The health of star goaltender Carey Price and the development of their youth core will be the main story topics after a whirlwind season for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs have gone through one of the worst campaigns in their history, going from Stanley Cup finalists in 2020-21 to 32nd and dead last in 2021-22.
At the start of the season, the Canadiens had Dominique Ducharme as head coach and Marc Bergevin as general manager. By the end of the season, these two were gone as part of a sweeping overhaul of the front office and behind the bench.
Kent Hughes became general manager, team owner Geoff Molson hired Jeff Gorton as vice president of hockey operations, and Martin St. Louis joined as interim head coach.
The ship still sank to the bottom of the ocean and the ice problems could extend into next season. Before a 10-2 rout of first-place Florida to close out the campaign, the Canadians were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak.
Price started that final game to claim his only win of a tumultuous season.
After helping the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021, Price, 34, underwent knee surgery last summer. He suffered many setbacks returning to the game.
The 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner also sought help from the NHLPA/NHL Player Assistance Program in October for substance abuse.
WATCH | Caufield scored his first career hat trick in the Canadiens win:
Despite the setbacks, Price returned to play five games in 2021-22. He was nominated for this year’s Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.”
Still, his future as a consistent starter remains uncertain.
“My honest opinion is no. I don’t believe as it stands it would be sustainable for an entire season,” Price said. “So in that respect I have a lot of question marks and luckily for me I’ve had a lot of time this summer to prepare.”
The goalkeeper added that he will seek a second opinion on his knee, which swelled again after the games. When asked if another procedure was a possibility, Price replied, “It’s on the table.”
The 34-year-old added that he prepared for the season finale as if it was his last game.
“The whole day was just an exceptional day for me,” he said. “I slept well; it was just an A-plus day. If so, that would be a great way to do it.”
Whether it’s an injury that prevents him from playing again, I don’t think we have that answer.— Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes on goaltender Carey Price
Hughes said Price will go through his discharge medicals and then they will sit down with the doctors to try to get a clearer perspective on what Price can achieve in the future.
“At the end of the day, what we hope to achieve is clarity,” Hughes said. “Is this an injury that Carey will be able to recover from and get back to his real form or not?”
“Whether it’s an injury that prevents him from being able to play again, I don’t think we have that answer and to tell you that answer is from a medical procedure or from imaging or from all of that, I think we’re not at that point right now.”
Despite the difficult end to the season, St. Louis instilled a different mentality off the bench as the Canadiens turned to youth development influenced by Hughes and Gorton.
“Are we behind? We’ll see,” Hughes said of poor performances leading into next season. “We will rejuvenate. We have seen [Justin] Baron, [Jordan] Harris, [Kaiden] Guhle is coming, [Jan] Mysak arrives, [Arber] Xhekaj is coming, so there will be some youth.
“The goal for us will always be to build a team capable of winning year after year. That’s our main objective and the decisions we have to make this summer will be based on that.”
With a young blue line, a possible exchange with Jeff Petry is still looming. Hughes said if he offloaded Petry, he would try to bring in another veteran defenseman.
“That would definitely be a goal for us,” Hughes said. “Our priority will be to put our youngsters in the right environment to develop. So going into training camp with three rookies in the lineup for 82 games, we won’t take that risk.”
Hughes said Petry would only be traded if the offer made sense to the Canadiens, but the defender said he would take time to think about his future as a Canadiens.
“I don’t want to close the door and automatically say this is the last time I’m here,” he said.
With the highest odds at first overall pick and possibly center Shane Knight, Hughes said his biggest priority is the 2022 NHL Draft. The Canadiens general manager also added that the midline would be an area of interest.
“We will continue to look for options to continue to improve,” Hughes said. “I’ve always said as an agent that it’s hard to find a center player, so we’ll see who isn’t signed for next year.”
“There is also the repechage. If we pick up a center player, that can change things.
The Canadiens have been without captain Shea Weber all season. The defenseman didn’t comment on the Canadiens’ late-season availability, but Hughes said his situation is “complex” for league and insurance reasons.
“Since I arrived in January it was understood that Shea would not play this season no matter what,” Hughes said. “Injury-wise, he needed time to recover. I think it’s highly unlikely that Shea will be physically able to play again.”
Montreal could have a new captain by the fall. Hughes said a decision will be influenced by what the roster looks like next fall.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys who have made progress as leaders and we’re going to need them moving forward,” added Brendan Gallagher. “You need leaders, you need a captain if you want to win. I think it’s important to have these stages in your dressing room.”
Despite his young age, Nick Suzuki said he would welcome the idea of captaining the Canadiens.
“I think, for me, I want to take on a leadership role. I’ve tried to do a good job since I came to this organization,” Suzuki said. “Obviously we have a lot of good candidates to be the next captain, older guys who have been through a lot, but for me, I’m not really in control of it all.”