What a truly epic run by the Montreal Canadiens. Those, like myself, who doubted the plan, the makeup of the team, had simply no choice but to eat our words. To acknowledge that this was always a team well capable of causing damage in the playoffs. Sadly though, they came up a wee bit short. So, in light of a great postseason run and some exciting young players who showed tremendous poise and promise, what changes need to be made in order for this team to not only be able to compete with a powerhouse like the Lightning, but also enjoy a more consistent season (and not have to battle tooth-and-nail to barely make the playoffs)?
One thing is as clear as ice. The same old recipe is just not going to yield the same results. Not over an 82-game season. Not with an aging defense and goaltender who has a history of poor durability. And not with a lack of offense from the center line. Yes, KK has had back-to-back impressive post seasons but he is far from being...well, seasoned - pardon the pun- and Phil Danault as reliable as he is defensively, is not able to put up points on a consistent basis (which you usually need from your number 2 centerman).
Simply put, Marc Bergevin has to seize the moment. Spice it up, mix up the ingredients, so a good recipe doesn't all of a sudden become a dull meal.
Wanted: top-pairing puck-moving defenseman
The Canadiens are likely to lose one of Ben Chiarot or Joel Edmundson (I would personally protect the latter) and it doesn't appear like Alexander Romanov is ready to step in as a top 4 d-man. At least not in the short-term. Besides, he doesn't seem to have the profile of a puck-moving, offensive d-man so the Canadiens will have to look elsewhere. They may have prospects in the farm, but, at best, those are 2/3 years away from having any sort of impact (Harris, Guehle and Norlinder come to mind).
There aren't many forwards on the current roster that the Canadiens can afford to lose in a trade. Offense was still a problem in many games during this post season and its not yet a position of depth. Bergevin will have little choice but to try and acquire that type of player via free agency. The name that would be a great fit is Dougie Hamilton. Not only is he a big, smooth-skating defenseman capable of logging a ton of minutes, but he is versatile, and able to play on both sides. He also fits the mold of d-men that the Habs' GM seems to like: he has some bite in him and he doesn't shy away from physical battles. Hamilton had a Corsi for % (even strength) close to 56 (which is excellent, similar to Jeff Petry's, only Hamilton, of course, is a few years younger and also plays with more of an edge).
Other cheaper and perhaps more realistic options would be Devon Toews, a 27-year old puck- moving defenseman who might be expendable given Colorado's plethora of young, talented d-men (and the fact they can't protect them all ahead of the upcoming expansion draft). We know Joe Sakic had at one point expressed interest in Jonathan Drouin. Perhaps package him up with a pick and solid prospect (we keep hearing how deep a pool the Canadiens have)?
Anthony De Angelo and Alec Martinez would also be players I'd entertain making offers to.
The Canadiens were close and the window still remains open. If Jake Allen is back, Carey Price could well sit out 30 games or so and be rested come playoffs again. We saw what he can do under those circumstances. Perhaps a deeper blueline and more minutes to Romanov would allow Captain Shea to play (far) less minutes than he has these past few seasons.
Either way, the Canadiens have a nice mix of young players with now pretty significant playoff experience (and who have shown an ability to perform under pressure); they also have a roster full of grit, character, experience and talent. They just need to fill a couple of more holes and we could be right back where we were this summer in a season or two.
Marc, once again, this summer, the ball is in your court.