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The 23-24 Habs season in 10 episodes

Auteur: sjones
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The 23-24 Habs season in 10 episodes
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot
Each season of the Tricolore is a bit like a soap opera, with its main narrative thread embellished by the tribulations of the main protagonists.

So, as an end-of-season review, I thought I’d take a look at the top 10 stories of this 23-24 season, the third in a row without a series in the metropolis.

Here’s what I came up with.

1. The team staff follows its plan
Aware of the Habs’ position and the direction the team needed to take from the moment it took office, the “new administration” has not deviated from its plan. Rebuilding is still the main narrative surrounding the team. It may be a boring story to death for some, but for a team that, from my perspective, is now in Year 7 of its two-phase rebuild (if we go back to Suzuki’s arrival in 2018 and forget the 2021 final), everything points to the fact that we’ve just witnessed the last year in which one of the objectives was to finish as low down the standings as possible. That hasn’t stopped the young core, whose oldest member is not yet 25, from progressing. The next chapter in this narrative will be written at the draft in June, when the Habs, thanks to the Sean Monahan trade, will benefit from two first-round picks that will provide them with multiple options.

2. Kirby Dach’s fatal injury in Game 2 of the season
A troubling episode in the second game of the season: Dach, then the team’s best forward according to many (myself included), is injured for the REST of the year (a thunderbolt)! As envisaged back in October, we’ve had to administer every stoic remedy imaginable to get through the winter, including a daily dose of Tankathon for the past few months! But without an injury to Dach, the Habs would probably end up in no-man’s-land and couldn’t think of adding another top-5 talent at the next draft, which they would still have needed most anyway! In the midst of a rebuild, the good stoic, capable of directing his inner narrative, can then say with complete serenity that a better thing could not have happened to the Tricolore in 23-24!

3. Slafkovsky almost makes ESPN’s 55-point prediction come true!
The folks at ESPN were called names last fall when they dared to predict a 55-point season for Juraj Slafkovsky. I was the first to think they’d fallen on their heads! Not even a supposed prodigy like Jack Hughes had come close to achieving such a feat at the age of 19. With Slaf recording just 10 points in 39 games last year, it was almost beyond belief! The truth is, had it not been for a 15-game slump following the injury to his center Kirby Dach, Slaf would probably have surpassed the 55-point mark, having recorded 48 points in his last 68 games (58 points out of 82 games). Regardless, 20 goals and 50 points in his 19th season (he turned 20 on March 30), his second in the NHL, compares favorably with all the best power forwards of the last 10 years: Draisaitl, Rantanen, the two Tkachuk brothers, Meier, and so on. The superstar potential we saw in him even before he was drafted has come true week by week, game by game. And this is just the beginning…

4. The development and arrival of Lane Hutson
Speaking of superstars, let’s also mention the one who helped Slaf score his 20th goal… Except for the two setbacks he suffered in the playoffs in American college hockey, it was another dream season for Hutson. Superb individual performance once again with Boston University, a gold medal with the USA at the WJC as number-one defenseman and an ultra-promising NHL debut with the team that drafted him 62nd not even two years ago. No challenge seems too great for “Lil Lane”. To say that he shouldn’t be put in the same sentence as Hughes, Makar and Fox is simply being ” chicken “. He beat them all fair and square at 18 and 19 in the NCAA! Why should he suddenly be worse than them in his NHL debut? Is the NHL in a space-time vortex populated by green-blooded aliens living without oxygen in brown water? If the logic of some of the radio and TV commentators over the past few months is anything to go by, it seems to be the case! Hutson is a future superstar. If that’s not even more obvious now, what’s next? In short, I’m not quite ready to say that he’ll be less important to the Habs’ success than Slafkovsky

5. A season without slowdown for Suzuki
Since his arrival with the team, Nick Suzuki had become accustomed to an annual dry spell in which he would slow down drastically for around fifteen games. It felt like he was suddenly dragging a piano. None of that happened this season. The #14 has never gone more than four games without scoring, and his energy level has been exemplary. With his 33 goals and 77 points, we especially appreciated the superior quality of his finishing this season, as seen here :

Whether Suzuki is a first center worthy of a championship team is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that he can be part of the ingredients of an eventual top-6 that could lead to top honors. At least, he will have formed a unit that resembled a true first line with Slaf and Caufield in the 2nd half of the season.

6. A record-breaking campaign in virtual anonymity for Matheson!
If there’s one player who didn’t get the recognition he deserved this season, it was Mike Matheson! Strangely enough, the ultra-fluid Quebec skater from Montreal’s West Island is not stirring up any passions, despite his spectacular play on the ice. His affable, unassuming personality and very reasonable salary stand in stark contrast to Subban, the last defenseman to produce a 60+ point season in Montreal. That explains a lot, but still. Some people have developed hives from criticizing his numerous turnarounds. But let’s bet that his approach and role will be slightly different next year with Lane Hutson in the line-up…

7. Martin St-Louis still has both hands on the wheel
A little over two years after he was hired, St-Louis still has the same ascendancy over his troopers. With all due respect to Nick Suzuki, it’s not heresy to suggest that the Quebec driver is the real “leader” of the Montreal Canadiens. He has fulfilled the mandate entrusted to him so far, which is to ensure the development of the young core thanks to his unparalleled teaching skills. Starting next year, that mandate is likely to change a little as the team openly aims for a playoff spot. It will be up to him to adjust. That’s exactly what he was talking about in his review last Tuesday…

8. Newhook lives up to expectations
Not everyone was dancing around the fire holding hands when Kent Hughes gave up picks 31 and 37 last June to acquire Alex Newhook, himself a 16th overall pick in 2019. No one will yet dare to cry robbery, but by presenting a consistent effort that would have seen him produce 50 points over 82 games, the Newfoundlander undoubtedly satisfied his bosses. Among other things, he’s known for his quick draw and scoring touch around the opposition goal. However, he will have to learn to make better use of his speed when entering the zone and to show a little more patience with the puck.

9. A fine pro debut for Mailloux
Here’s another one who has delivered the goods this season, his first in the pros. While still far from perfect defensively, as well as in terms of discipline and decision-making, Mailloux was the best rookie offensive defenseman in the entire AHL, even ranking third in scoring among the league’s backs. It’s still hard to say what Mailloux’s true ceiling is in the NHL, but there’s no doubt they have the tools to succeed. We still don’t know exactly what the organization’s plans are, or how committed they are to him. But one thing is certain: whatever happens, both his use value AND his trade value have increased this year.

10. Joel Armia’s comeback and Joshua Roy’s arrival
After his concussion suffered “at the elbow” of Tyler Myers in 2021 and the contract he signed with Marc Bergevin after the Stanley Cup Final that same year, Armia’s production dropped drastically. Some evenings, the Finn struggled to resemble an NHL player. A few visits to Laval and meetings with a sports psychologist were enough to rekindle the flame. The Canadiens still have a year to decide on the future of their enigmatic winger, a high-quality “luxury plumber” when all goes well.

Another solid supporting player was added to the lineup along the way, much as anticipated at the end of training camp: Joshua Roy. Here’s one who could get a nice audition in the second line next year. At the very least, Roy has the profile to be part of a champion club’s top-9 with his remarkable sense of play.


Of course, there would have been worse stories to tell, such as Josh Anderson’s brutal fall from grace, the disappointment of Jesse Ylonen, Gallagher’s difficult start to the season, Guhle’s rather invisible progress, Caufield’s failure to reach the 30-goal mark, not to mention Xhekaj and Barron’s dismissals to Laval.

If we’d been cruel, we’d also have talked about the very flat “ménage à trois” story that filled hours and hours of absolutely insipid airtime.

But then, nothing to write home about in the grand cosmic scheme of things!

In the overall scheme of things, and somewhat unexpectedly, 23-24 served above all to take an additional step back in order to go even further in the years to come. Or, if we prefer construction to running, this last campaign will add a bigger block than anticipated to the team’s foundation next June.

We’re already looking forward to the lottery, and then to seeing who’s going to take the stage in Vegas to shake hands with his new bosses at the start of the first round… We’re likely to be talking a lot about these “potential hoes” over the next two months.

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