If you’d told just about any Habs fan back in August that the Habs would miss the playoffs, they’d believe you. Let’s face it expectations were rather low.
If you told a Habs fan that they’d miss the playoffs in the final week, see a rookie centre dominate all season, see Price return to 2015 form, and witness another rookie score a hat-trick in his first game, well no chance they’d believe you.
The 2018-2019 Montreal Canadiens did something fun. You read that right, they were FUN. Between the MINT shirts, Flambo the dog, and the ups and downs of the season, Habs fans enjoyed themselves.
They started off with a strong October, to everyone’s surprise, and pretty much kept that going until the all-star break where things slowly started to collapse.
This season brought some great additions:
Max Domi was SUPERB in his first year in red, white, and blue. While playing centre for the first time he posted career numbers all around the board.
Tomas Tatar, an afterthought in the Pacioretty trade, was a revelation, shifting left and right all season, causing defenders to look like they were struck with sudden bouts of Vertigo.
Brett Kulak can skate. He showed us that all year. He started in Laval and ended on the second pair for the big club, playing top minutes. Between him and Paul Byron, we owe Calgary a favour or two.
Jordan Weal arrived via the steal of the trade deadline. Michael Chaput, a non-NHL player, was shipped to Arizona for Weal, definitely an NHL player. He provided scoring on the power play, and did a lot of damage as a bottom six forward. Hopefully, we see more of him next season too.
The prized piece of the season was of course the Habs’ first round selection last summer: Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Let me tell you this kid blew it out of the park. He was dominant. He reads the game well, can skate, can certainly pass (if only his line-mates could’ve capitalized more on the golden opportunities he gave them all year) and when he finally decided to start ripping shots, well he proved he could do that too. There’s a lot to look forward to in a centre that boasts a Selke-level rookie season, as an 18 year old. Did someone say Sasha Barkov 2.0? Yes, I said that.
Some notable seasons from players we’ve seen before were had as well.
Weber came back healthy and reminded us all what a Man-Mountain he really is. That shot beat some goalies (both meanings of the term beat).
Petry is a blessing and how Bergevin snagged him for a second round pick makes me question Edmonton even more.
Victor Mete was sent down early in the season but came back with a vengeance. He will remain on that top pair for years to come. He will never score though, never going to happen, ever.
Easily the most impressive season came from Philip Danault, who was faced with the toughest matchups all year. Not only did he survive, he killed it. He was a force all season. His line with Tatar and Gallagher crushed opponents all season, by any metric, advanced stat, or eye test. Montreal actually had a real first line this season, and it showed.
Some questions remain about management’s choice of players and their development in the AHL, but this was a season of positives. Let’s enjoy it while we can.
Next year brings the possibility of more fun.
You need only look at Ryan Peohling’s first game last night. The 2017 first round pick scored a hat-trick in his NHL debut, something not seen in Montreal since 1943!. That’s crazy, think of how many unbelievable Hall of Famers have been in a Habs jersey since then. Of course, we can’t expect Peohling to be like Guy Lafleur, that would be unreasonable. We also can’t forget Kotkaniemi, and find realistic expectations for them and whatever rookies make the squad next season (Suzuki??).
Instead we can be comfortable in saying those two will easily be better than Gretzky and Lemieux ever were. It won’t even be close. Suzuki will be better than Crosby and Cayden Primeau will be as good as Price is.
Next year will feature the youth movement. And if you look at that list of young players, you can’t help be be excited.
There will be ups and downs, there will be pain, but there is something special to look for ward to.