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Carey Price, Pulling the Trigger and How Montreal Can Emerge from the Gutter

The Canadiens' roster holes are glaring. The team needs more than just a healthy Carey Price.
Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Just as magnificently as the Montreal Canadiens shot out of the gates with a 9-0 start to the season, they've since cratered back to Earth with a five-game losing streak and a miserable 4-16-1 record over their last 21 games.

No team has fewer points than the Habs since the beginning of December, a prolonged slump that pushed them out of playoff position this week for the first time all season. Sure, luck hasn't been on Montreal's side in certain areas (the team was shooting 8.3 percent in 5-on-5 situations before Dec. 2, and 5.3 percent since) but that doesn't overlook the club's immediate need for change.


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Could this have been predicted? Yes and no. I wrote about the Canadiens' goal-scoring woes before the season and the need for Carey Price to be sublime in order for the team to contend again. Price's freak injury—which has kept him out since November—couldn't have been predicted, but the writing was on the wall for the club to inevitably encounter troubles with its depth scoring. It's now being reported that Price may not be back until late February or early March.

The easy narrative would be to pin the Canadiens' struggles entirely on Price's absence. You could make a strong case that they relied too heavily on him but blame does not fall solely on this unique situation. If the Canadiens were to be taken seriously as a Stanley Cup contender, there would have to be more to the team than just its goalie, even if a healthy Price is the best netminder on the planet.

The roster holes are glaring: Beyond the Canadiens' top line of Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, the team's scoring shrivels up. When that line is on the ice, the Canadiens are responsible for more than 70 percent of all goals scored, which is simply an unsustainable pace.

Montreal's lack of secondary scoring, though, is not without a solution: Bud Holloway, 27, who was a summer free-agent signing, is currently fifth in AHL scoring with Montreal's farm team, the St. John's Ice Caps. If that seems like an easy solution, consider the immediate domino effect: Bringing in a center from the farm could push David Desharnais or other underperforming forwards out of a lineup spot, sending a clear message to the rest of the squad that patience is running thin.


Montreal's top line, led by captain Max Pacioretty, isn't the problem. —Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Up there with the most frustrating elements of the Canadiens' season was the team's mishandling of Alex Semin. Semin, signed on the cheap during the offseason to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, couldn't earn Michel Therrien's trust and didn't find himself in the lineup on a consistent basis. His contract was terminated last month. A shame, too, given his strong possession numbers and offensive upside, which brings us to Jonathan Drouin—the vaunted young Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who requested a trade out of Tampa Bay.

Montreal has been linked to Drouin after he was demoted to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. The idea of a young, French-speaking winger with seemingly unlimited offensive upside is one that has many Habs fans salivating. But it's the wrong move to make to save this team right now, especially after Drouin was suspended Wednesday by the Lightning for failing to show up for a Crunch game.

Not only would Drouin be faced with the kind of spotlight he's never faced previously, he'd be expected to find his game and start producing immediately. Drouin hasn't played an NHL game since Dec. 30 and the expectations likely wouldn't match the output.

If Marc Bergevin is going to go after Drouin, expectations need to be tempered. It's the type of trade that would need to be made with the future, not the present, in mind. Pairing Alex Galchenyuk and Drouin, for example, likely wouldn't pay returns for a few years. And in a sense, you're admitting this might not be the season to contend.


Drouin is not the solution in the short term. Bergevin needs to dream bigger and make the kind of splash that could re-ignite his team. Is plucking veterans Eric Staal or Andrew Ladd, a pair of impending unrestricted free agents and Stanley Cup winners, away too wild an idea? The Habs have an extra second rounder in this summer's draft as well as some cap space to play with. If acquiring Staal or Ladd is enough to see this team back into the playoff picture in the short term, knowing full well that they may depart at the end of the season, why wouldn't you make that deal to buy some time and take the heat off the top line?

Tuesday's loss to the Bruins felt like a tipping point. If Therrien was going to stay in as the Canadiens bench boss for the following 24 hours, his job was likely safe. The Canadiens are a much more improved possession team this season compared to last and while it's usually the coach whose head is the first to roll in a losing skid like this, there appears to be an implicit understanding in Montreal: let's wait until Price returns or until more offensive weapons are loaded up in the arsenal before we pass judgment on this season.

That doesn't mean he's not safe from blame. Marc Dumont has done some excellent analysis of the flaws in Therrien's breakout style. At this point, Therrien shouldn't be above examining the team's poor defensive zone exits. Tinkering with aging defenceman Andrei Markov's zone starts and deploying him strictly as an offensive catalyst instead of the blundering defender he's looked like at times is a good start.

Blame for the Canadiens' horrific downturn ultimately falls on Bergevin. He has failed to bring in the necessary scoring and stood by last season while the Canadiens appeared much better than they actually were. Letting Semin go because of what seemed like a rift with the coaching staff is on him.

He has a chance here to swing a deal and prove how serious he is about this team contending now. These are not new problems that Bergevin and the Canadiens have had to get used to. Finding goal scorers isn't as tough as, say, reliable defenceman or goaltenders. How long can Bergevin stand idly by and watch a roster that he's had control of for close to four years continue floundering offensively?

Frustration at the lack of goals is mounting, as highlighted by P.K. Subban's recent expletive-laced tirade. The Canadiens are running dangerously close to the season going completely off the rails. Making roster changes, even those that seem impulsive at first, needs to happen immediately to right this ship.