predictions for the upcoming season. The Canadiens are almost unanimously being picked as a top 4 team in the North division, with many seeing them as a legitimate contender for the top spot.
The question is whether there is too much hype. Could it be that we are seeing the (added) parts as more than their sum (if that makes any sense?). Will chemistry take time to develop in a season where time is little more than an illusion? Are the Canadiens themselves setting their fans up for disappointment? Will this be a case where the old adage "over promise but under deliver" will apply?
For example, I honestly wonder if the Danault contract situation could have an effect in the dressing room? A player who not only feels his ice time is being taken away but sees players coming from the outside getting lengthy and generous contracts. The same can be said about Tomas Tuna Tatar who has consistently been one of the team's top point producers and is also set to become a UFA at season's end. Hard to imagine either player is happy with the situation regardless what they may be saying in the media.
I get it. No team is perfect. In fact, as I wrote in a previous blog, there is no dominant team in this division, and the Canadiens may well be the team with the most depth at every position, including on defense (Victor Mete and Cale Fleury would likely crack several NHL lineups at least as number 5 or 6 d-men). However, the depth really only comes into play once there are injuries. Granted, with such a tight schedule, and so many back-to-back games, this will be a strong possibility this season.
The other question I can't help asking myself is if the Canadiens top 6 D are really as solid as the experts claim. Let's start with the captain, Shea Weber. There's been many occasions, these past 3 seasons where he looked like he was just too slow, tired, particularly during more difficult parts of the schedule. Heck, not that long ago, after a nagging foot injury, there were concerns he might even retire. Ben Chiarot, a 4 th or 5th d-man on the Jets (how badly could they use him today?), is now a top pairing defenseman in Montreal. Joel Edmundson, an journeyman NHL defenseman, whose had the fortune of being paired up with Alex Pietrangelo for a couple of seasons and played on a stacked Carolina blueline last season has rather mediocre career advanced stats, yet finds himself to the left of Jeff Petry. Brett Kulak had his struggles last season, and, despite playing noticeably better in the brief postseason, remains a significant question mark. Alexander Romanov is being asked to play a position he has played seldom (more commonly used on the left side). And there remains, to this day, no elite puck-moving d-man on this team (in this new NHL were they are invaluable).
Don't get me wrong. The accolades Marc "Popeye" Bergevin has received for the work he did during the offseason, is no doubt well deserved. But its hard to look past these dark clouds looming on the horizon when it comes to the team's defensive corps and wonder if we haven't all been hoodwinked and bamboozled into thinking this team is better than they really are.