The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens were both stomped on in games last night. The Leafs gave up seven unanswered goals, as Patrick Kane (four points) and the Chicago Blackhawks dominated them in a 7-2 blowout loss. The Canadiens had a comparable result while playing the middling Arizona Coyotes as a team which has seemingly given up were humiliated 6-2. While the scores might be similar, the two franchises are on two completely different trajectories.
The Maple Leafs aren’t actively trying to win. The club isn’t intentionally losing, but building assets and developing young players is a key priority right now – and that’s come at the expense of fielding a decent roster. Their season is all about future gains. Head coach Mike Babcock admitted the club wasn’t ready to win games when discussing trading captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators.
“The problem with us with Dion is that Dion is ready to win, we’re not ready to win. So it was a hard decision. I think it’s a good decision for Dion – not today, but tomorrow. And it’s a good decision for our club moving ahead.”
The Canadiens are trying to win, but failing. It wasn’t always like this as Montreal was first in the NHL with a 17-4-2 record to start the year, when the outlook couldn’t have been brighter. Once Carey Price went down with a possible season-ending injury, the Canadiens’ flaws were greatly exposed. Head coach Michel Therrien’s tactical skills have thus far undermined winning and without Price around to be the glass slipper, Montreal’s playoff chances have all but disappeared.
The Canadiens (27-26-4) sit nine points ahead of the dead last Maple Leafs (20-26-9), which was unexpected to say the least considering their roster, even without Price, features P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk, and Max Pacioretty. General manager Marc Bergevin has given Therrien a vote of confidence, a shocking development factoring how far the team has fallen.
Many of you are saying Therrien will lose his job in the summer.
The inside word from many is Therrien will not be relieved.
— BrianWilde (@BWildeCTV) February 16, 2016
After last night’s embarrassing loss it became clear, with or without Price, Therrien isn’t going to be the coach who leads the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup since 1992-93. Instead, it’s likely he’ll lead Montreal straight to the bottom of the standings – where the Maple Leafs want to be.
Finishing near the bottom of the NHL offers some attractive rewards in this upcoming draft. Phenom Auston Matthews is widely expected to be the top pick, but Finland’s Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine are decent consolation prizes. Toronto would surely love to add one of those three prospects to its impressive young group which includes William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott and Dmytro Timashov.
The Maple Leafs, while playing the most structured hockey they’ve played in years, have been a garbage fire all season – but there’s hope. Their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, have been straight up murdering their competition. The Marlies ranks first in wins (38), points (80) and goal differential (64). Leafs fans can seek comfort in knowing help is on the way in the form of Nylander, Brendan Leipsic, Nikita Soshnikov, Kasperi Kapanen and Connor Brown. There’s hope on the horizon.
At this point, it’s not farfetched to suggest Canadiens fans should be cheering their team to lose. The season is on the verge of being lost, and the only way to unchain the sinking anchor that Therrien has attached is by completely bottoming out and giving Marc Bergevin no choice but to can him. Allowing Price to heal, getting a top draft pick and starting fresh next year with a soft reboot is a sensible course of action, but if the organization has proven anything this season, it’s that they’ll stick to their guns as long as possible.
Habs tank and win draft lottery. Habs pick Auston Matthews. Michel Therrien keeps his job. Matthews & Galchenyuk play on Desharnais' wings.
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) February 16, 2016
It seems like a given both teams will continue to lose this season, but each loss will hold entirely different meaning. The Maple Leafs will take each loss in stride, knowing they’re trying their best under the tutelage of Mike Babcock. The Canadiens meanwhile will continue to underperform and keep fans guessing to why exactly Michel Therrien is sticking around. It’s crazy to say out loud, but the Maple Leafs have a clear direction towards becoming a good NHL team again while the Canadiens are stuck. If I’m buying future stock, I’m making an investment towards the Blue and White.