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A decisive pick at No. 5: Is the Habs just ONE player away from an elite core?
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You’re already familiar with my analysis that, in reality, the roots of the Habs rebuild go back very clearly to 2018, with the acquisition of Suzuki (and Tatar!) in return for then-captain Max Pacioretty.

Notwithstanding the surprise Stanley Cup final in 2021, you’re still enjoying the renovations of the previous owner of your house, aren’t you?

Well, yes.

You also know my other theory that it takes about a dozen top-15 equivalent players – or at least 12 better-than-league-average players at their position, if you prefer – to make it among the real contenders.

It’s been proven time and again over the past 15 years that when quantity and quality aren’t there, or aren’t there anymore, a club can’t win.

There’s a world of difference between the champion Avalanche of 2022 and the Avalanche of the following two seasons. Departures, salary cap, injuries, off-ice problems, no new talent to take over…

The same goes for the Lightning and Hawks if you go back a little further.

Further proof, after a few years short of the green following their 2009 conquest, the Penguins returned to a birdie position in 2016 and 2017 by adding missing pieces in the right place (Kessel, Guentzel, etc).

So it takes quality AND quantity.

Look at the Oilers and Panthers in the final. They’ve finally managed to combine the two success factors, even if in an ideal world we’d probably like to have a little more depth in Edmonton…

12 top-15 equivalent players in 8 years of draft?

What’s the habs rebuild all about?

It’s the backbone that lengthens and solidifies over time.

That’s what it’s all about:

2017 : Suzuki (13th by Vegas)

2018: Romanov (38th)

2019 : Dach (3rd, Chicago), Caufield (15th) and Newhook (16th, Colorado)

2020: Guhle (16th)

2021: Mailloux (31st) and Roy (150th)

2022: Slaf (1st) and Hutson (62nd)

2023: Reinbacher (5th) (and possibly Fowler, 69th)

2024:5th overall (regardless of identity)

That’s about 12 players (counting Fowler) who are all already well on their way to being in the top-15 discussion of their respective draft year.

And I haven’t counted Xhekaj, undrafted, who, in his own way, wouldn’t be far off the top-15 in 2020.

But while quantity shouldn’t be a problem, we’re right to question the quality of Montreal’s core; ideally, it takes another superstar to make the dough rise.

Apart from Slafkovsky, no one can even aspire to be one.

Suzuki, Caufield, Dach (when healthy) may be part of the “star player” or top-5-worthy conversation in 2017 and 2019, but no one is going to confuse them with the Barkovs, Tkachuks, Draisaitls and McDavids who are being plucked off the ice these days…

Reinbacher, for his part, will have to become the true “best defenseman” of 2023 to be a legitimate top-5. I wouldn’t bet against his chances, but it’s a good mandate!

That’s why that other5th overall pick in 2024 is so important, and why a home run would be welcome, as we discussed on Thursday in our mock draft, which received a lot of good feedback, by the way. We thank you all!

And so, this important selection will have to add to the nice little group already in place, but above all it will have to raise the quality level of the whole.

Demidov, Lindstrom, Buium, Sennecke

According to Marc-Olivier Beaudoin and Grant McCagg’s sources, these are the four players the Habs are considering for the5th spot.

Sennecke would thus be considered ahead of Iginla and/or the other defensive options. Wow.

So, according to these sources, mathematically (!), it won’t be a choice to be one of these four players!

In all four cases, the Habs would become a better team by drafting them, as they would likely select either a future elite player (Demidov/Buium) or a future star player, minimally impact (Lindstrom/Sennecke).

We’re getting close…

But let’s take a closer look.

A worthy wannabe core?

For the purposes of this exercise, and without adding the 5th overall from 2024, let’s compare the Habs’ 2-3-year anticipated core with those of the 2024 finalists as objectively as possible, noting the value of the players in this way:

Category

Value (points)

Generational 20
Elite/superstar 15
Star 10
Impact 8
Complementary 5

Of course, we’ll have to make a few projections, especially in the case of some of the Tricolore’s young players, but it will remain realistic, even conservative in the eyes of some:

Categories / Cores Montreal Edmonton Florida
Forwards

Generational

McDavid
Elite/superstar Slafkovsky Draisaitl Barkov

Tkachuk

Star Suzuki RNH

Hyman

Reinhart
Impact Caufield

Dach

Bennett

Verhaeghe

Complementary Newhook

Roy

E.Kane

Holloway

Henrique

Tarasenko

Rodrigues

Lundell

Defenders / goalkeepers

Generational

Elite/superstar

Bouchard

Star Reinbacher

Hutson

Ehkolm Forsling

Montour

Bobrovsky (G)

Impact Matheson

Guhle

Montembeault/Fowler/Dobes (L)

Nurse

Skinner (G)

Ekblad

Complementary Xhekaj

Mailloux

Broberg Ekman-Larsson

Total core value 13 players: 107 12 players: 118 13 players: 114

Conclusion

Unless you want to get bogged down in details, it’s easy to see that the addition of an elite player like Demidov/Buium or, at worst, another star player (Lindstrom? Sennecke? Iginla?) would put the Habs in a very interesting position, seemingly on a par with the best out there.

Then, even if we were to lose or trade a Matheson or Guhle along the way, another significant asset would probably come into play in return.

And let’s not forget that the Habs still have two more first-round picks slated for 2025, and that theaddition of a Patrik Laine, or something like that, is still a strong possibility. The core could even grow a little…

So, without claiming that our methodology is perfect and that we’ve just demonstrated “scientifically” that the Tricolore will certainly have a core worthy of a real contender within three years, it’s still very difficult toargue in good faith that this analysis is completely in the ballpark!

Since we’ll have to keep feeding the beast this summer (!), it will certainly be interesting to repeat this exercise after the draft and anticipated transactions, by comparing the Flanelle’s core to that of a few competitors who are also trying to position themselves among the logical contenders, like Buffalo, for example…

Don’t be shy about telling me I have rose-colored glasses and that I smoke too much and discuss the issue in a respectful manner on Facebook or Twitter!

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