Claude Julien expects the Montreal Canadiens to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs after making major additions to the roster this offseason.
“That’s our goal,” the Canadiens coach said Thursday. “It’s always been our goal. If anything, we’ve set ourselves up to give ourselves a much better chance. I know people are going to say right now, ‘What do you expect?’ Well, I expect us to make the playoffs. No doubt about it.”
The Canadiens had a busy six weeks, from the beginning of September through the middle of October.
Jake Allen was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 2 for third- and seventh-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, and the goalie signed to a two-year, $5.75 million contract extension ($2.875 million average annual value) on Oct. 14. Joel Edmundson was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Sept. 12 for a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft, and the defenseman agreed to a four-year, $14 million contract ($3.5 million AAV) on Sept. 16.
Josh Anderson came over in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Max Domi and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft on Oct. 6, and the forward signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract ($5.5 million AAV) on Oct. 8. Free agent forward Tyler Toffoli agreed to a four-year, $17 million contract ($4.25 million AAV) on Oct. 12.
Forward Brendan Gallagher signed a six-year, $39 million contract extension ($6.5 million AAV) on Oct. 14, keeping him in Montreal through 2026-27.
“We should expect to make the playoffs, and if people think it’s putting pressure on ourselves, well, pressure is what would you make of it,” Julien said. “I don’t look at it as pressure but as an opportunity. We should thrive on the opportunity to accomplish that. As simple as that.
“[General manager] Marc [Bergevin] has done a good job of giving us a team that should make the playoffs.”
Finishing with the lowest points percentage (31-31-9, .500) of any team to qualify for the postseason last season, Montreal entered as the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference and beat the No. 5-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then lost to the No. 1-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.
The playoffs gave Montreal a valuable extended look at young centers Nick Suzuki, 21, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 20. Julien felt their emergence encouraged the Canadiens to be so active during the offseason.
Julien is so bullish on the revamped lineup that he doesn’t see the need to designate his forward lines in order of importance, and instead is eager to roll four throughout a game.
“When you can get some experience, and those are all quality guys that we brought in, it’s also important for our young players,” Julien said. “Our veteran group we had before the acquisition of these guys was really good. It was a matter of continuing to surround these young players with some quality people. It will help them develop even better and then maybe even quicker.”