NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens have been energized by an aggressive offseason, one that coach Claude Julien said has given them “a little bit of everything,” with the idea of getting one step closer to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993.
Goalie Jake Allen, forward Josh Anderson and defenseman Joel Edmundson were acquired via trade, each agreeing to new contracts. Defenseman Jeff Petry and forward Brendan Gallagher signed contract extensions. Forward Tyler Toffoli signed a four-year contract, binding the Stanley Cup winner with the 2014 Los Angeles Kings to the tradition of the 24-time champion Canadiens, one that identifies with the New York Yankees and the annual standards of a 27-time World Series champion, more than any in Major League Baseball.
“I feel like that’s a great comparison,” Toffoli said. “I think [there are] few teams in the League that the fan base is expecting a championship every year. You think of Montreal, you think of Toronto … and the Rangers. I feel like it’s an exciting time and some big moves that were made. To be able to compete again and be in a position hopefully where we can win is going to be a lot of fun.”
The fourth-youngest team in the NHL (27.1 years), with emerging centers Nick Suzuki, 21, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 20, looks stronger. The Canadiens will be better, Julien said, because Allen, a Cup winner with the 2019 St. Louis Blues, will stabilize the goaltending behind Carey Price. Toffoli is a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL. Edmundson (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) adds size on defense. Anderson is healthy after surgery March 2 for a posterior labral tear of his left shoulder, two seasons removed from NHL career highs in goals (27), assists (20) and points (47) for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Standards will be a lot higher than last season, when Montreal had the lowest points percentage (.500) of the 24 teams to qualify for the postseason, entered as the No. 12 seed and upset the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The run ended with a six-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.
“The history of the hockey club is so rich that you somehow want to bring it back to that level,” Julien said. “And I think that’s what right now has excited people is that we can hopefully bring this team to the expectations of our fans and then the expectations of what we’re used to seeing in the Montreal Canadiens.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything. We’ve got size now. We’ve got scoring. There’s great goaltending. There’s a solid ‘D’ and then some exciting forwards that’s going to make our team fun to watch as a fan. We’re looking forward to that.”
Price’s workload will be a lot lighter in his 14th NHL season, all with the Canadiens. He’s played 124 games (122 starts), most in the NHL the past two seasons, 66 (64 starts) in his age 31 season of 2018-19, and at age 32 started an NHL-high 58 of 71 games. Price went 5-5-0 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and two shutouts in the postseason; 3-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA, .947 save percentage and one shutout against the Penguins.
“Carey would love to play all the time, but he’s 33 now and his body needs more time to recover between games,” Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite said. “Carey will appreciate playing less often if it means he has more quality starts. He won’t have to cut corners like he used to in order to maintain a high energy level. It wasn’t the best thing he could’ve done, but he really didn’t have a choice because we had to use him so much. Jake’s presence will be beneficial, both to Carey and to the team.”
Charged with winning that elusive 25th Stanley Cup title, the Canadiens are all in. Their fans want more, and Toffoli said he’s ready to help give it to them.
“Whenever you’re playing in a big market, you want the expectations to be big and many want us to exceed them,” Toffoli said. “Going into a season when everybody’s really looking forward to it, and excited for the opportunity to win and compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I think that helps any team.”