Canadiens: Joel Hanley Making Most of Playoff Chance with Dallas Stars

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 02: Joel Hanley (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 02: Joel Hanley (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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After making his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16, Joel Hanley has made the most of his NHL playoff chance with the Dallas Stars.

In many ways, the Dallas stars have no right to be where they are right now. Same could’ve been said for the Montreal Canadiens.

In an NHL season full of changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Stanley Cup Playoffs has similarly seen its fair share of surprising upsets and stories. Playoff contenders like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins were beaten in the qualifier by vastly inferior Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Canadiens teams, respectively. Barry Trotz has lived up to his reputation as one of the NHL’s best coaches, with his New York Islanders making it all the way to the Conference Finals, losing in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning have had a mostly easy ride to the Cup Final this season, in comparison to last April when they were swept by the eighth seeded Blue Jackets in the first round. They’ve gone 12-4 in the playoffs up to this point, where they now face, the Dallas Stars. As I stated, the fact that the Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final is to me, a minor miracle. Not only has Dallas endured a reputation for mediocrity over the last long while, but they’re also without starting goalie Ben Bishop, who’s ongoing injury troubles continue to plague him.

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In his place, Dallas has relied on backup journeyman Anton Khudobin, who’s posted 13 wins and a 2.54 GAA, and a host of unheralded rookies and little-known minor leaguers. 2015 first round pick Denis Gurianov has 17 points in 22 games thus far, and undrafted free agent Joel Kiviranta has gone from being an afterthought for the team to one of their marquee players in big moments. However, on Saturday, it was a little known former Hab who stepped up to give the Stars the boost they needed, taking game one of the Final 4-1.

Joel Hanley is a player who has drifted in and out of my radar ever since his time in Montreal came to an end. After finishing his college career with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hanley spent two years on AHL deals with the Portland Pirates, before signing a two-way contract with the Canadiens in the summer of 2015. In a 2015-16 season characterized by a who’s who of random minor leaguers as the Habs fell apart in the second half (Lucas Lessio anyone?) Hanley was one of many who was given a chance to play as Montreal’s playoff chances faded away.

In 10 games, Hanley posted six assists, standing out as one of the better callups, getting into seven more games with Montreal the next season. Developing a reputation as a solid two-way defenseman, Hanley has played sparingly in the NHL over the last few seasons, before finding a slightly larger role with Dallas late this year. After spending a year in the Arizona Coyotes organization, getting into five games, Hanley signed with the Stars, and has since become one of the team’s better seventh defenseman options.

After playing 16 games with the team late last season, Hanley made the Stars playoff roster as an injury fill in this year, since finding a role on the team’s third pairing in the place of more veteran players like Taylor Fedun. Early in the first period in game one, Kiviranta laid a nice hit along the boards which left the puck for defenseman Roope Hintz, who laid a nice pass to Hanley from behind the net, firing a wrister over the shoulder of Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game’s first goal, and the first goal of Hanley’s career.

In the Canadiens short lived playoff run, the team similarly benefited from the performance of depth players, with Laval Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet finding a role on the teams third pairing after being an offensive leader for the Rocket this past season. Similar offensive leaders like Jake Evans and Alex Belzile slotted into six games each, both recording one assist. While the upset of the Penguins was an impressive start, a six-game series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers brought reality back into the mix. Going into next year though, look for Montreal to make better use of their AHL forwards, a topic I have previously discussed.

With this game one win in hand, the Stars have the series momentum for the time being, benefiting from some much-needed rest that Tampa Bay didn’t have. After years of derision from fans and analysts over a lack of results after the acquisition of star players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, a Stanley Cup championship would make it all worth it, and bring one of the more unlikely upsets in recent memory. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out, especially as the Lightning possess one of the stronger rosters in the NHL.

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These NHL playoffs have been interesting to say the least, and as we look towards the off-season as the end of this season nears, theirs some interesting stories to take from it. Whether the Stars can keep this momentum going remains to be seen, but if they do, theirs a chance Joel Hanley, could be a reason why.