NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Montreal Canadiens:
1. How will they replace Shea Weber?
General manager Marc Bergervin announced July 22 that Weber would not play this season and “probably won’t be back for his career” because of multiple injuries, including to his ankle, foot, knee and thumb. The 36-year-old defenseman led the Canadiens with an average of 25:13 of ice time during their run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It will be impossible to replace Shea Weber,” Bergevin said.
The Canadiens signed veteran defensemen David Savard (six years) and Chris Wideman (one year) as free agents. They will look to fill Weber’s minutes by committee, but they’ll be hard-pressed to replace their captain’s leadership. Bergevin said Sept. 6 that Montreal will not name a captain for this season; forwards Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron were alternate captains last season.
Expect defenseman Alexander Romanov, who was limited to four games in the playoffs in favor of more experienced options, to have an increased role in his second NHL season.
2. Have they done enough to compensate for the losses at forward?
Forwards Phillip Danault, Corey Perry, Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a total of 95 points (29 goals, 66 assists) last season.
Danault (six years, Los Angeles Kings), Perry (two years, Lightning) and Tatar (two years, New Jersey Devils) signed elsewhere as unrestricted free agents. Kotkaniemi signed a one-year, $6.1 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes after the Canadiens decided not to match an offer sheet tendered to the restricted free agent by the Hurricanes on Aug. 28; Montreal received a first-round pick and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft as compensation from Carolina.
The Canadiens added forwards Mike Hoffman, Mathieu Perreault, Cedric Paquette and Christian Dvorak, who scored a total of 94 points (47 goals, 47 assists) last season.
Hoffman (three years), Perreault (one year) and Paquette (one year) signed as unrestricted free agents. Dvorak was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional first-round pick in the 2022 draft and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft on Sept. 4, less than an hour after Montreal announced it had decided not to match the Kotkaniemi offer sheet.
Coach Dominique Ducharme said Hoffman will be a key addition for the power play, which was tied for 17th in the NHL last season (19.2 percent). Hoffman has scored 67 power-play goals in 545 NHL games.
3. Can Jonathan Drouin regain lost form?
The Canadiens are excited about the return of the forward, who took a leave of absence for personal reasons April 28 and was placed on long-term injured reserve.
“‘Jo’ feels great, he’s focused and he’s ready to go,” Ducharme said.
Drouin, who can play wing or center, has been skating for several weeks at Montreal’s practice facility. The 26-year-old scored 23 points (two goals, 21 assists) in 44 games last season and has 232 points (69 goals, 163 assists) in 393 NHL games with the Lightning and Canadiens.
4. How quickly will Carey Price rebound from knee surgery?
The 34-year-old goalie had the surgery July 23 and was expected to need 10-12 weeks to recover. Ducharme said Aug. 26 that Price “should be there for the start of camp, and if not at the start, very soon after that.”
Price was 13-9 with a 2.28 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and one shutout in 22 games in the 2021 playoffs to help Montreal to its first Cup Final since 1993.
Jake Allen is a capable backup goalie and can be trusted to start if Price is not 100 percent to begin the season. Allen was 11-12-5 with a 2.68 GAA and .907 save percentage in 29 games (27 starts) with the Canadiens last season.
5. Can they prove their playoff run wasn’t a fluke?
Bergevin was impressed with the job Ducharme did after replacing Claude Julien as coach Feb. 24 and feels the Canadiens can continue to improve under the 48-year-old.
Ducharme said he doesn’t think the Canadiens’ postseason success was a one-time thing.
“The experience that our young people have taken, of course, will pay off,” he said. “It takes experience to get through these things. You can’t go to Walmart and buy it.”
After being in the Scotia North Division with the other six Canada-based teams in 2020-21, Montreal returns to the Atlantic Division and likely will battle for a postseason berth with the Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers, each a playoff team last season.