With the NHL’s 24-team return-to-play protocol announcement earlier this week came a renewed hope for the Montreal Canadiens‘ 2019-20 campaign.
Having just made the cut for the Stanley Cup tournament’s qualifying round, the Canadiens land in a fortunate position with one foot in the post-season and the other still eying those draft lottery odds.
Should the league be able to execute its return-to-play plan, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is particularly keen to see how some of his team’s young stars can rise to the challenge in a series again the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“As far as we’re concerned, it gives us, our young players, an opportunity to play some meaningful games,” Bergevin said during an appearance on Hockey Central on Friday. “I know the draft lottery has changed a bit for us, but at the end of the day, what are we playing for? For a better draft pick, when the season starts, or to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup and make the playoffs?
“So, I think we’ve been lucky that it turned out the way it’s happened now.”
The opportunity to see players like Nick Suzuki and Victor Mete in high-stakes situations will be invaluable to Montreal, and the chance to get Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling — both of whom suffered injuries late in the season and spent time with AHL Laval — will bring a much-needed next step in their development. Young veterans, too, like Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi, have yet to experience playoff hockey with Montreal.
“We have some young vets who have never played playoff games since I’ve been here, so I think, overall, it can only help down the road,” he said.
Depending on their play-in fate, “down the road” could include the opportunity to draft a top-three selection — or even have a shot at projected No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, thanks to the league’s two-phased approach to the draft lottery this year to accommodate those eliminated in the qualifying round. Tempting as it may be, if a “placeholder” team is given a shot at a top pick, Bergevin said there’s “no chance” that would sway his playoff aspirations.
“No chance. Once the puck drops, starting now, if it does happen, all I want, all I’m thinking, all I want my players to think and my coaches, is to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins,” he said. “I don’t care about anything else. I really don’t.
“That’s how we are,” he said. “You want to win. I want to win. Bottom line.”