Can the Canadiens Build a Winning Culture?
MONTREAL, QC. — It’s no secret that the Montreal Canadiens are in the process of a rebuild. The Habs finished bottom of the standings in the 2021-’22 campaign. They are more competitive this seasom but find themselves in the bottom ten teams in the NHL this term.
At times, it is difficult for Canadiens fans, who have watched their team struggle for two seasons since suffering a defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.
Montreal fans must be patient with their approach amid the overhaul of an aging roster. The turnaround will not happen overnight, but it does not make the process all the more exasperating, considering that Montreal’s all-time points record is under threat.
The Boston Bruins are challenging to break the Canadiens’ 1976-’77 points total of 132 (accomplished in 80 games), which would be an ironic twist considering that the Montreal team defeated Boston in the 1977 Stanley Cup Finals in a sweep.
It would be a sort of revenge for Boston, albeit 45 years after the fact, with the Bruins considered the leading contenders with Betway in their NHL odds to win the Stanley Cup in 2023 at a price of +500 (figures from February 10.)
That said, the Canadiens have different objectives this season and any challenges to the history books must not distract the organization from the task at hand.
Building a Culture
Building character is not easy with any sports team, especially when the prospect of securing a higher pick in the NHL Draft could deliver top-tier talent. The Canadiens are in a position where they need a slew of talent to overhaul the roster.
Teams in other sports such as the Cleveland Browns finished bottom of the standings two seasons in a row to secure the top pick in the NFL Draft. It did give them the chance to select the top player available in the college rank, but was truly a miserable time for Cleveland fans, and did set about a losing culture in the locker room. As seen with the Browns in the five years since it has not helped them come close to reaching the Super Bowl.
The Canadiens finished with the worst record in the standings in 2022, and that can happen after a longstanding spell of contention at the top. However, the fact that they have made an incremental improvement with players starting to emerge is a good sign.
There have been times when the Canadiens have been competitive with the best teams in the NHL, but also occasions when they have been blown out this season. It has been particularly apparent given Montreal’s injury situation this season.
Ingraining a culture of resilience is important, and although the easy way forward might be to drop towards another top-three pick, it might be better for the long term to instill a strong commitment to compete as part of their culture in the locker room.
The Canadiens have Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the roster, who have shone in difficult circumstances this season.
Suzuki was named to the All-Star Game for the second season in a row. Now in his fourth season as a starter, the 23-year-old is truly developing into a first line centre and is one of the players that the franchise can build around.
Caufield is not far behind the captain in his importance to Montreal. The 22-year-old has been electric at right wing and has smashed past his goal tally from the 2021-’22 campaign before being sidelined for the season with an injury.
Kirby Dach failed to make an impact during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks and his trade in the off-season was an opportunity for a restart. The 22-year-old has shown signs that he will be a powerful force down the middle for the Canadiens for a long time.
Trade Deadline and NHL Draft
In the bid to commit to the overhaul of the roster, Kent Hughes would have liked to move Sean Monahan and Joel Edmundson before the trade deadline. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to act before injuries entered the picture.
The 2023 NHL Draft is considered to be one of the best in recent years with elite talent available at the top. Montreal already has two high picks and a third would give them a great chance of unearthing another gem. Although it might be painful this season, the Canadiens are on the way back.