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To avoid becoming the Islanders, the Canadiens must rebuild properly
Credit: Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For about a week now, the NHL playoffs have been underway in the NHL. And while the hockey has been good, it hasn’t been the tightest series in history.

It is in the West (for the most part, at least)… but in the East?

Three teams have yet to taste victory and, if all goes wrong, may never win in the 2024 playoffs. And the Maple Leafs may have one win, but…

All of which goes to show that the NHL should not increase the number of playoff teams. Imagine how much more diluted the talent would be in the East in the playoffs if the Penguins, Red Wings or Flyers were there.

But that’s another debate.

Yesterday, the Islanders and Lightning were in action and lost. Both teams are now on the brink and will have to win four games in a row to advance to the second round.

Is this impossible? No. But is it (highly) improbable? Yes.

Still, the two teams’ cases are different. After all, in Tampa Bay, the club made three straight Finals appearances between 2020 and 2022, and the players have two rings to console themselves for the fact that the club is heading ever more rapidly towards a period of soul-searching.

We’ll see how long Julien BriseBois stretches the rubber band, but his club is tired, clearly.

But with the New York Islanders, the situation is different. The club has no Stanley Cup ring in recent years to console itself for another potential early playoff exit.

We’re not going to bury Patrick Roy’s club (who, however, has never won a playoff round as an NHL coach) just yet, but the fact remains that it’s going to take a miracle to see his club beat Carolina four times in a week’s time.

The elements just aren’t in place to make it happen.

Even if Patrick Roy tried changing goaltenders yesterday, it didn’t work. Changing his Cadillac for his Ferrari didn’t bring the expected results in New York.

Even though Patrick Roy says he loves his club and that the guys win and lose as a team, the fact remains that he doesn’t have the team of the year on hand.

And that’s where Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes need to take notes to tell themselves that, in the long term, they’re opting for the right strategy.

After all, when you look at it, the New York Islanders are a “once in the playoffs, anything can happen” team, not a top NHL team.

Without a big finish to the season, the Islanders wouldn’t have qualified.

In Montreal, the goal of completely rebuilding is precisely to avoid putting themselves in a position where the club becomes the New York Islanders, a club that hasn’t climbed very high.

In recent years, since Lou Lamoriello’s arrival, the club has had two good years (2020 and 2021), but otherwise, it’s been very soft on playoff performances. There’s no long-term success like the league powers.

(Credit: Champs or Chumps)

The Islanders haven’t often made it past the first round, let’s say.

That’s the problem with the “once in the playoffs, anything can happen” mentality, because the consistency isn’t there. There can be good seasons, of course, but it’s not the norm.

Marc Bergevin has taken the Habs to the Final Four or the Stanley Cup Finals twice (2014 and 2021), but in between, it’s been tougher… and that’s what we’re seeing from the Islanders, who are strapped for payroll going forward.

It’s a bit like the Habs before they rebuilt… only worse.

  • Mathew Barzal: $9.15 M per year until 2031
  • Bo Horvat: $8.5 M per year until 2031
  • Anders Lee: $7 M per year until 2026
  • Brock Nelson: $6 million a year until 2025
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau: $5 million a year until 2026
  • Kyle Palmieri: $5 million a year until 2025
  • Pierre Engvall: $3 million per year until 2030
  • Casey Cizikas: $2.5 M per year until 2027
  • Ryan Pulock: $6.15 M per year until 2030
  • Adam Pelech: $5.75 M per year until 2029
  • Noah Dobson: $4 M per year until 2025 (and a big salary increase)
  • Scott Mayfield: $3.5 M per year until 2030
  • Alexander Romanov: $2.5 M per year until 2025
  • Ilya Sorokin: $8.5 per year until 2032 (his contract begins this summer… and he’s not the #1 goalie in the playoffs)
  • Semyon Varlamov: $2.75 per year until 2027

How can we expect major changes in New York this summer? After all, to that we’ll have to add the guys who don’t earn much and those whose contracts will be up for renegotiation.

In fact, right now, the Islanders have a projected cap hit of over $82 million for next season. No major additions will be possible this summer for GM Lou Lamoriello. What we’re seeing now will pretty much be the club of 2024-2025.

The Canadiens are giving themselves room to manoeuvre to avoid becoming the Islanders. The goal? Build a younger, faster, more flexible team for the GM.

Remember that Geoff Molson’s goal is to win the playoffs 4-0 one day… not to qualify by the scruff of the neck as quickly as possible and leave empty-handed every year.


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