Jack Todd: What will entry draft, free agency mean for the Canadiens?

If you follow NHL closely, you know Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have rarely put a foot wrong and are approaching a critical rebuild period

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The polite, white-haired woman stopped me in the bread section of the supermarket shortly after the Canadiens season had ended.

“Excuse me,” she said, “are you still with The Gazette?”

“Yes,” I said. “I still write once or twice a week.”

She paused a moment, gazing at me thoughtfully. Then she spoke.

“The Canadiens suck,” she said.

You could have knocked me over with a baguette. “Better days are coming,” I said.

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She gave me that pitying look we reserve for flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers and those gullible folks who have been scammed by a guy claiming he’s from Microsoft, then she walked away.

From a certain perspective, the woman in the bread section was right: The Canadiens do suck. Three years out of the playoffs. A top pick and two No. 5 picks in three consecutive drafts, solid indications that you’re dredging the bottom. Not tanking, perhaps, but not contending either. If you follow more closely, you know that with the possible exception of the Artturi Lehkonen
trade, Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have rarely put a foot wrong. You also know they are approaching what may be the most critical period in the entire rebuild: the 2024 entry draft Friday and Saturday, followed closely by the opening of unrestricted free agency July 1. After hitting a home run with Slovak forward Juraj Slafkovsky and a solid if conservative pick in Austrian defenceman David Reinbacher in the past two drafts, the Canadiens need another home run. They need more oomph and sizzle from their forwards and they need another 50 goals from somewhere, depending on how much they might expect from youngsters such as Owen Beck and Joshua Roy.

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After passing on Matvei Michkov in favour of Reinbacher a year ago, Gorton and Hughes might have to take some risk this time out. That could mean forward Ivan Demidov, who slots in somewhere below consensus top pick Macklin Celebrini. Demidov may be less risky than Michkov, but with the world situation what it is, any Russian is a risk.

It could mean Cayden Lindstrom, the big, talented westerner with speed, power and the guts to explode up the middle — if you’re willing to overlook the worrisome back injury.

It could mean Taj Iginla, if you’re a believer in bloodlines. Or it could mean someone like the highly skilled Beckett Sennecke, if you aren’t afraid to think outside the box.

And what do the Canadiens do if one of the two highly rated defencemen is still available at No. 5? Would they snap up Artyom Levshunov or Anton Silayev? Their fine young defence corps is deep, but it does not include an Evan Bouchard or a Cale Makar, so is it conceivable they would swing for the fences with another blueliner?

Whatever decisions they make, I trust this management team. They do their homework, they value brains and character and they avoid traps like Pierre-Luc Dubois.

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If you have been watching this thrilling Stanley Cup final and Edmonton’s historic comeback, you have some idea what it will take to build a real contender. The Florida Panthers are built along ideal lines for the playoffs with size, grit, scoring and goaltending. Yet, as of this writing, they stand on the verge of an epic collapse. Edmonton has a superstar on a mission in Connor McDavid, yet even he and superstar partner Leon Draisaitl might not be enough.

Reaching the level of the Panthers and Oilers is tough, not impossible. Get it right and next time I run into that polite woman in the bread section, she’ll be smiling.

Super team or super start? Three games into their season, the Alouettes have demolished the powerhouse Winnipeg Blue Bombers, survived a trap game against the Elks in Edmonton and
played what my mentor Zeke Herbowsky called a nearly perfect game against Ottawa after unveiling their Grey Cup banner at Percival Molson Stadium.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves with 15 regular-season games and the always unpredictable CFL playoffs ahead, but at this stage, these Alouettes are as good as any edition going back to the heady days of Marv Levy, Junior Ah You and the Ordinary Superstar, my Nebraska homie Johnny Rodgers.

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The Alouettes have picked up right where they left off after the Grey Cup. They have no obvious weaknesses. They’re fun to watch on both sides of the ball. They’re well-managed and well-coached. They play at what is easily the most beautiful venue in the league. Yes, access isn’t the easiest, but the reward is that you get to watch a terrific, exciting team in an almost peerless setting.

Heroes: Connor McDavid, Evan Bouchard, Zach Hyman, Stuart Skinner, Cody Fajardo, Tyson Philpot, Reggie White Jr., Kaion Julien-Grant, Tyrice Beverette, Darnell Sankey, Moïse Bombito, Audrey Leduc, the incomparable Willie Mays &&&& last but not least, Donald Sutherland — great actor and Expos fan.

Zeros: The Blue Jays, Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins, George Springer, Chris Jones, Edwin Diaz, Orelvis Martinez, racist soccer fans, offside reviews in soccer and hockey, Bud Selig Jr., Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever

[email protected]
X/TWITTER: @jacktodd46

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