The Montreal Canadiens were one of the top stories of the 2021 NHL playoffs. Led by winger Tyler Toffoli and former first-round pick Nick Suzuki, the team snuck into the postseason. Pacing the team with 28 goals, Toffoli helped lead Montreal to a fourth-place finish in the North Division. Defenseman Jeff Petry also enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his 11 year NHL career. He wound up 13th in Norris Trophy voting. The 33-year-old finished seventh in scoring for his position with 42 points in 55 games. Choosing to fire head coach Claude Julien back in February, general manager, Marc Bergevin named Dominique Ducharme as his replacement. Compiling a 129-113-4 record since taking over as the bench boss for Montreal in 2017, a 2-4-2 skid in eight games saw the longtime Boston Bruins coach become let go by the franchise.
Active at the trade deadline, the Canadiens made multiple moves. They acquired Erik Gustafsson from the Philadelphia Flyers. Returning a seventh-round selection in the 2022 draft, the Flyers retained 50 percent of the contract. Furthermore, the team also received forward Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres and Jon Merrill via the Detroit Red Wings. Receiving a much-needed boost offensively down the stretch, the franchise saw former 15th overall pick Cole Caufield make his debut. The 2021 Hobey Baker Trophy winner racked up four goals and one assist in ten regular-season games to wind down the year.
Make sure to check out all of our other NHL Team Season Recaps.
Matched up with their bitter rival in the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, the team would be pushed to the brink of elimination. Dropping three straight games after capturing game one, Montreal would return to Toronto for game five with a victory needed to stay alive. Shocking the league’s landscape, the Canadiens would rattle off three straight victories, including a 3-1 win in Game 7. Cruising past the Winnipeg Jets in the following round, a 4-0 sweep sent the group to the semi-finals. Never able to get anything going or provide any resistance, the Jets were without assistant captain Mark Scheifele after he was suspended four games for a hit to the head on speedster Jake Evans.
The Canadiens would be in tough against the high-powered Vegas Golden Knights with just four victories needed to return to the Stanley Cup Final. Splitting the first four games of the series, a 4-1 victory in Game 5, followed by a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6, saw the franchise punch their ticket. Matched up with the reigning cup champions in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal’s quest for their first title since 1993 would ultimately fall short. Never competitive against their usual Atlantic Division counterparts, a quick five-game series saw Jon Cooper’s team repeat as victors.
By the Numbers
Powerplay: 19.21% (17th)
Penalty Kill: 78.49% (23rd)
Goals For: 159 (17th)
Goals Against: 168 (18th)
Best Player: Tyler Toffoli
The one-time Cup champion played some of the best hockey of his career during his first season with the team. Paired with Suzuki and Cauffield, Toffoli finished seventh in the league in goals with 28. He averaged over 17:30 of ice time per night while recording a career-high 17.7 shooting percentage. Remaining deadly on the powerplay, the 29-year-old racked up 10 points with the extra man.
Narrowly missing out on being selected for the all-star game, Toffoli continued his strong play in the postseason. Trailing only his linemate Suzuki with 14 points in 22 games, his overtime winner in game four against the Jets helped Montreal punch their ticket to the third round of the playoffs. Locked in next season after inking a four-year deal with the Canadiens, the former 47th overall pick remains one of the biggest bargains in the league at just a $4.25 million average annual value.
Biggest Disappointment: Mounting Injuries and Cap Challenges
The unquestioned leader on the backend for the team during his age 35 season, it was recently revealed that Shea Weber will not suit up for the Canadiens next season. Unlikely to play hockey again, according to Bergevin, the seven-time all-star is dealing with a variety of foot, ankle, and knee injuries. In addition to this, after helping lead Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final, star goaltender Carey Price recently underwent knee surgery, leading to a 10-12 week recovery period.
Up against the $81.5 million flat cap number, the franchise currently has just over $14 million in available space. With Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Corey Perry, Tomas Tatar, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi all searching for new deals, the group’s front office will have their work cut out for them. Paired with the mounting injuries surrounding their core players and with a return to the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division looming next year, a return to the playoffs will remain challenging for Montreal in 2022.
Behind the Bench Analysis
The Canadiens were one of the hottest groups in the league to begin their 2021 campaign. Winning eight of their first 12 games, the team sat alone in first place in the North Division. However, after limping to a 1-3-2 record in their next six games, the franchise choose to part ways with Julien following a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Gaining points in 20 of their next 36 contests, the team clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the all-Canadian division. One of the best bench bosses in the league at making in-game adjustments, the 48-year-old helped lead the team to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in over 20 years. He was ultimately forced to miss the first few games of the round after testing positive for Covid-19. Ducharme had the interim tag lifted following the end of their 2021 campaign, making him the team’s permanent head coach heading into next season.
Front Office Analysis
A finalist for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year award, Bergevin made multiple key moves to set Montreal up for postseason success. Flipping disgruntled forward Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 55-year-old acquired Josh Anderson as compensation. Enjoying one of the finest seasons of his seven-year NHL career in his first year with the team, the 27-year-old scored 17 goals while adding in seven assists.
To go along with this, Bergevin was also able to acquire the rights to defenseman Joel Edmundson while getting the defenseman to sign a four-year contract. Furthermore, by inking deals with Toffoli and veteran Corey Perry and locking down extensions with Petry and Brendan Gallagher, the longtime NHL defenseman remains one of the most underrated executives across the league.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks/Prognosis
Making nine selections in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Montreal shocked the hockey landscape following the selection of Logan Mailloux. The Bell River, Ontario Native, faced charges in Sweeden after taking a picture of himself and an 18-year-old woman in a consensual sex act. He distributed the photo to teammates without the consent of the women.
Following the selection of Mailloux, the Canadiens then focused their draft on the middle of the ice after choosing Riley Kidney and Oliver Kapanen. A member of Acadie-Bathurst in the Quebec Major Junior league, Kidney recorded 38 points in 33 games with the team last season. Rounding out their selections, the franchise closed out their draft by choosing Drummondville’s Xavier Simoneau and North Bay net minder Joe Vrbetic.
Offseason Wish/Checklist & Prognosis for 2021-2022
The Canadiens face many difficult decisions as they open up the offseason. Look for them to first focus on retaining their pending restricted free agents. Highlighted by former third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi, forward Artturi Lehkonen joins Cale Fleury and Ryan Poehling as players looking for new deals. Furthermore, expect Montreal to bring back Perry on a short-term deal after the former Hart Trophy winger added four goals and six assists in 22 playoff games. Faced with one of their most difficult decisions of the last few years, the team’s front office must decide what to do with center Phillip Danault.
Operating primarily as a shutdown forward during his time with the Canadiens, the 28-year-old matched up with players such as Auston Matthews, William Karlsson, and Scheifele in the playoffs. However, with limited point production during his time in Montreal, finding a fair AAV to lock the Victoriaville native up to will present an obstacle. Lastly, with Weber unlikely to play in the NHL again, look for the franchise to be active in the defenseman market in free agency as they look to add a top-four caliber piece to their blueline. Looking for a puck mover on the back end, possible options include Alec Martinez, David Savard, and Ryan Suter.
Follow Chris Gallagher on Twitter @ChrisGally06
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images