The Montreal Canadiens Play-In Dilemma

With training camps set to open up in less than two weeks from now, many Canadiens fans are stuck between wanting their team to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins and make the actual 2020 NHL playoffs or lose to them and get a top 10 pick where they have a chance at winning the first overall selection via the next lottery phase. Both sides have a legit argument, but which one is better for the long-term well being of the Montreal Canadiens?

As we saw before, the Canadiens are not in the playoffs, yet, but they have a chance at making it if they defeat Pittsburgh in a best-of-five series set to take place in Toronto which is the unofficial hub city for the Eastern Conference postseason. Is this the right way to go?

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Pros Of Making The Playoffs

Let’s say Montreal beats Pittsburgh and punches their ticket to the playoffs where they’d automatically lose a chance at a top 10 pick. Is this good for the overall shape of the team?

Most of the arguments I’ve seen that are pro-playoffs are based around postseason experience for key players who should be part of the core as well as a chance for some veteran players like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Paul Byron to get another shot at playing important games and a chance to win a cup. That’s always the goal of making the playoffs.

For certain young players like Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete and even Max Domi, there is a chance to play meaningful games with a good group of players where they could create better chemistry and maybe even strengthen the overall bond as a team and pride of being a Montreal Canadien. All those intangibles and experience can’t be bought. You can’t have playoff experience by not making the playoffs.

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Nick Suzuki is a great example of what playing on the big stage can do for someone’s development and confidence. Last year, he carried the Guelph Storm and I emphasize the word carry. He was the main driving force and brought them all the way to the Mastercard Memorial Cup.

He played in 24 games for Guelph where he scored 42 points and added the OHL MVP to his collection of junior awards. He then came into the season with that confidence and even though it took him some time to get into his rhythm, it was totally worth the wait.

What if the 2020 playoffs have the same type of impact on players like Jonathan Drouin (17GP), Max Domi (0GP), Philip Danault (6GP), Victor Mete (0GP) and others who are relatively young and important to this team’s success? Could they have the same type of progression Nick Suzuki had?

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There is a good chance that if the Canadiens go far enough, those players above will have gained quality experience that could help them when it really matters as they look to contend for top seeds and Stanley Cups. That’s if prospects and coaches reach their potentials.

The Pros Of Drafting In The Top 10 – Potentially First Overall

The Canadiens have been building one of the deepest and strongest prospect pools for the last three years and could very well add another deep draft group this year. If they’re lucky, it may include the best available prospect in Alexis Lafreniere.

Now, there is no guarantee that by losing to Pittsburgh the Canadiens would automatically get the first overall pick, but they still get a top 10 pick, ninth to be exact, by losing to the Penguins. The top end part of the draft is about 12 players deep, so the Habs will likely walk away with a tremendous talent on day one.

Looking at the possibility of drafting first and getting it, you have a chance at adding a talented local kid who has all the tools and charisma to be the face of this team both on a national level and in the city of Montreal. Alexis Lafreniere is exactly what this team needs and it would a major moment in this team’s long and lengthy history. He would also become the Canadiens top prospect and help bring more fans to games as he is an exciting young player to watch play.

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Even though there is no guarantee at a potential star and game changer like Alexis Lafreniere, just the chance to add a top 10 talent, whether it’s Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, Jack Quinn or Jake Sanderson, should be enticing. This would help bolster the top-end part of the Canadiens prospect pool and possibly adding some scoring reinforcements like they did last year by drafting Cole Caufield. This team needs to add more talent and there is no better way to do that by selecting early and often in entry drafts.

The positive part about drafting high would mean the team adds another set of talented players and brings up the probability of developing a handful of stars to carry this team from one that has had consistent mediocrity to having deep runs in the NHL postseason. The teams that usually go far are teams who build through the draft with multiple top 5-10 picks that become leaders both on and off the ice. Just look at what Chicago, Pittsburgh and L.A. managed to do with high quality picks. I think they’re prime examples of what it means to build through the draft.

My Choice

I will not ask the team to lose on purpose nor will I cheer if and when Pittsburgh scores. It’s not in my character to do so. But if the Canadiens are eliminated, whether early in the play in or go the distance, I will be proud of their accomplishment, but am excited at the fact that they will be adding a tremendous talent in round one and a series of quality players from rounds two-seven, and in the end, I believe that’s the better route for the organization when looking at the long-term.

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