What the Puck: Development coming along, but Habs should focus on wins

Montreal might be on a three-game losing skid, but they still remain in the thick of the hunt in the Atlantic division.

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I’m with the folks in the cheap seats. It’s time to focus exclusively on winning games and not yapping on endlessly about rebuilding. I’d argue that the pundits are more enthused about grand rebuild plans than the dude on the corner bar stool.

And by cheap seats, I’m talking about the seats at the local pub since there are few cheap seats to be found at the Bell Centre.

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Heading into Saturday night’s bout with the Boston Bruins in Beantown, Montreal is in the midst of a three-game losing skid, but the team remains in the thick of the hunt in the Atlantic Division. As of Friday afternoon, the CH had 16 points, only three points behind the third-place Detroit Red Wings and only two points separate them from the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As for the rebuild, been there, done that, bought the expensive official Canadiens T-shirt. The team had to do it and it resulted in two high picks, the first overall in 2022 (Juraj Slafkovsky) and the No. 5 pick this year (David Reinbacher). Better yet, there’s plenty of excellent young players on the current squad. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, obviously, but also Kirby Dach, Kaiden Guhle, and Arber Xhekaj. In addition, there’s lots of hot prospects on their way, most notably Joshua Roy, who is tearing it up with the Laval Rocket, and Lane Hutson, who is also standing out at Boston University.

Listening to Martin St. Louis in recent days, I hear a head coach who is more focused on trying to make the playoffs and less on the process, and that’s a change compared to last season. I think that’s a good thing, but it remains a debate for fans, as I found out chatting with folks at Le Cage beside the Bell Centre before the wild Canadiens-Golden Knights game Thursday that ended in a 6-5 victory for Vegas.

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Jeff Carter, who is “not the hockey player,” in his words, wants to see his team win games.

“You gotta make the push for the playoffs,” Carter said. “Look at this place. It’s full of ripened fans. We’re hot and we’re ready for these guys to go. We’re not paying $200 for a ticket for next year. We’re paying $200 for now. We’re ready for a push for the playoffs. We have the nuts and bolts to get it done.”

Carter and I agree the problem with rebuilds is they can go on forever. The Buffalo Sabres appear to have been rebuilding since the 19th century (haha).

“I think this franchise could say that was the strategy the last few years,” Carter said. “So how long do we continue to perpetuate that? We’re going to rebuild, rebuild, rebuild, and all of a sudden a decade goes by, two decades go by, and we’re still rebuilding. We talked about Calgary. They’ve been rebuilding since they won the Stanley Cup in 1989. This team has heart. They go out and give blood and guts every game. The rest of it will come. They’re well-coached. They have a supportive fan base. There’s no reason this team has to wait till next year or the year after. Playing for draft picks? That time has come and gone.”

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But other fans think the focus has to remain on the rebuild.

“I say just stick to the plan, don’t try to make the playoffs,” Charles Myre says. “For this year, just develop the young players.”

The good news is the current management team of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes has a plan, and I am assuming part of that plan is to have the team make slow, but sure, steps forward every year. The problem with the Marc Bergevin era is there was no focus on development. Now there is.

But that doesn’t mean the Habs have to be a lottery team for years and years. You need to create a winning culture, something St. Louis totally understands, and I think it would be great for the younger players to experience a run even for a wild-card spot, to finally play games that mean something. And if they do happen to luck into a playoff berth, a series would be an invaluable learning process for the kids.

But is this team good enough to make it within sniffing distance of a wild-card spot? Hard to say. Last season, they were also doing pretty well in the first couple of months and then they fell fast down the standings, particularly after the loss to injury of Sean Monahan.

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