They have a slew of prospects and draft picks along with the most solid management and coaching group in 30 years.

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It was less than a year ago (May 20, to be exact) that the Canadiens began the most wildly improbable, dizzying, tragic, exhilarating and soul-crushing year in their history.

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That was the night they eked out a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to begin their North Division series. Six games and three wins later, the Leafs were out, the Habs were through — and a journey we’ll be talking about for decades had begun.

It includes COVID and Cole Caufield, Marc Bergevin and Kent Hughes, Dominique Ducharme and Martin St. Louis, Shea Weber and Cole Caufield, the death of one of the Habs’ greatest heroes and a Stanley Cup final followed by a last-place finish in a 32-team league less than 10 months later.

If you’re suffering from whiplash, you’re not alone.

It began with that giddy run to the Stanley Cup final. Wild-haired GM Marc Bergevin in his scarlet suit smooching his players. Price making save after save. Chanting crowds outside the Bell Centre. An improbable 3-2 overtime victory on a goal by Arturri Lehkonen on St. Jean Baptiste Day to seal a six-game triumph over Las Vegas and touch off a city-wide celebration in a town that had spent 15 months bottled up under the heavy weight of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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That was the high point, the game that would mark the Everest of the Canadiens’ fortunes. It’s unlikely that a single celebrant on the streets that night foresaw the plummeting luge run down that was to follow.

Canadiens' Corey Perry celebrates after scoring against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on May 31, 2021.
Canadiens’ Corey Perry celebrates after scoring against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on May 31, 2021. Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The slide began quietly enough, with a tough five-game series to a Tampa Bay team that was simply too good.

Then the wheels fell off, as Marc Bergevin proceeded to have perhaps the worst offseason a GM has ever had. It began on July 23 with the first round of the NHL draft. Late on a dreary evening, Bergevin and Trevor Timmins ignored the temper of the times to take defenseman Logan Mailloux with the 31st overall pick, despite a sexual abuse conviction in Sweden.

The Canadiens should have seen the tsunami coming. They did n’t — and the clumsy public-relations response would eventually cost him communications boss Paul Wilson his job. It would also set team president and owner Geoff Molson on a new course, after Molson took much of the flak.

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The Mailloux pot was still bubbling on July 28 when the Habs took a more serious blow: centerman Phillip Danault, so valuable in the playoffs, signed a six-year, $33-million contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

On Aug. 28, young forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, frustrated with the way he was handled by head coach Dominique Ducharme, signed a one-year, $6.1-million offer sheet with Carolina. Bergevin, backed into a corner, elected not to match.

Veterans were brought in — a few (David Savard, Christian Dvorak, Mathieu Perreault) reasonably productive when they were healthy, one (Cedric Paquette) an outright disaster and another (Mike Hoffman) bringing far less than he was meant to bring.

Then the season began and if it is possible to be eliminated by the end of October, the Canadiens were. Carey Price had failed to recover from surgery for a torn meniscus and had entered a facility to be treated for a substance-abuse problem. Shea Weber was in Kelowna trying to heal his battered body and still holding the “C” as team captain, although he was unable to play.

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The losses mounted, but there was a silver lining: the disastrous performance gave Molson a free hand to begin cleaning house. The team was 6-15-2 on Nov. 28 when he decided to act: he fired Bergevin (who was on an expiring contract) along with Timmins and Wilson. To clean up the mess, Molson appointed Jeff Gorton as executive vice-president and charged him with finding a general manager.

Step by step, the pieces fell into place. Gorton hired agent Kent Hughes, who appointed turn Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis as interim coach. Wilson was replaced with the much-loved Chantal Machabée, the veteran Canadiens correspondent for RDS.

St. Louis turned the struggling Caufield around. The youngster who had scored a single goal under Ducharme tallied 22 under St. Louis to match his jersey number.

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Canadiens fans pay tribute during the visitation for Guy Lafleur at the Bell Center on Sunday, May 1, 2022.
Canadiens fans pay tribute during the visitation for Guy Lafleur at the Bell Center on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Photo by Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images

The most bittersweet year in the long history of the CH, however, still had one last tragic twist — the death of Guy Lafleur, whose funeral is Tuesday. The poetic 10 goals the Habs put up in their last game to match Lafleur’s number 10 masked some of the concerns going into the offseason, beginning with the state of Price’s knee. Belatedly, the club will name a new captain to replace Weber.

Despite the tumult of the past year, this team is on a good path. This is the most solid management and coaching group in 30 years. They have a slew of prospects and draft picks, including one of the top three selections in the 2022 draft at the Bell Center.

Martin St. Louis will be signed to a three-year deal and we’ll have Caufield’s smile, Nick Suzuki’s smarts, Jordan Harris’s cool and Alexander Romanov’s hitting to open a new season in October — and plenty of time to contemplate the strangest roller- coaster year in the long and glorious history of the CH.

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