What the Puck: Canadiens’ budding stars in good hands with St. Louis

The team has a great core in Suzuki, Caufield and young defensemen, but high-price veterans pose a problem for Habs management.

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This season for the Canadiens is for all intents and purposes over. Now comes the heavy lifting for the hockey bosses Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes.

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Let’s start with the good news. For the first time in a long time, the Canadiens have a solid core to build around up front with two stars-in-the-making, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Since Martin St. Louis came on the scene, these two youngsters have shown they are the real deal, elite players who will be making magic in the NHL for years to come.

And how cool is that? In all likelihood, we will get to spend several years watching these two in action and when was the last time the Canadiens had even one forward of that caliber beginning his career with the bleu-blanc-rouge?

Then there’s the aforementioned St. Louis. When is the last time the Habs had a coach who could think outside the box and do something other than beating the players over the head with the same old defence-first approach? I can’t think of one this century. So the team has a good guy behind the bench, one particularly well-suited to developing the kind of offensive-minded team that Gorton and Hughes have said they want.

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There’s also room for optimism on the blue line with more promising young talent than we’ve seen in ages, with Alexander Romanov and the three newbies, Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron. It’s always impossible to predict how young players develop, but there is plenty of reason to think these four will be solid additions to the team.

That’s the positive news. The tough part is going to be dealing with all of the veterans on the roster, all of whom are on the decline and have downright terrible contracts signed, sealed and delivered by former GM Marc Bergevin. Take the third line, por favor. That’s the one with Brendan Gallagher, Christian Dvorak and Joël Armia.

This is, wait for it, a third line that comes with a US$14.35-million combined cap hit. That’s ugly. Of course, your first option is to trade away all three but, with where they’re at in their careers and the money and term attached, it’s doubtful there will be many suitors.

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Gallagher is close to untradeable. He has six goals and 19 points in 47 games. He’s just not the same player he once was and he has five more years at US$6.5 million. Worse, I have a no-movement clause. It’s just the worst of all the dumb Bergevin contracts.

So St. Louis is doing what he needs to do, which is to try to convince Gallagher that he has to play a different role on the team. He will surely try to do the same with Dvorak, who has been one of the biggest disappointments this season. armie? He is a lost cause.

The other veteran St. Louis is trying to change is Josh Anderson, and that holds some hope, especially given Anderson’s comments that show he is totally open to playing a different game than his usually speed-first, north-south game.

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Then there’s the Carey Price conundrum. There is much talk that he’ll play this week and I have to think the only reason they’re bringing him back in the final weeks of the season is to showcase him for a potential trade this summer. Can they unload the chap who defined the franchise for the past decade? It’s not going to be easy for the simple reason that his body is beat up from top to bottom and the small matter of a US$10.5-million cap hit.

Last but not least, Gorton and Hughes need to find the right player to play on the No. 1 line with Suzuki and Caufield. I don’t see anyone on the team that fits the bill, which is why I think they need to wade into the free-agent waters this summer and see if there’s anyone who is skilled enough to play with the dynamic duo and also has a bit of toughness to defend the kids when the need arises.

It sure is going to be a fascinating summer for Habs fans.

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