As the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Montreal Canadiens.
Who are the Canadiens thankful for?
Mike Matheson has had a tale of two careers.
He was good in his first few seasons in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, showcasing his terrific skating and his ability to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. But shortly after signing an eight-year extension the warts in his game began to show and he became a lightning rod for criticism in the Sunshine State.
It wasn’t long after that Matheson was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Colton Sceviour for Patric Hornqvist. Matheson was able to rehabilitate his game and looked like a good fit with the Penguins long-term. However, Penguins general manager Ron Hextall inexplicably wanted to change up the Penguins’ defense and in one day bulldozed his defense core by trading John Marino to New Jersey and Matheson to the Canadiens. Both trades have been a disaster for the Penguins, but the Matheson one stings for several reasons.
Since coming over to Montreal, the 29-year-old Matheson has dressed in 79 games, during that time he has 13 goals and 42 assists and has averaged almost 25 minutes a night in ice-time. He has been a catalyst for the Canadiens offense, and a mentor to many of Montreal’s young defensemen.
Although he has dealt with some injury issues, Matheson has been a driving force for the Canadiens and one that should continue to be an important piece for them in the coming seasons.
What are the Canadiens thankful for?
The Jeff Petry trades.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens made a trade back in July 2022 that sent defenseman Matheson to Pittsburgh in exchange for veteran defenseman Petry and Ryan Poehling. It was a questionable trade at the time for the Penguins as they were giving up a much younger defenseman for a 36-year-old defender with an inflated cap hit. A year after the deal, it’s safe to say that the trade was an absolute heist by the Canadiens. Jeff Petry has been traded twice since the original trade and Poehling was non-tendered and signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Petry was traded by the Penguins to the Canadiens this past August in a move that Pittsburgh had to make to facilitate the Erik Karlsson trade. The Penguins traded Petry, goalie Casey DeSmith, forward Nathan Legare and a 2025 second-round pick in exchange for Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick. Hoffman was then moved to the Sharks and Pitlick has toiled in the AHL.
The trade was a great move for Montreal to acquire two futures while unloading two bad contracts. But they weren’t done yet. The Canadiens then traded Petry to the Detroit Red Wings for little-used defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2025. Finally, Montreal was able to complete the trade tree by shipping DeSmith to the Vancouver Canucks for Tanner Pearson and a 2025 third-round pick.
When all was said and done, the Canadiens were able to turn Pitlick, Hoffman, and a retained salary on Petry into Legare, Pearson, Lindstrom, and three 2025 draft picks. It was a creative move by Montreal, that will help them continue to build up their farm system or allow them to acquire additional players should they be more of a contending team in 2025.
What would the Canadiens be even more thankful for?
A Josh Anderson resurgence.
Many critics panned the Canadiens’ trade for Anderson back in October 2020 and for good reason, the trade was followed by the announcement of a seven-year $38.5MM extension that seemed like a massive overpay. In hindsight, it probably was, given that Anderson is carrying a $5.5MM cap hit and hasn’t come close to the 47 points he put up during the 2018-19 season. Since joining Montreal, Anderson has topped out at 32 points (twice), but he did have 40 goals over the two seasons before the start of the 2023-24 season.
This year has seen Anderson struggle more than he has in previous seasons. Through 31 games, the 29-year-old has just four goals and five assists and has been a drag on almost everyone he has played with this season. It’s been a frustrating season for the Burlington, Ontario native, one that he has acknowledged publicly. Just two nights ago, Anderson had an incredible game against the New York Islanders in which he scored two goals and was named the first star of the game. Afterwards, during a post-game interview, Anderson was serenaded by the Canadiens faithful and seemed genuinely humbled by the applause. With any luck, Anderson can use the game to catapult himself back to the heights he experienced when he put up 27 goals with the Columbus Blue Jackets five years ago.
If he can get back to his game, it could go a long way to the Canadiens making an unlikely push for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference.
What should be on the Canadiens holiday wish list?
A goal-scoring forward.
The Canadiens forwards need to score more as they rank near the bottom of the NHL in goals and are currently on pace to not have a single 25-goal scorer. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki both registered 26 goals last year but have just eight each thus far through 31 games, while Sean Monahan and Brendan Gallagher are far removed from the back-to-back 30-goal seasons, they each enjoyed from 2017-2019.
The Canadiens need a game-breaker, which is much easier said than done. Most teams are looking for this type of scorer and they are almost impossible to acquire in today’s NHL. The Canadiens do have a surplus of young defensemen they could choose to trade from, but they would need to find a trading partner that is interested in trading away one of the most coveted pieces in today’s NHL.
The Canadiens have been patient with their rebuild and have made some savvy moves to acquire good young prospects and defensive depth. At some point in the near future, they are going to have to take a risk on an offensively gifted forward. Whether that happens via trade or free agency remains to be seen but they will need to acquire a forward that can put the puck in the net.