The game took a back seat to the trading deadline day in the NHL.
The Montreal Canadiens hosted the Boston Bruins on March 21 after a terrific deadline period of rebuilding the franchise.
First to a quick wrap of the game with the Bruins winning 3-2 in overtime, before an extended look at the outstanding work by Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes at the deadline.
It was a rare low event game since Martin St. Louis took over as head coach. The Canadiens haven’t been chasing the game often in his almost 20 games, but this one was controlled by the Bruins for the first half and was kept close thanks to a — once again — solid Jake Allen.
Allen’s return has shown what consistent goaltending can bring. All he has done is make the odd amazing save, but, more importantly, not let in a soft goal.
Soft goals deflate a team much more than ones that a team feels doesn’t let them down.
David Savard returned to the lineup and he jumped right into the new look offence by scoring a rare goal. Savard had a gorgeous back hand into the top corner. It was a goal that one would expect from a star forward, not a stay-at-home defenceman.
In the third period, the Canadiens took the lead as Joel Armia led a two-man breakaway. He took the shot and it was a beauty into the top corner. Armia has taken a lot of heat this season, but his game has slowly been coming around.
Call of the Wilde!
The Canadiens haven’t been the second-best team very often since St. Louis has brought the players out of their slumber. Certainly, they’ve lost games, but most were due to poor goaltending. This was a rare one when the opposition was better, but not by much.
The Bruins had more energy. Perhaps it can be unsettling for a Montreal club on tenterhooks for the last 24 hours, wondering if their lives were going to be uprooted with a phone call saying that they had been traded. As much as the players all know it is a business, they still feel the anxiety.
It’s also a weird deadline in that usually the players on a selling team aren’t having any fun, but the Canadiens are actually having a blast these days. You can see their joy on the bench celebrating winners as if they’re in the second round of the playoffs.
All in all, the Habs were second best, but the level of improvement overall is significant. The Bruins had to work for it. They got the result they wanted, but they needed some late game magic to get there.
Call of the Wilde!
If you were holding out some reservations still about the hiring of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton to take over the reconstruction of the Montréal Canadiens, you can put them away now. Put them away deep in the back of your closet where your old shoes are, because these two are absolutely on fire so far.
Their first trading deadline was sensational. The club has loaded up for the future with first-round draft choices and solid prospects.
The best of the best is that the club can say now that for the first time in ages that they have three top tier prospects on defence.
My blueprint for a long playoff run and some true hope with sustainable success is two top six centres and two top pairing defencemen. With today’s trades, the Canadiens have three first-round draft choices on defence waiting to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Previously they had Kaiden Guhle and Logan Mailloux, and at the deadline they got a massive return for Artturi Lehkonen. The club acquired Justin Barron who was the first-round draft choice of the Avalanche in 2020, taken 25th overall.
Since his draft day, Barron has done nothing for anyone to have lost any faith in him. Barron is averaging a half point per game this season in the American Hockey League. His skating is his best quality and anyone who saw him in junior says that he has vastly improved since his time in Halifax.
Barron, Guhle, Mailloux, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, and Mattias Norlinder are six young defenders who all have a chance to land with four of them having a chance to land as top four defenders. Combine that with Alexander Romanov already showing his top four potential on a regular basis and this is the best the blue line has looked in prospects in a long time.
That wasn’t all by the HuGo combination, though, as they got full return for Brett Kulak as well. The Canadiens got a second rounder and William Lagesson. The real win here is the second rounder from the Edmonton Oilers as that could land to be a solid player taken at around 45 to 50 overall.
That is still a mathematical spot where you can get fairly good return at 30 per cent of the players taken here land in the NHL.
Lagesson is more just to fill a roster and to pick up a contract for the Oilers who were strapped for cap cash. With that said, he is not a bad player at all. He’s a third pair who has put in some solid games this season. His progression may not be finished, but his upside remains a third pair. He has another season left on contract at the age of 26.
Lagesson will fight for a spot next season, but if Guhle is as good as he looked at training camp, Guhle may already start in Montreal in September, though a personal preference is for every player unless they’re Connor McDavid to get some time in the AHL for development. It’s important to own the ice at one level before you can own it at a higher level.
The Canadiens continued with the trading with the move of Andrew Hammond to New Jersey.
This is an interesting trade, too, as the club acquired Natt Schnarr. He was a big-point getter in Guelph when he played with Nick Suzuki. He’s probably a top-six player in the AHL and that’s OK, because Laval is trying to make a nice playoff run this year and Schnarr will certainly help that.
All in all, the Canadiens’ haul is significant for their rebuild. They have four first-round draft choices in the next two seasons. They have their own which is going to be top five in a strong draft as they will get a strong NHL player and then they have Calgary’s first round pick in the Tyler Toffoli deal. The following year they have their own pick again and the Florida Panthers first rounder.
It’s the first time the club has a chance for three of the blueprint four to be a sustainable and serious contender: Guhle, Mailloux, Barron and the already arrived Nick Suzuki. One more centre to go for the Canadiens to think seriously about a better future.
The draft coming up in Montreal should be exciting. In fact, everything should feel exciting, because as much as all the trades have been strong, the biggest win by HuGo so far is the new head coach Martin St. Louis who gets the most out of these players and brings excitement back to the rink.
Some of the darkest days in this franchise history were in January 2022. Yet only two months later, some of the biggest hopes in 20 years are on the horizon.
Enjoy the rebuild, Habs fans. It’s got legs.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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