After a drought of nearly 30 years, it looked like this might be the year that the Montreal Canadiens bring home the Stanley Cup. In Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals, however, the Canadiens’ dreams were shattered by a single goal. The Tampa Bay Lightning, a powerhouse team by all measures, were crowned the champions for the second year in a row under the leadership of McGill alumnus Mathieu Darche, BComm ‘00.
Despite the disappointing result, the Canadiens’ playoff run rejuvenated the city of Montreal after almost three decades of not making the finals. The run also came as the city was starting to reopen after laying dormant due to COVID-19 public health restrictions and business closures. Now, the team must lick their wounds, avoid losing key players during a tricky offseason, and start all over again in October.
Coming off of a shoddy regular season (24-21-11) and barely squeezing through to the playoffs, the Habs were the clear underdogs in the first round when they faced off against their long-standing rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The outlook appeared grim for the Habs after three consecutive losses, but they embarked on a redemption arc that stymied the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights, and brought them to compete in the finals against the reigning 2020 champs.
Beating the Tampa Bay Lightning was never going to be an easy feat; with a stellar offensive core in players like Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, as well as a world-class goalie whose stats trump those of Carey Price’s, the Habs had their work cut out for them from Game 1.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Canadiens never saw themselves as underdogs. Battling extreme emotion during the post-game press conference, players, including Brendan Gallagher, expressed their bitter disappointment in failing to bring home the Stanley Cup.
“We expected to be here,” Gallagher said, choking back tears. “Regardless of what people thought of our team, [our] expectations were to win this series.”
While returning home without the Cup was difficult for the whole team, it was especially painful for veteran players like Carey Price and captain Shea Weber, who may not have another opportunity to reach the championships. It is their 14th and 16th seasons in the NHL, respectively.
Recent news of Weber’s injuries is especially concerning, with some sports networks saying that he may be out for most of the season and will not be protected for the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Losing Shea Weber and his leadership would be a tough blow for the Canadiens, but arguably even tougher would be the loss of starting goaltender Carey Price. Having waived his No-Move Clause, Price will be exposed during the expansion draft to allow the Canadiens to protect their backup goaltender, Jake Allen. Price’s hefty $84 million contract and $11.5 million dollar signing bonus makes him quite pricey for the brand new Kraken team—a factor that may lessen his chances of being selected. However, exposing a starting goaltender, especially after such a successful playoff run, is risky. Jake Wagman, U2 Arts and an avid hockey fan, believes this move is ill-advised.
“Regardless of the chances, I think you need to protect the most important player on the team, [Carey Price],” Wagman said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I would say there is a 50 per cent chance [the Kraken will] take him and […] if they do take him, the Canadiens are in trouble despite having multiple young, promising players.”
Some of the team’s youngest players, like Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, have been serious offensive assets and are looking forward to playing in a full-capacity Bell Centre. Hopefully, that experience will include the support of their captain and starting goaltender.
“The city has been nothing but unbelievable,” Caufield said during his end-of-season media availability. “This is only just the start. The fans deserve a winning team. We gave them a little taste of it this year.”