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NHL - US Sports: What do Montreal Canadiens need?

A year after making a surprise run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves at the very bottom of the NHL standings with a poor 22-49-11 record.

Coach Dominique Ducharme and General Manager Marc Bergevin were fired and replaced by Martin St. Louis and Kent Hughes respectively which led to some improvement, but more is certainly needed to change the fortunes of the proud franchise. 

Renewed energy

GM Hughes said St. Louis brought a "new energy" to the Canadiens after he replaced Ducharme in early February, something much needed after a disastrous 8-30-7 start to the season.

47-year-old St. Louis went a respectable 14-19-4 to end the NHL season and in doing so earnt himself a three-year contract to remain as head coach, his first such position in the NHL.   

Concerns still loom over St. Louis' coaching experience, but the Hall of Famer is said to have used his hugely successful 16 seasons as a player to relate well to the Canadiens group.

Rookie Cole Caulfield evidenced his influence scoring 35 points in 36 games after St. Louis' appointment. The 21-year-old who was a first-round draft pick in 2019 had just seven points in 30 games under Ducharme.

St. Louis was a near point-per-game player in over more than 1,000 NHL games and won the Stanley Cup and Hart Trophy as the league's most-valuable-player in 2004.

Montreal have certainly taken a gamble on him, and whilst the early signs are positive a good start to the season in 2022/23 is imperative to help justify the decision to retain the coaching rookie. 

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Price future uncertain 

It's fair to say that the struggle felt by the Canadiens last season was confounded by much bad luck, not least the loss of star netminder Carey Price to the NHL player-assistance program.

34-year-old Price didn't make his season debut until early April last season and had a 1-4-0 record, with a below-average .878 save-percentage and 3.63 goals-against-average (GAA). 

Asked whether he felt he could play up to 60 games next season, Price admitted it unlikely due to a prolonged knee injury. 

Price has spent his entire 15-year career with the Canadiens and whilst he will be given time to decide on his playing future, his $10.5million cap hit carries a heavy burden and is a situation which GM Hughes needs to find an answer to.  

Solution to the cap crunch

With less than $250,000 of cap space available, the Canadiens currently have very little room to manoeuvre and will need to find a solution to sign centre Kirby Dach who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks during the NHL draft. 

21-year-old Dach was a first-round, third overall pick just three seasons ago but his development with the Blackhawks had stalled. First, through injury and then by being shuffled up and down the line-up as the Blackhawks desperately searched for answers for their fall from grace into a period of significant re-build. 

A new situation with more talent either side of him, may be just what 6'3" Dach needs, as his underlying performance numbers continue to suggest he has what it takes to become an excellent player at the NHL level.

Despite signing a one-year $6million qualifying offer with the Winning Jets on Saturday, rumours persist linking centre Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Canadiens which would be a huge coup and welcome addition for St. Louis. 

The 24-year-old's agent has played up detail that the Quebec native would one day love to pull on the Canadiens' sweater.

For that to happen, a blockbuster trade would be necessary to free up the cap space with winger Josh Anderson and centre Christian Dvorak topping the list of trade pieces. 

Picks must prove right

In the recent 2022 NHL draft the hosting Canadiens enjoyed 11 picks, the most of any team including the first overall which saw them pick 6'4" Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky. 

18-year-old Slafkovsky sprung to fame at the 2022 Olympics when he scored a tournament-best seven goals in seven games to help Slovakia finish third, its first men's Olympic hockey medal. 

His selection ahead of the projected number-one pick Shane Wright shocked the home crowd, and with much scrutiny surrounding the decision, his introduction to the NHL will be one the Canadiens will need to manage carefully. 

On top of their two in 2022, Montreal has four first round picks in the next three drafts and whilst it may require time and patience, if their picks prove right the future certainly looks a bright one.

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