I’m not sure when the cliché of "just make the playoffs and anything can happen" became an acceptable goal for the Montreal Canadiens.
I know the glory years are well behind, but as a lifelong fan of this sport (and this team in particular), I just cannot hope for a crapshoot long shot year after year.
The truth is this team has struggled to make it to a Cup run since the lockout, missing entirely once and bowing out in the first round in the one year they did finish in the top tier. All indications are that it’s going to be another struggle to make the postseason and frankly I’m growing tired of it.
The mitigating factors are many and heading that list is injuries.
Injuries happen and the Habs have taken a serious beating in that department the past two years and continue to do so. Injuries are a part of the game and it doesn’t prevent the Pittsburgh Penguins from consistently hovering near the top of the league even without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
No, I’m not comparing Malkin and Crosby to injured Habs players and I’m fully aware that the Penguins took a serious nosedive in order to draft those two players in the first place, but in the long run is it worth the sacrifice of a season or two to rebirth a franchise?
They have flashes of superstars in the making. Arguments can certainly be made for Carey Price and Max Pacioretty, and I expect P.K. Subban will likely make a worthwhile successor to the formidable Andrei Markov in a few years.
The Habs have drafted defender after defender and have offloaded some veteran blueliners to allow their young prospects to grow and develop. They nurture their superstars the old-fashioned way, with patience and hard work.
Remember Price’s struggles and how he lost his starter job to backup Jaroslav Halak? Halak got traded and Price got handed the Montreal net, not for the first time.
I can see the potential on the blueline, especially as the kids are being forced to log heavy minutes on a harsh learning curve thanks to the injuries once again this year. Subban’s future is solid even if somewhat shaky so far this season, and Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber have all stepped up despite their own youth and lack of experience.
Offensively, Erik Cole is looking like the solid piece he was signed to be, along with Pacioretty and the surprising David Desharnais. There are enough veterans and talent left to also add some scoring depth throughout the lineup.
So what’s missing? Why can’t this team with all its potential and talent show some consistency above their usual .500 hockey?
There's little doubt that the future of this team is riding heavily on Price, Pacioretty and Subban. The opportunity now exists for Emelin, Weber and Diaz to become part of the new core of this team.
Will the three franchise players be enough to put them over the top, or does this team need to take a nosedive similar to the Penguins in hopes of drafting a superstar or two?
Somehow I doubt the fans would support this team becoming sellers at the trade deadline. I remember the 2006-07 season and the bitterness that accompanied a 10th-place finish.
I don’t expect the Habs to win Stanley Cups regularly anymore, but how about some consistency in the top tier instead of a last-minute invitation to the party? Is that so much to ask?
The Habs have patience, but I’m running low myself, especially this close to the 20-year mark.