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Young Canadiens’ core energizes team, shows hope for the future

Strong early performances from captain Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and other young players show a promising future for the Montreal Canadiens

It’s a new era in Montreal. After finishing last in the league last year, the Montreal Canadiens are faring better than many had anticipated so far this season. While they’re currently in the bottom half of the league in points, there is still a lot about this team that has been impressive, like the performance of the team’s young core.

After a mediocre season turned into an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, the Canadiens failed to generate much of anything last year. With goaltender Carey Price out for nearly the whole season — owing to a knee injury and mental health issues related to substance use — as well as several other players being plagued by their own injuries, the team lacked morale and direction.

Amidst this, team owner Geoff Molson fired both general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Dominique Ducharme, replacing them with former player agent Kent Hughes and former NHL player Martin St. Louis, respectively. The new pair wasted no time shifting focus to the team’s young talents, in particular 23-year-old Nick Suzuki and 21-year-old Cole Caufield.

The team immediately saw improvements, especially in Caufield, who improved from one goal scored in 30 games under Ducharme to 22 goals in 37 games under St. Louis.

Now, this year has been a new story for the Montreal Canadiens. The offseason saw the key additions of 2019 third-overall pick Kirby Dach (21) from the Blackhawks, and the first overall selection of Slovakian winger Juraj Slavkovský. Suzuki also became the youngest team captain in Canadiens’ history this summer.

This young group has managed to defy expectations this season, winning a number of key games, and showing real teamwork and fighting spirit even in defeat.

Montreal’s top offensive line currently consists of three players 23 years old and under — Suzuki, Caufield, and Dach — having scored 45 per cent of all the goals this season. While it’s still early, at this rate it would not be surprising to see one or both of them reach 40+ goals this season, which no Canadien has done since Vincent Damphousse in 1993-94. 

While Slafkovský is quite a young player with a lot of room to grow, he has still performed impressively, netting three goals so far and becoming the only draft from 2022 to have scored in the NHL at all. The Habs also have a number of promising offensive prospects developing in major junior leagues, notably centre Owen Beck who is netting nearly a goal per game for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League.

Defensively, rookies Kaiden Guhle (20), Arber Xhekaj (21), Jordan Harris (22), and Johnathan Kovacevic (25) have also exceeded early expectations. Drafted in the first round in 2020, Guhle already displays the confidence and ability of a more experienced player. Xhekaj has quickly become a fan favourite for his tough playstyle and strong work ethic, which are the very qualities that earned him a spot on the team after going undrafted (and working at Costco during the pandemic to support his hockey career). On the third defensive pairing, Harris and Kovacevic have become one of the strongest pillars of the team’s defence.

It may be a few years before this team can be seen as a serious contender, but under the management of Hughes and St. Louis, the leadership of Suzuki, and the impressive play of the team’s young core, they are headed in a very positive direction. No matter how the season ends, one thing is for sure: it’s truly an exciting time to be a Montreal Canadiens fan.

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Sports

Colour Commentary: Carey Price returns

A new chapter for the Montreal Canadiens began on Friday night.

Carey Price returned to the Bell Centre on Friday night, where he would be given a heart-warming welcome from the crowd. This would be the NHL’s highest paid goaltender’s first game since Montreal’s 1-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 7 in the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals. The Canadiens have had a rough season without their star goalie and have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. 

The Canadiens’ netminder allowed two goals against 19 shots in his return versus the New York Islanders. The Habs would go on to lose 3-0, after Islanders forward Brock Nelson scored an empty-net goal late in the third period. 

For the game, Nelson would get a goal and an assist, with two shots on goal. The Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin also had an impressive performance, shutting out the Canadiens and making 44 saves. 

Despite the loss, the Canadiens and Price have come a long way. Price has had many hurdles since his last game in July. He had knee surgery on July 23 and has struggled during his recovery. He also entered the NHL’s player assistance program on Oct. 7 before the start of the 2021-22 season.

This is only the beginning of a new chapter, only time will tell what’s in store for the Canadiens’ star goaltender.  

 

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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Sports

Colour Commentary: Nick Suzuki is an NHL All-Star

The Montreal Canadiens’ young centre will make his All-Star Game debut on Feb. 4

Before the season, if you told Canadiens fans that Nick Suzuki would be an NHL All-Star in the 2021-22 season, they’d be ecstatic at the news but hardly surprised given his talent level and his performance in the Habs’ Stanley Cup Playoff run last summer. The team as a whole performed exceptionally well, but the 21-year-old Suzuki in particular led the team in goals and points, with seven and 16 respectively. 

A little over six months later, the Habs have won a mere eight games through 44 total contests, and find themselves competing for the worst team in the league. For a variety of reasons that have already been extensively discussed, this season will go down in the Canadiens’ storied lore for all the wrong reasons. Frankly, no one on this roster deserves to be an All-Star, especially when you consider the talent that ultimately didn’t make the cut. 

Disclaimer: diehard Habs fans might want to close their eyes for what’s about to come. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

In 44 games played, Suzuki has tallied 27 points and has disappeared for extended stretches of the season. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand has 21 goals and 47 points in 37 games this season, playing some of the best hockey of his career. One of these two forwards didn’t make the cut (settle down, Marchand skeptics), for a simple yet nonsensical reason. 

The NHL All-Star Game must showcase at least one player from each team, a requirement that makes snubbing deserving players inevitable. In each of the four divisions, 11 All-Stars are selected from the eight teams (nine skaters and two goalies). A contest, meant to showcase the league’s top talent, fails to do just that on an outdated technicality. 

Is Suzuki a top-nine skater in the Atlantic division? Before the season, it wasn’t entirely out of the question that Suzuki could make the leap into stardom. Having watched most of the Canadiens games this season (a tough watch on most nights), I can safely say he isn’t there yet. Nonetheless, he will be recognized as the best player on this bottom-feeding ensemble. 

So yes, Suzuki is an All-Star, a bittersweet notion that should still excite Montreal fans. The team’s newly-implemented number one centre is now 22 years old, and the Canadiens’ nightmare season is hardly a result of his play. And before I get labelled as a hater, I think Suzuki has what it takes to be Montreal’s foundational piece for years to come, and he earned every bit of the eight-year contract extension he signed in October 2021. 

It’s just unfortunate that his first All-Star season — a feat worthy of remembrance —  will be spoiled by the Canadiens’ woes and incompetence.

 

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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Sports

The Concordian’s top moments of the year in sports

Our staff members revisit the most captivating moments of the year in sports

Maggie Morris – Managing Editor

In 2021, I did something I never thought I’d do: I cheered for the Habs. As a lifelong Sens fan, I’m used to facing adversity, but the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs tested me in a way I had never experienced before. Ultimately, when the Canadiens were matched up with the Leafs in the first round, it made the decision significantly easier. The Leafs suck. 

The Habs’ playoff run made Montreal come alive in a way that it hadn’t since early 2020. While it’s always more fun to watch your own team achieve that level of success, it was still so cool to be a part of. Honourable mention to the European Football Championship, which assured me that I will never be able to break my British boyfriend’s heart the way that final did. 

Guillaume Laberge – Music Editor

As a French Canadian and a hockey fan since the age of five, it’s hard not to put the Montreal Canadiens’ unbelievable Stanley Cup finals run as my favourite sports moment of the year.  They had such an improbable Cinderella story with them coming back from a 3–1 deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs (what a choke) and then beating powerhouses like Winnipeg and Vegas along the way. Their win in game six of the semifinals over Vegas was definitely the climax of their run, and the fact that it happened on Quebec’s national day made the story feel unreal. It’s a game we Habs fans will remember for a long time. I’ve been following the Habs closely for about 15 years now and never have I felt more joy and excitement following them over the summer. 

Liam Sharp – Sports Editor 

Having no fans in attendance during UFC fights was an experience I will never forget. Sure, all sports are ultimately better off with spectators, but being exposed to MMA without the deafening crowd noises and reactions was weirdly satisfying. Hearing the heavy breaths, the strikes landed, and coaches’ instructions in excruciating detail throughout a bout was something I’ll probably never get to witness again unless I’m fortunate enough to be octagon-side in the future (or unfortunate enough to experience another global pandemic). 

Without fans, Max Holloway’s beatdown of Calvin Kattar on Fight Island to start the year tops my list. With fans, Rose Namajunas’ flash knockout versus Weili Zhang perfectly encapsulated why this sport can be so endearing. 

Gabriel Guindi – News Editor

Other than the Canadiens making the finals, my favourite sports moment had to have been the Milwaukee Bucks winning the NBA championship. In this day and age of NBA super teams usually winning it all, I found it refreshing that a traditionally-built, smaller market team got to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Especially for Giannis Antetokounmpo, his loyalty to the franchise by staying with the Bucks and not scampering off to a bigger market team based purely off hype, was gratifying not only for him, but for the city of Milwaukee who haven’t welcomed a professional sports title in over 50 years.

Maria Bouabdo – Assistant Sports Editor

Excluding the Habs’ playoff run, this was my favourite sports moment. Not because it’s amazing or impossible to do, but because of the exact opposite.

Brandon Duhaime is a clumsy and relatable Minnesota Wild rookie, as you can see in the clip. I think it’s pretty rare for hockey fans to watch professional athletes and relate to them on the ice. Like have you ever heard someone say “I could totally pull that off” when talking about Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby? I doubt it. However, a lot of us can 100 per cent say that we have enough skills in the clumsiness department to pull off what Duhaime did. So that alone makes him a 2021 icon for me.

 

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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Sports

Colour Commentary: Montreal Canadiens hit with reality check

Montreal Canadiens fans are rightfully upset with the team’s start to the 2021-22 season, but should they be surprised?

The Montreal Canadiens — last year’s Stanley Cup finalists — are a bottom-feeding team in the NHL through the opening stretch of the 2021-22 regular season. The storied franchise that was on the precipice of glory last spring can’t even muster two consecutive periods of quality hockey today. 

Canadiens fans are rightfully upset, but should they be surprised? More specifically, was last year’s postseason run simply a fluke, or are the Habs wildly underachieving through the first 10 games of the season? Both perspectives to the aforementioned question carry real weight.

On one end, the Canadiens limped their way into the playoffs last season, showing little to no signs of life before they went on to defeat Toronto, Winnipeg, and Las Vegas in successive playoff rounds. They went into every series as underdogs and played a low-scoring, physical defensive style that relied heavily on Carey Price’s heroics and reputation. And he delivered, despite the inconsistency he displayed through most of the regular season. 

The truth is, among the major sports, hockey has the most parity. A hockey team can essentially go from near mediocrity to greatness in the span of a few weeks, a notion that is so rarely seen in other sports like basketball, for instance. Last season’s Habs were the latest example of how unpredictable hockey can be. Ultimately, the sport’s parity is what draws many fans to it. 

Losing team captain Shea Weber, veteran two-way forward Phillip Danault, and Price to start the season for varying reasons meant losing the Canadiens’ anchors of stability, so a regular season dropoff was to be expected. As a result, this year’s offence is being manned by young, unproven talent into unknown waters. So far, Montreal’s key players — namely, Nick Suzuki and Jeff Petry —  simply haven’t shown up and met expectations. 

Despite the fact the current Canadiens roster barely resembles the veteran squad it suited up during the postseason, there is reason to believe the Habs shouldn’t be as bad as they’ve been. As things currently stand, the Canadiens find themselves situated next to the NHL’s worst teams in the standings, many of which have embraced losing in their hopes of rebuilding. 

On the other hand, the Habs are in a unique and dangerous circumstance, one where they fully intend on remaining competitive but are continually failing to tally wins. This team is teetering between mediocrity and success, and considering the fact that they’ve already dug themselves into a near insurmountable hole, at some point Montreal needs to forget about last year’s Stanley Cup run and think towards the future.  

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Sports

The Habs and the trade deadline

This is the year where the Montreal Canadiens should be buyers

It’s been a while since the Montreal Canadiens have had such an opportunity to go deep in the playoffs. With the realigned divisions for the 2020‒21 National Hockey League (NHL) season, the Habs are only playing fellow Canadian opponents in the regular season.

The best four of their seven-team division will qualify for the playoffs, and with those teams only playing each other until the Stanley Cup semi-finals, the chance to make it past the first two rounds is there for the Habs.

The Canadiens have started the season strong, but have had some trouble in the past month, even firing their head coach. Yet, they’re still in a playoff spot and seem confident on the ice against pretty much all their opponents. It would be fair to think that this season, for the first time in years, General Manager Marc Bergevin would try to improve his team by the NHL trade deadline, with hopes to shock the hockey world and win the Stanley Cup.

After adding key players Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson last offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bergevin add depth for his third and fourth lines. Bergevin doesn’t often make trades, but when he does, he rarely fails to improve his roster, either in the short-term or long-term.

An important player who could be traded is Phillip Danault. Despite being a great centreman and good defensively, Danault is in the last year of his contract, and hasn’t offered much offensively this season. Any team looking for depth at this position would give a lot for him, especially at the trade deadline, when teams often overpay.

 

Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion

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Sports

An offseason to remember for the Montreal Canadiens

A commendable offseason for the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin

Montreal Canadiens General Manager (GM) Marc Bergevin has perhaps the toughest task of all in terms of satisfying Habs fans, who are still looking for future playoff success despite a Stanley Cup drought of over 25 years.

But Bergevin is probably having his most productive offseason with the Habs, starting things off by trading Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson on the National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft day. The terms of the deal were settled shortly after reports started to surface early in the day; the Canadiens sent Domi and a third-round pick in exchange for power forward Anderson.

Statistics from Anderson’s 2019–20 season could stir some doubt among fans, considering he finished with a meager one goal and three assists in his 26 games played. In comparison, Domi totalled 44 points in 71 games. However, the former Blue Jacket suffered a shoulder injury in December, eventually undergoing surgery in early March, which suggests he probably played through the injury throughout the regular season.

Apart from Anderson’s unfortunately derailed 2019–20 season, he has been a force to be reckoned with. Over a three-year span from 2016 to 2019, Anderson was ranked 22nd in the NHL for 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes of ice time, ahead of marquee names such as Sidney Crosby (34th) and Nathan MacKinnon (35th).

Shortly after the trade, Bergevin wasted no time in signing the 26-year-old to a seven-year contract worth a total of $38.5 million. Anderson’s new deal will count as $5.5 million per year to the team’s cap hit.

Barring injuries, Anderson is an imposing figure that will provide some needed physicality to a team that is otherwise lacking. The Burlington native provides great protection for the young core, and a nice scoring touch at his size.

The Canadiens also used their first-round pick in the draft to select Kaiden Guhle, a defenseman coming off a rousing success of a season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Prince Albert Raiders.

Fans were largely critical of the decision, imploring the Habs management to draft a higher risk player at that stage in the draft. With the NHL’s recent explosion of young, exciting defensive talent, such as Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes and Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin, many fans are looking for flashy, offensive-minded defense over solid fundamentals and consistency.

Fans are willingly obstinate when they are being spoiled with extravagant plays like this league-wide on a nightly basis. Regardless, it would be overly skeptical to fault the Habs management in the draft choice. A reliable and sizable (six-foot-two, 190 pounds) defenceman who likes to play physical, Guhle should have no problems adjusting to NHL level.

The Habs made their first major free agency acquisition on Oct. 12, announcing the signing of Tyler Toffoli to a four-year contract with an average annual value of $4.25 million. The 28-year-old winger split playing time between the Los Angeles Kings and the Canucks in 2019–20, tallying 44 points in 68 games.

Toffoli will bring offence to the Canadiens without sacrificing defensive awareness and positioning. He has a knack for finding the back of the net, and will add another scoring option from the wing no matter which forward line he ends up on.

The Canadiens’ offseason objectives were clear from the onset, and by mid-October, Bergevin accomplished everything he sought to do.

Bergevin acquired and signed backup goaltender Jake Allen to alleviate pressure from Carey Price. He also acquired and signed defenceman Joel Edmundson to a four-year deal. He addressed the need for a power forward and a scoring winger with the acquisitions of Anderson and Toffoli, respectively. Bergevin added further stability to the blue line in re-signing Habs defenceman Jeff Petry for four more years.

For many Habs fans, the GM had one more task to complete. Long-time Canadien and current alternate captain, Brendan Gallagher, was set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020–21. The entire Habs offseason would be for naught if the Canadiens management couldn’t lock in the right-winger for the future.

Undoubtedly, he is the most prominent gear in the Canadiens complex system, a sentiment no rational Habs fan could dispute. Contract negotiations briefly reached an impasse that sparked drama for Habs fans, but later reports affirmed the delays resulted from a simple misunderstanding between Bergevin and Gallagher’s agent Gerry Johannson. Canadiens fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief as Gallagher’s contract was eventually extended by six years, totalling $39 million over the span.

The only thing left to do is wait hopefully and see if the seedlings that Bergevin has planted in 2020 will bear fruit.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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Sports

An interesting draft for the Montreal Canadiens

The Habs have the sixteenth overall selection in this year’s NHL Draft

As COVID-19 delayed the National Hockey League (NHL) 2019–20 playoffs, this year’s NHL Entry Draft will be presented on Oct. 6 and 7. It will be conducted online, while players and fans alike will watch from home.

The Montreal Canadiens have 13 draft picks this year, including the sixteenth overall selection. The team’s last two first-round picks were Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, fifteenth overall pick in 2019 and third overall pick in 2018, respectively. As the team begins to see the impact of its young talented players, this year’s draft should only add to what the Canadiens are heading towards: youth.

The question is, who should the Montreal Canadiens select? Here are some players who might interest the Habs.

Hendrix Lapierre: 

Besides Alexis Lafrenière, projected first overall selection in the draft, Lapierre is the next best French-Canadian player the Canadiens could select.

Unfortunately, Lapierre has suffered multiple concussions, which led him to miss over half of the 2019–20 season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During his short season, Lapierre produced two goals and 15 assists for 17 points in 19 games with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.

His playmaking and ability to control the puck is something that could definitely help the Canadiens at the centre position. He isn’t the best offensive player in the draft, but he is definitely one of the best defensive centremen available. His hockey sense is impressive and he can easily find players on the ice. Lapierre could be the first French-Canadian drafted by the Habs in the first round since Louis Leblanc in 2009.

Dylan Holloway:

Ranked at number 16 on Bob McKenzie’s list on TSN, Holloway is another player that could interest the Habs. Although Holloway had an average season with the University of Wisconsin, scoring eight goals and nine assists in 35 games, the forward who can play centre and left-wing has a great potential.

His speed and physicality could help a team like the Habs, which mainly consists of small players. Finding players with the speed and size of Holloway is rare. He would help his teammates to free up space on the ice. The fact he played with Caufield in Wisconsin could also convince the Canadiens to draft him.

Dawson Mercer: 

The Habs desperately need offensive power and if their General Manager Marc Bergevin does not trade for a goal scorer, Mercer could at least be a solution for the future. Last year, Mercer registered 24 goals and 36 assists for 60 points in 42 games, playing for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

His stickhandling skills help him get great opportunities for his powerful shot. While not the fastest, he is capable of outskating players and taking the puck from his opponents. He has a great mentality and works really hard on both sides of the ice, which is important for the Habs organization.

Noel Gunler:

This Swedish offensive player could add offensive power to the Canadiens. Playing in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and the J20 SuperElit League, Gunler got 29 goals and 22 assists for 51 points in 46 games during the 2018–19 season. Gunler has an ease in finding the space and time to shoot the puck.

Being very tall, he doesn’t have any difficulty driving the net and blocking the goalie’s view, which could be a great addition to the Habs’ power play. Although he might need another year to be ready for the NHL, Gunler could potentially be a top-two player playing alongside the team’s great centres like Kotkaniemi.

Rodion Amirov:

Ranked as one of the best prospects for the Canadiens by RDS journalist Stéphane Leroux, Amirov is a tall, Russian left-winger. He has played in Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the Molodiojnaïa Hokkeïnaïa Liga (MHL) and the Vyschaïa Hokkeïnaïa Liga (VHL).

In 2019–20, Amirov counted 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points in 43 games. Amirov has amazing skills, and can easily score goals on a penalty shot or a breakaway. His shot is also extremely good, as he has a powerful release. However, he might not be the heaviest player, which may deter the Habs.

He definitely has the potential to become a great goal scorer in the NHL, and he, just like Gunler, could help the Canadiens on the power play. He still has amazing potential and he is very entertaining to watch.

With all the great players available in this year’s draft, it will be interesting to see which one the Canadiens will pick. No matter who it is, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll have something to solve the team’s needs. However, after recently signing defencemen Alexander Romanov and Joel Edmundson, the Habs might look into drafting a forward for the fourth straight year.

 

Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion

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Sports

Colour Commentary: The importance of asset management

The past couple of weeks included a big stretch of games for the Montreal Canadiens.

They played a back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, then went to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve, and back home for another game against Tampa on Thursday night.

They needed to win at least two of those games to remain comfortably in the playoff chase. Well, they went 0/4. That is what we, in the sports world, call “not good.”

With a multitude of players out of the lineup due to injuries and fans calling for change, the Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, went out and made two notable acquisitions.

First, he traded a fourth-round pick for NDG-native Marco Scandella, a left-handed defenceman — something the Canadiens lack. Bergevin also signed an aging Ilya Kovalchuk to a one year, US $700,000 contract.

Will these moves save the Canadiens’ season and catapult them into the playoffs? Probably not. But what Bergevin is doing is flexing his asset management skills — something a lot of Canadiens fans fail to see.

Scandella is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, meaning come the trade deadline, teams will be lining up to give up an asset for him for their playoff chase. This is what, in the business, is called a “rental player.”

Kovalchuk, who turns 37 in April, is an interesting one. He signed a contract two summers ago with the LA Kings, figuring he wanted to play with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Well, the Kings are anything but that, so in December they mutually decided to part ways.

According to many hockey analysts, Kovalchuk is still very motivated and wants to play. Bergevin said himself in a press conference that this move may work, or it may not, but it’s totally up to the player.

If the move works, Kovalchuk will likely get dealt again at the trade deadline should the Canadiens still be out of the playoff picture at that point. If not, they terminate his contract and everyone goes on with their lives.

Trading Kovalchuk at the deadline, should he pick up his play, would literally be Bergevin creating something out of nothing, when it comes to assets.

A lot of people are calling for Bergevin’s head saying that this was a desperate move. I think it was an incredibly savvy move on his part.

Colour commentary: NHL needs more division games

The NHL needs to restructure its regular season schedule if it wants to have more appeal late in the season. Currently, most teams play their division opponents four times each, with three games against teams in the opposing division in the same conference. Each team also plays every team from the opposite conference twice: once on the road and once at home.

The league changed its divisions and season structure in 2013 and wanted to make sure each NHL team plays in every arena. That way, fans in every city have the chance to see all teams, whereas before, Eastern teams would only play a team from the West once a year, with the host rotating each year.

It’s a great structure for fans, especially if you support a team outside of your hometown. A San Jose Sharks fan in Montreal gets the opportunity to see their team play every season. Although good for ticket sales, this format is not good for the standings.

The NHL uses a division-based playoff system, with the top-three teams in each division making the playoffs—two extra teams from each conference qualify through wild card spots. So teams are in a tight battle with their division rivals all season long, but only get to play them four times.

This season, the Montreal Canadiens are in a close playoff race with their two main rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. They already played the Bruins four times, with their last game on Jan. 14. It’s an injustice that these two teams won’t meet again this season. The Canadiens didn’t play the Leafs from opening night on Oct. 3 until last Saturday—that’s a four-month break.

It just doesn’t make sense that fans see these great rivalries only two more times than a game against a team from the opposite conference. In reality, interconference games are useless for the standings, and there should be more intradivision games.

In 2005, the NHL had teams playing their own division eight times, which led to some crazy games between the Habs and Leafs. We need to see more of that now.

When Seattle joins the NHL in 2021 and evens out the divisions to eight teams each, the league should adapt a new schedule. In an 82-game season, it would make sense to play your division six times each (42 games total), opposing division three times each (24 games) and once against opposite-conference teams (16 games).

It’s also much easier to market Montreal-Boston six times a season for TV ratings than Montreal-Arizona for two games.

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Music

From Bell Centre to Phi Centre

Sara Diamond is more than an opening act

Montreal’s 23-year-old Sara Diamond is used to singing in front of a crowd of more than 20,000, but on Nov. 29, all 300 eyes at the Phi Centre were there to see the R&B artist shine her own light.

Diamond is most known throughout the city as one of the Montreal Canadiens’ national anthem singers. She began performing the American national anthem throughout the 2013-14 Habs playoff season and has since been asked back regularly, having become a fan favourite. However, Diamond’s lengthy and complex career with music began years before she made her way to the Bell Centre.

“My mom started a label when she was pregnant. When I was 5 or 6, she started recording stuff and writing, and she was like ‘my daughter can sing! Produce her.’” said Diamond.

At 10 years old, Diamond began working with a vocal coach who helped her apply for a FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) grant, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to Canadian musicians. After getting accepted, a representative on the board of FACTOR told her that she was talented and that they wanted to manage her.

From a young age, Diamond had a lot of support from the people around her when it came to her future in music. Her manager then brought her to audition in Los Angeles for a girls group that was being formed by Interscope Records. Just four days after arriving in L.A., Diamond was signed and would go on to spend the next year and a half living in California with her mother. While the Clique Girlz group only lasted three months due to management and parental disputes, Diamond stuck around to see what the city had to offer her as a solo artist. However, her shyness, loneliness and lack of organization as a teenager prevented her from growing as an artist so she decided to leave L.A.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I wish I were home. I don’t want to be here,’” Diamond said. “It wasn’t the right time. By the end of it I was like ‘if I’m in L.A., I want to be famous. I don’t want be here. I’m homesick. I’m sad.’”

When Diamond returned to Montreal, she felt like her experience in L.A. had ruined singing for her, at least for the time being. She instead spent her teen years experiencing everything she had missed out on years before. “When I got home, I got to experience everything I wanted to do. The heartache, the love, the high school drama and all that stuff to write about,” Diamond said.

When she turned 19, Diamond was thrust back into music when offered the chance to audition to sing the national anthem for the Montreal Canadiens. At the age of 12, Diamond had sung for the Alouettes and always wanted to sing for the Habs. After auditioning and getting the gig, the singer performed the National Anthem during the playoff season. Once the season was over, Diamond was unsure whether she would be asked back.

“I guess because I wasn’t really doing anything music-wise, feeling that passion again from the Habs stuff kind of brought that back to me and I found that love again,” Diamond said. “I started working on music again. Just recording, and writing.”
Diamond began working with friends who also hoped to help her thrive in the Montreal music scene. However, she was initially rejected after applying for a FACTOR grant. Behind-the-scenes complications, along with more heartbreak, resulted in her aspirations falling apart.

Diamond described her journey with music as a lot of “almosts.” She once had a handshake deal with Universal Canada that almost went through, but management restructuring weeks later stopped them from taking on any new signees. It was not until Diamond recorded a song with Rebel House Records and the Montreal Children’s Hospital for P.K. Subban’s event that the pieces started coming back together again.

“Everything’s kind of happened super organically,” Diamond said. “Ever since I came back from L.A., there’s been this struggle between ‘I don’t want to do music, but something pulls me back towards it.’ It’s cool cause I’m really just riding the wave.”

And riding the wave seems to be what Diamond does best. After being accepted for a FACTOR grant last December, Sara Diamond released her first seven-track EP entitled Foreword. On Thursday night, the artist performed her biggest solo show in front of family, friends, and fans at the Phi Centre. It was clear the crowd had been waiting a long time to see Diamond in the spotlight after years of build-up in anticipation of the musician’s local debut.

Sara Diamond wows spectators at Phi Centre during Foreword’s Montreal debut. Photo by Jacob Carey.

After opening act Toito performed, Diamond hit the stage and sang all seven songs from Foreword. The artist also paid homage to her inspirations by performing covers of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys and “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean. Diamond finished the night by singing “Ride,” a track that has yet to be released. The crowd was visibly wowed by her natural stage presence and her radiant smile that she frequently shone to fans.

Sara Diamond may have had a busy 2018, and 2019 shows no signs of slowing down. Her single with Montreal electronic duo Adventure Club, “Follow Me,” was released last week. She just debuted her music video for “Know My Name” on Billboard, and Diamond just finished opening for Tyler Shaw in Montreal and Quebec City. Next week, she’ll be premiering new music. And, she promises more to come in the New Year.

“I think it’s just the beginning, I hope,” Diamond said. “It’s like part two—the next chapter.”

Feature photo by Jacob Carey.

Categories
Sports

Exploring the Habs Stanley Cup chances

With the post-season approaching, now is the time to see if the Montreal Canadiens can win a cup

The NHL regular season is almost finished, which means playoffs are just a few weeks away. Sixteen teams will make it to the post-season, but only one team will come away with the Stanley Cup. Of course, since we are in Montreal, now is a great time to look at our beloved bleu, blanc et rouge’s chances at a championship.

Thanks to goaltender Carey Price, captain Max Pacioretty and new forward Alex Radulov, the Habs have led the Atlantic division all season long. In the past few weeks, the Ottawa Senators have come close to taking the lead, but the Habs were able to increase their division lead by beating the Senators in three straight games. With only a few games left, the Habs have a comfortable division lead and will most likely win it.

This means in the first round of the playoffs, the Canadiens will play against the New York Rangers. Since the Rangers are in a strong Metropolitan division, they got stuck as a wild card team, despite having more points than the Canadiens for most of the season. In the first round, the Habs will have a home-ice advantage.

The Rangers are a fairly young team with players like forwards J.T Miller and Mika Zibanejad. This season, they were a high-scoring team, however, the Rangers struggled on defence with veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist letting in more goals than usual.

They’re a good team, but the Habs have enjoyed quite a bit of success against them this season. The Habs won the last two meetings of the season against them, and Lundqvist is notorious for playing poorly at the Bell Centre.

While there are no guarantees, the Rangers are definitely a beatable team and, with the Habs on the upswing after hiring head coach Claude Julien, they should be able to advance. As long as Carey Price stays healthy, I see the Habs winning the first round in six games.

Once the team moves to the second round, they will play the winner of the other Atlantic division series. While the playoff picture has not been ironed out yet, the other round will either be Ottawa against Toronto or Ottawa against Boston. Either way, the Senators are the superior team in each situation as their goaltending, offence and defence have all been clicking this year.

In a seven-game series with the Habs, once again, I see the Habs taking this in six. Ottawa has been good, but the Habs won the last three match-ups of the season against the Sens and, at this point, they are in their heads. I predict Price would win the goalie duel against Anderson and the Habs would frustrate the Sens with their speed. It would be a good series, but the Habs would take it.

With two playoff series won, the Habs would play in the Eastern Conference final. The favourites to make it there out of the Metropolitan division are the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals.

Regardless of which team makes it, that is where the Habs season will come to an end. The Penguins and the Capitals have been two of the best teams in the NHL all season, and the Habs haven’t shown they can beat them. Trying to beat either team four times in seven games is a feat I just don’t see the Habs doing. Their offence isn’t good enough and, while Price is one of the best goalie in the NHL, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are too powerful to stop, even for an elite-calibre goalie.

Maybe next year Montreal.

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