The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the Montreal Canadiens:
2022-23 Fantasy Outlook: Montréal Canadiens
Last season: 22-49-11, 8th Atlantic, 32nd overall. GF: 27th, GA: 32nd, PP: 31st, PK: 27th.
“It was an exciting time for the Habs faithful, but its manifestation was truly a bit bizarre, and upon the conclusion of the Finals it was already a question of whether or not they could do it again.”
That was last year, and while the reigning Stanley Cup finalists were bad, but I didn’t think they would be this bad. Losing Philip Danault to the Kings and losing Shea Weber and Carey Price to injury was a devastating hit to a team that depended on them as the defensive backbone. They had lost a big part of their identity, and they couldn’t play the same way that allowed them to go on their amazing Cinderella run. Dominique Ducharme’s Habs floundered for half the season going 8-30-7 before they mercifully pulled the plug. When he was fired on Feb. 9, the Habs ranked last in both goals for and goals allowed, and bottom-three on both special teams. Nick Suzuki led the team in scoring with only 27 points, and two of the next three top scorers – Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen – were traded later on.
When Martin St. Louis took over, things improved drastically; Suzuki and Cole Caufield scored 34 and 35 points, respectively, in 37 games, and the Habs ranked 15th in GF/GP and 26th in GA/GP the rest of the way, though they still finished with the worst GA/GP in the cap era. Given their current roster, the truth is that the Habs are probably somewhere in between. They won their final two games but had lost nine straight before that, and the reality is they’re likely headed toward the lottery again, but they certainly aren’t the worst team in the league by consensus.
On the bright side, the new plan under GM Kent Hughes and St. Louis looks pretty good so far. Their games were at least entertaining to watch; no more rolling four lines and slogging through nights with cement feet and a lack of urgency. The post-Shea Weber/Carey Price era is well underway after Suzuki was named the youngest captain in franchise history on Sept. 12, and two potential top-tier wingers will surround him in Caufield and 2022 first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. Of course, they’ll need much more than that, and for the next few seasons, don’t expect the Habs to make any big noise in the playoff races or in free agency until they’ve shed some of their more onerous contracts and added many more prospects.
Best fantasy option: Cole Caufield, LW/RW
Caufield had an excellent finish to the season free from Ducharme’s shackles playing on the fourth line, and note last year’s outlook had picked Suzuki as their best option since performances from young players tend to vary a lot. With two seasons under his belt and now playing regular top-six minutes, Caufield showed he is still on the path to stardom as a potential 40-goal sniper. What will hold Caufield back for now is a weak supporting cast, but he’s still an excellent value pick in the middle rounds with a lot of keeper league value. The curious thing about Caufield is that despite his obvious talent for shooting the puck, his shooting percentages aren’t particularly noteworthy at 12.4 percent. It’s good, but not elite-level good (yet), and the Habs will likely get caved in again in the possession metrics, which leaves fewer opportunities for the Habs to generate offense. Relatively speaking, Caufield is still one of their top-three players, but know that other than goals and points, his negative plus-minus and lack of hits and blocked shots can hurt his fantasy value.
Hidden gem: Jonathan Drouin, LW
When Drouin plays, he can still be a very effective second-line scorer and it wasn’t too long ago he was a dependable 50-point player. His possession metrics at 5-on-5 have always been quite good up until last season, and according to hockey-reference.com, is sitting at a career 51.4 CF%. There will be plenty of competition for top-six minutes, and Drouin is in a good position to win a significant amount of them on a team lacking in scoring wingers. Caufield might be the only one who offers up more offensive upside; Slafkovsky is a rookie and his minutes may be limited, Mike Hoffman’s best days are behind him, and both Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson are more suited for checking roles rather than generating offense. For a team that isn’t expected to score a lot of goals, Drouin is about as good as you can get from the Habs, who are projected to have only two players score more than 60 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide.
Jake Allen is expected to be the starter with Carey Price starting the season on LTIR, and he will be one of the few starting goalies who won’t be drafted in most standard leagues. For goalies, volume is important in fantasy hockey, but Allen is barely playable on most nights. It’s getting to the point where his two good seasons with the Blues – 2015-16 before Jordan Binnington’s arrival and 2019-20 when he nearly stole the job back from Binnington – seem to be the anomalies, and given what we’ve seen from both Cayden Primeau and Samuel Montembeault, is unlikely to face any real competition for the No. 1 job.
Their defense won’t be able to bail them out very much. Beyond a veteran group of Mike Matheson, Joel Edmundson and David Savard, none of whom are truly top-pairing material, it’s possible the Habs will have at least two rookies on their blue line (likely Jordan Harris, a 2018 pick, and Justin Barron, who was acquired for Lehkonen) to start the season. The constant revolving door of personnel was also an issue last season; 14 different defensemen made at least one appearance, and of the six defensemen who played at least 50 games, only Savard and Chris Wideman have returned. It’s a good bet the Habs will finish bottom-three in goals allowed once again the season after setting the record for most goals allowed per game in the cap era. Even as an option for streaming starts, Allen is a gut-wrenching play and only worthwhile if the Habs are on a hot streak.
Beyond Caufield and Suzuki, who are mid-tier fantasy options at this point in their careers, the Habs don’t offer a lot. The upside is capped for a team that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have winning games as their top priority, and the real long-term upside is finishing last again for the best shot at drafting Connor Bedard in 2023.