Of course, a major acquisition can’t be ruled out between now and then, but if we stay on Earth, in a conservative perspective, and don’t count on any major acquisitions, we can see the 2025-2026 season as the first in which the Tricolore will return to the NHL’s very good clubs from its current core.
For the “Thomases” of this world, the sarcastic or the eternally negative, we’d point out that the CH has done rather well in its most recent five-year plans, with semi-finals in 2010 and 2014 and a final in 2021.
That’s well above the NHL average.
But if I had to choose between the Gainey/Gauthier plan that quickly bore fruit in 2010, those concocted by Bergevin that culminated in 2014 and 2021, and the one currently being implemented by Hughes and Gorton, I’d have a slight preference for the latter’s way of doing things.
But, even if they still have a bit of cleaning up to do, they can still thank Bergevin for leaving them some good pieces, let’s not forget.
After two miserable years and at the dawn of a 2023-2024 season that promises to be one of transition, it’s easy to underestimate the Tricolore’s young attack, simply because we’ve seen almost nothing of it yet.
Then, despite their undeniable special qualities, Slafkovsky and Newhook simply haven’t yet blossomed in the NHL.
Let’s give them two more full seasons to perfect their art.
It’s only in 2025-2026 that all the members of today’s young attacking core will have reached a good level of maturity in important roles.
Whether he’s first or second center, Nick Suzuki will be 26, entering the second half of his contract and should be at his peak.
For one, Dach will be completing the final year of his current contract and may already have signed his next deal. We’ll see if he has a chance to get the better of Suzuki before then. In my opinion, his potential is greater…
And if all goes according to plan, Slafkovsky, 21, will begin his second contract and fourth season in Montreal. As we know, it’s often on their fourth lap of the track that hopefuls in his style gain momentum.
And, as we’ve shown, we can easily add one or even two impact forwards to this quintet by way of trade or on the free agent market.
And we haven’t even mentioned the development and important contribution that will logically be made by excellent support staff like Beck, Mesar, Roy, Ylonen and Harvey-Pinard, to name but a few.
It’s therefore highly likely that transactions involving defensemen will be used to reinforce the attack.
If Hughes and Gorton choose wisely, they’ll be able to capitalize on the other competitive advantage they’ve decided to give themselves on defense.
Hutson and Reinbacher: the “untouchables
At 21, possibly in the final year of his entry-level contract, Lane Hutson will probably already be one of the NHL’s most electrifying young defensemen, and should be the cornerstone of the Tricolore’s power play. Big season ahead…
David Reinbacher, only 20 years old, should already have given a few skates in the NHL last season. He won’t necessarily be given a starring role just yet, but he’ll be a low-cost, quality option on the blue line.
In my opinion, Hutson and Reinbacher are the only “untouchables” on defense. They may not yet form the club’s top pairing in 25-26, but that’s not too far off.
A tough choice between Matheson… or Guhle?
If he isn’t traded by the time he’s at the peak of his value – which remains a real possibility – at 32, Mike Matheson will be in the last year of his contract with the club of his childhood.
At worst, Matheson could be seen as one of those famous “rental players already with the team”. But a contract extension is not out of the question if he wants to finish his career in his hometown…
If he doesn’t change his approach to the game, or if it’s believed that he’ll always be a significant injury risk due to his kamikaze style and medical history, the Habs may have to make a delicate decision in his case.
Guhle will only be 23 in 2025-2026 and should be at the peak of his value if healthy, but he could also have lost a little or a lot if he’s not. Without comparing the two players, let’s think about what happened with Noah Juulsen…
At least, it’s one that popped into my head while watching Engstrom play at the development camp in early July. Let’s let it germinate and keep an open mind… Engstrom may be the ace of spades hidden up HuGo’s sleeve.
For his part, Arber Xhekaj is exactly the kind of versatile defender and protector we’d like to have in the line-up at all times, especially in the playoffs. With the arrival of his younger brother in the organization, I think the CH will want to get along with the right Arber for the long term and at a good price.
A crowd favorite, Xhekaj is perhaps the most “untouchable” of the group after Hutson and Reinbacher. His use value for the CH is and probably always will be greater than his trade value. It will take an insane offer for Hughes to part with him.
In theory, right-handers Barron and Mailloux don’t have much competition in-house. With Reinbacher, they could patrol the right-hand side for a long time if everyone gets enough playing time. But they’re also both great bargaining chips if you’re looking for a bit of reinforcement up front when the time comes.
That’s exactly why the Avalanche traded Barron to the Habs in exchange for Lehkonen.
Harris, Struble and Trudeau – add Kovacevic if you like – seem to be good insurance policies for the last defensive pair, but they could all end up elsewhere by 2024-2025.
Of course, over the past 15 years, we’ve all seen Crosby and Malkin lift the Cup three times, and the same goes for Patrick Kane.
Let’s not forget the two titles won by Kopitar and Kucherov, and the long-awaited ones by Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.
Finally, even if he hasn’t produced staggering offensive statistics, it would be dishonest not to consider Jack Eichel an offensive superstar.
But of all these examples, only the 2017 Penguins – who couldn’t count on the presence of Kris Letang – didn’t really rely on a club balanced between defense and offense. But they were led by the best all-round player of his generation at the top of his game…
Add in the Bruins’ and Blues’ titles, and we come to the conclusion that to win the Cup, you need defensive awareness and, as a general rule, a balance of forces between defence and attack.
That’s why, in its current form, the Leafs’ and Oilers’ model doesn’t work.
That’s why the Jets’ model collapsed with the departures of Trouba, Byfuglien and Chiarot.
Of course, there will never be any guarantee of success, but the Habs’ plan, provided we can believe in the actualization of the potential of its key players, is based on a significant sample of recent successes.
All that’s left for Martin St-Louis to do is get the dough rising.