Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Montreal Canadiens
Last season: The Habs were basically an afterthought, playing for third place at best in a division no one took seriously. They made the playoffs as the fourth seed, the only team to also have made a mid-season coaching change and, asides from the Blues, were the only qualifying team to have a negative goal differential. Dominque Ducharme (15-16-7) ended up having a worse record than Claude Julien (9-5-4), but he still managed to reach the Finals thanks to Carey Price’s sparkling .934 Sv% and 2.02 GAA entering the series and the second-best GA/GP, a huge turnaround after finishing 18th during the season.
The Habs’ comeback from 3-1 series deficit in the first round was proof that hockey is pure chaos and luck can really turn on a dime; public opinion on GM Marc Bergevin had soured well before the playoffs, only to see Bergevin finish second in voting for the Jim Gregory Award after their Cinderella run. 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.
Best option: Nick Suzuki, C
Calder candidate Cole Caufield will be a popular pick, but there tends to be a lot of variance when it comes to rookie performance, even one as talented as him. The 20 games of playoff experience will help, but it also took him nine games to score his first goal and opposing defenses now know what to expect from him.
That being said, Caufield is part of the Habs’ biggest strength – talent and depth on the wings – and who better to take advantage of that than their most talented playmaking center? Last season, using hockey-reference.com’s Point Shares, Suzuki’s 3.1 Offensive Point Shares (equivalent to roughly 1.5 wins) was third-best on the team, and Phillip Danault was the second-highest rated center at just 0.6 OPS.
At any given moment, any of their wingers could move up and down the lineup, but Suzuki’s role is pretty set in stone, and surely he’ll on the top scoring line and power-play unit. There’s also little reason to think his heavy offensive-zone deployment will change just because Danault is gone – they got Christian Dvorak for that reason.
Hidden gem: Alexander Romanov, D
Not having Shea Weber in the lineup is a huge loss, and Jeff Petry can only do so much. It was perplexing why Ducharme kept Romanov in the press box in the playoffs when it seemed apparent to everyone that Romanov’s aggressiveness and relative quickness seemed more effective than watching Brett Kulak lug his body around.
Even with the addition of David Savard, there’s a good chance that Romanov’s role increases significantly this season due to their lack of depth. He averaged 17:15 per game during the season, and might even get to run the power play in the absence of both Weber and Erik Gustafsson, who was not re-signed. Defense is usually not a position that has a significant impact in fantasy leagues, but Romanov could really surprise to the upside and may not cost anything more than a waiver claim.
Goalies: Price may or may not be ready for the start of the season, and that could really affect draft strategies. That means Jake Allen is part of the equation once again, and perhaps in an even bigger role considering Price’s injury and how fatigued he looked by the time the Lightning rolled around. Price’s strong playoff run also masked some nervousness following another mediocre regular season; it was the third time in four seasons his save percentage finished below .910.
This means the door is very open for Allen, who could even end up with more starts than Price, though his first season with the Habs wasn’t particularly noteworthy. They’re also definitely not the same defensive team without Danault and Weber, two pieces of their backbone last season, and the Habs will have to watch how much they lean on Petry over an 82-game season. That makes both Price and Allen dicey picks with a risk-value proposition that only becomes attractive in the middle rounds or later after the top 15-20 goalies have been drafted. The only good news is the Habs have always been proficient at 5-on-5 and a full season of Caufield and the addition of Mike Hoffman should provide more goal support.
Outlook: There’s too much uncertainty in net, their captain will miss the entire season, there are holes in the lineup, their coach is still unproven and expectations in that market could be unrealistic after a Cup run. The Habs are a collection of solid players who form a good team when they’re playing well, but when they’re not and no player is taking charge, they have an offense that can’t score and a defense that is too slow.
They’ll also have to face the Lightning, Bruins and Panthers regularly now that they’re back in the Atlantic Division, and already they’re the fourth-best team on that list. The Pool Guide is projecting seven (!) Habs forwards (including Dvorak) to score over 40 points, but none higher than Caufield’s 58; there’s just not enough upside and too many headwinds to really warrant taking any of them in the early rounds.
The Habs have some parallels to the Stars, who also made an improbable run to the Finals in 2020 but couldn’t recover from injuries sustained during the playoffs in time for the 2020-21 season, and as a result saw a dip both in their individual and team performances.