Montreal Canadiens: Unparalleled Depth Leading Habs Over Rivals Who Rely On Stars

VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 20: Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 20: Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens additions in the offseason gave the team a tremendous amount of depth at every position.

The 2020 postseason was a bit of a coming out party for centres Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and to a lesser extent, Jake Evans as well. Having three young centres prove they are ready to join Phillip Danault down the middle of the ice at the NHL level gave the Habs depth at this very important position for the first time in decades.

Then, general manager Marc Bergevin set out to ensure every other position on the team was deep as well.

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He traded for Jake Allen and quickly signed him to an extension, giving the Habs a second goaltender they can trust for the first time in years. He brought in Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli on the right side as well as Corey Perry and Michael Frolik for depth. He also acquired Joel Edmundson and was able to sign Alexander Romanov to an entry-level contract.

Suddenly, instead of trying to make Joel Armia work on the second forward line, he is playing on the fourth.

Instead of Victor Mete playing minutes with Shea Weber on the top pairing, he has been a healthy scratch every night.

Instead of Jordan Weal being on the top power play, he was place on waivers before the season even started.

Instead of Dale Weise entering the lineup because one player was injured, Perry stepped in and played a great game, scoring his first goal with the Habs.

It has made quite a difference on the Habs roster, and gives them something no one they have faced so far can boast about – depth.

The Canadiens first game was against the Toronto Maple Leafs and they looked great at even strength. A handful of penalties piled together late in the second was their undoing as the star players on the Leafs wouldn’t be denied when given 5-on-3 opportunities.

But when four lines were rolling at even strength it was the Canadiens who created most of the offensive chances.

The Maple Leafs have a handful of star players up front including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander but it dries up quick after that. Not having depth up front has them resorting to Jimmy Vesey in their top six.

He has two points in seven games this season after scoring 20 in 64 games last season. But without an assortment of options beyond their top four they have to try and find someone to fill in the gaps. They could elevate Zach Hyman back into their top six, but it would leave a bottom six whose best offensive player would be Alex Kerfoot, who has scored ten goals and 31 points in 72 games with the Maple Leafs.

The Leafs top four forwards will all probably score more points this season than any forward on the Canadiens, but it takes more than a handful of players to win in the NHL, and the Leafs don’t have the depth.

The same could be said about the Habs only other opponents so far this season. The Edmonton Oilers are built around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They are both superstars and either one of them could win the Art Ross and Hart Trophy’s this season. They also have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto who are good offensive players, but that’s about it.

Again, these four players could possibly outscore everyone on the Canadiens, but there is such a dramatic drop off beyond them that they continue to try and force Zach Kassian to be a first line player.

The Vancouver Canucks were able to beat the Habs in a shootout, but lost their two other meetings in regulation. The Canucks, like the Maple Leafs and Oilers, are built around a handful of stars, but they’ve handled the salary cap so poorly, their best players aren’t even getting paid yet and they are in cap trouble anyway.

The Canucks top players, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are dangerous every time they are on the ice. But the lack of depth has them trying to work Jake Virtanen into a first line role and he has one point in seven contests this season.

The Canadiens meanwhile, continue to roll out four lines every night and sit atop the division standings. Their most used forward is Nick Suzuki who is averaging 17:33 per game. Their forward with the 12th most ice time is Jake Evans who plays 12:04 per night. That difference of 5:29 per game between their most used and least used regular forward is microscopic by NHL ice time standards.

Take the Maple Leafs for example. Mitch Marner is playing 24:03 per game, leading the team, and Jason Spezza is 12th on the team, playing 9:12 per night. That’s a difference of 14:51, nearly three times the difference between the Habs regular forwards.

It’s similar with the Oilers who play McDavid 22:39 per night and their 12th most used forward is Tyler Ennis who is averaging 9:47 per game. The Canucks have been using Bo Horvat for 19:26 per game while their 12th busiest forward is Adam Gaudette who plays 9:58 per game. That’s a tighter gap than the Oilers and Maple Leafs, but is still close to ten minutes difference.

Having a couple of star forwards like Matthews, Marner, McDavid, Draisaitl or Pettersson is great and a luxury that the Canadiens do not have. However, when these teams get next to nothing from their third and fourth lines, it diminishes some of that advantage.

This Canadiens team is built around speed and depth up front, and not around a couple of stars who are expected to do most of the heavy lifting offensively.

This season will be a test of how that depth can contain the stars on other teams and exploit their weaknesses on the bottom half of their roster.

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With ten of a possible 12 points in the standings after six road games to begin the season, depth is certainly winning out so far.