Toronto Maple Leafs: Did the Montreal Canadiens Get Better?

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 07: General manager of the Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin addresses the media prior to the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 7, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 07: General manager of the Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin addresses the media prior to the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 7, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

We all know the Toronto Maple Leafs improved their roster during summer, but can the same be said for their Atlantic Division foes?

That happens to be the question I’ll be attempting to answer over the next few days. As I began yesterday with Boston, today brings forth yet another rival in the Montreal Canadiens.

I’ll let Anakin Skywalker tell you what I think about evaluating them.

Additions: Max Domi, Joel Armia, Xavier Ouellet, Tomas Plekanec, Michael Chaput, Matthew Peca, Kenny Agostino

Departures: Alex Galchenyuk, Logan Shaw, Daniel Carr, Chris Terry, Ales Hemsky, Zach Fucale

Summer Recap

The Montreal Canadiens are perennially hilarious.

They’re not good, not by any stretch. But, for what they lack in ability, they make up for twofold in comedic effect. Depending on how you view the team, Marc Bergevin may be one of history’s greatest comedians.

The Habs’ most notable offseason move occurred prior to the free agency period. On a balmy June 15th evening, should-be centre Alex Galchenyuk was shipped to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for noted Mats Sundin disciple, Max Domi.

Maybe Bergevin should just stop making one-for-one trades all together? How many signs can the universe possibly give someone?

On the surface, the trade doesn’t lean noticeably in one direction. Galcheyuk and management had publicly distant for a while now, making the outcome of a trade all but inevitable. Domi, meanwhile, still boasts the pedigree that his lineage and draft position have bestowed upon him. Essentially, it’s the swapping of two talented players who seek fresh starts.

Delve a bit deeper, and the scales start tilting.

To set the record straight here, Galchenyuk is a centre. He was drafted as a centre, has repeatedly requested to be played at centre, and both Hockey Reference and Hockey DB list him on their sites as, you guessed it, a centre.

During his entire Habs tenure, the only people intent on denying him middle ice deployment were those with the power to do so.

If Galchenyuk were considered a centre, as Arizona reportedly does, this would be yet another example of a classic Chayka Con™. Not only are top-6 pivots worth their weight in gold in today’s NHL, Galchenyuk is two years removed from his breakout 30 goal campaign.

Domi’s career high in goals is 18. Nevertheless, let’s evaluate these two in the context of their usage as wingers.

Domi is fresh off what most dub as a “down year”. And rightfully so, as the 23-year-old mustered a paltry 9 goals across a full 82-game season, 4 of which were scored on a net lacking a goalie.

On a baseline level, failing to crack double digits is pretty awful. What’s even more awful, however, is realizing that not only was Domi given sheltered minutes – 55.9% of his shifts began in the offensive zone – he benefited from a noticeably high PDO of 101.2 as well. And if you thought he could hide behind the excuse of minimal power play time, think again. Domi averaged 2:36 per night on the man advantage, second highest among Coyotes forwards.

Like Domi, Galchenyuk’s 2017-18 wasn’t a banner one either. Only, his definition of an off year consists of 19 goals and 51 points, both of which came despite logging only a smidge above 16 minutes per night.

The differences don’t stop there.

Whereas Galchenyuk’s 49.3% 5v5 CF/60 was his first negative showing in that metric since 2013, it’s noticeably higher than Domi’s career best of 48.8%. As the latter revelled in incredible luck, Galchenyuk received the exact opposite. As his PDO topped out at 96.1, it would be genuinely hard for his luck to be any worse.

Let’s recap, shall we?

This past season saw Domi receive offensively sheltered minutes, log ample power play time, and benefit from unusually favourable luck. He managed 9 goals and 45 points.

Galchenyuk, on the other hand, finished with more even strength goals and points, more power play goals and points, and higher possession numbers all while averaging fewer minutes and identical zone starts. He managed to accomplish this in spite of horrid luck and a shooting percentage dip of 16.3% to 8.9% between 2016-17 and 2017-18, a more dramatic fall than Domi’s 8.3% to 6%.

Galchenyuk stayed out of the box at a better rate as well, serving 22 penalty minutes to Domi’s 78

Wait, there’s more!

Montreal continues to be in desperate search of a centre, a need exacerbated by the fallout of their failed experiment with Jonathan Drouin. To plug this hole, Bergevin spent the entire season clearing cap space for the purpose of pursuing John Tavares. Funnily enough, as Tavares submitted the list of teams he’d grant interviews with, Montreal was nowhere to be found.

Tavares then joined their biggest divisional rival for the next 7 years.

See? Classic comedy!

It’s not all bad, though. Convincing Winnipeg to throw Joel Armia in as a sweetener for taking Steve Mason’s albatross contract off their hands was a shrewd move. Armia is a decently effective winger, one who produced fine possession numbers in a primarily defensive role. If given the opportunity, he’ll be in contention to hit 20 goals next year.

Aside from that, Montreal’s summer is a whole bunch of nothing.

Clearly needing a centre, bringing back Leafs Legend Tomas Plekanec for one year at $2.25 million makes sense, even at age 35. It’s not an awful move, but it won’t move the needle in either direction. Xavier Ouellet could be an under-the-radar add as well. After never truly fitting in Detroit, the 24-year-old blueliner surely has more to give when placed in the right circumstances.

Again, it’s a fine move, albeit one with risk as low as the payout.

The Habs entered the summer in hopes of landing a star. And here they sit, almost in August, empty-handed.


Answering the question of “did Montreal get better?” requires more context than just free agency.

If their newly-crowned $10 million-man, Carey Price, enters training camp at full health, of course they got better. He just needs to stay that way.

At his peak, Price is one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. It’s not a shock that the Habs struggled mightily in the presence of the injury-plagued version from the last few years. A healthy Price is enough to vault Montreal from the Eastern Conference’s basement all the way into wildcard contention.

If he’s still hurting, however, then no. They didn’t get better.

In swapping Galchenyuk for Domi, Bergevin effectively downgraded on scoring wingers while failing to even set foot in the room to court his big fish. With no other choice, his best bet was to slap band-aids over the remaining holes on his roster. You know, because that strategy never fails.

As the rich got richer, Montreal stayed poor.

Next. Did Boston Get Better?. dark

Thanks for reading!

Salary figures courtesy of

Ice time data courtesy of

Stats courtesy of