When someone asks the question, “How is the Montreal Canadiens going from a Stanley Cup finalist one season to probably be the weakest team in the NHL next year?” the clear answer is: “They were destroyed by injuries and COVID-19, especially for some of their key players.”
But that answer really does not just illustrate how much of a bite the injury bug has taken to their series this season. Indeed, according to man-games lose-against-injury expert @NHLinjuryviz, the Canadiens are on course to set a new record for men’s games lost in a single season.
If you read through this Twitter thread, you will see that the unofficial record for lost man matches is a whopping 629 matches, a record set by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2003-04 campaign. But this year’s Montreal team is on the verge of losing 729 games due to injuries, a number that will shatter LA’s record.
That said, the projection could be a bit high, as serious injuries such as those set aside by Canadian stars Shea Weber and Carey Price are unlikely to be repeated by other Habs players. But even then, just the fact that Montreal is almost close to setting a new record should be all the explanation needed for their overall awful on the ice.
Would any other NHL franchise be able to recover from major injuries to two of its top players, as well as injuries to additional players (in this case, backup goalkeeper Jake Allen, forwards Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia and Christian Dvorak, and defenders Jeff Petry and David Savard, among others. Only center Nick Suzuki has appeared in all 44 Canadiens games this year, and only four Habs – Suzuki, Savard, D-man Ben Chiarot and wing Arrturi Lehkonen) played in 40 games or more. This is just an astonishing amount of unfortunate data for the Habs.
So no wonder Montreal is worse this season than the deliberately-abysmal Arizona Coyotes and the unintentionally-terrible Buffalo Sabers. (Montreal’s current record is 8-29-7, while Arizona is currently 10-29-4, and the Sabers 14-23-7.) When you decorate a series closer to a full U.S. League group, it’s It’s no wonder their competitiveness is as brutal as the Canadiens’.
All this leads to a Canadian team adjusting 43 points. For reference, only Buffalo (37) had fewer points last year in a season where each team played 26 fewer games. It simply can not get much worse than that.
That does not mean that the Habs’ fate next season will be noticeably better if everyone gets back to full strength. There is no guarantee that Price of Weber will ever play again, and the new head of the Canadiens, Kent Hughes, has already talked about the long road that Montreal must have to get back into the real cup battle. For much of last season, when injuries and COVID-19 absences were nowhere near such a factor, the Canadiens were far from a regular-season animal. That is unlikely to change in 2022-’23.
But do you know how NHLs and management types like to run the cliché about injuries that are not an excuse for their quality of play? This is true, but only to a certain extent. There are situations that arise – situations for which no GM or head coach can prepare – that completely destroy a team’s chances at a playoff spot. No amount of AHL depth could make up for the type of disastrous situation the Canadiens endured this year.
There are occasions when your team is victimized by the hockey gods, and there is nothing you can do about it. The good news is that it can not get much worse for the Canadiens, health wise. They are setting a new record for player absences, and it is unlikely they will go through anything like that again any time soon.
But for the rest of this season, Montreal is strapped in for what will be a bumpy ride. Canadiens fans can find some consolation from hell this season, it does not come from a lack of attempts by Habs players. There just wasn’t enough NHL-caliber talent ready to step on the ice night after night. No amount of coaching, forgiveness wire bowls and good puck luck can change that.