MONTREAL — Let’s be honest: 2018 might go down as the most forgettable year in the 109-year history of the Montreal Canadiens.
Those early days were particularly gruelling, as the Canadiens were in the process of spiralling towards an embarrassing 28th-place finish in the standings.
By March, injuries had rendered the team virtually unrecognizable, and all the losing in months prior had damaged the brand — and affected ticket sales — considerably.
April through August was no picnic for the team’s faithful, either. They first suffered through an unpalatable press conference owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin held to close the 2017-18 debacle, in which the players — who were held accountable over the course of 82 games of mostly losing — were blamed for having a poor attitude while neither executive indicted himself for why things turned out as they did.
And then there was the Max Pacioretty situation, which was a seemingly interminable standoff between the Canadiens and their captain that bled through the summer months.
But today we’re going to focus on the positive memories. Considering how much bad there was, it was surprisingly easy for us to find 18 good things to come out of 2018 for the Canadiens. Moments on and off the ice that caught our attention, some of which will have a lasting impact on the franchise for years to come.
We’ve made our list and checked it twice.
18. Matthew Peca’s hidden piano talent wows teammates and fans alike
A professional hockey player finds a piano in a Chicago hotel lobby, sits down, and proceeds to slay a perfect, note-for-note rendition of the introduction to Outkast’s “Roses”?
We’re here for this.
Not only is he a good looking hockey player, but he also knows how to play the piano! Matthew Peca Ladies and Gentlemen pic.twitter.com/dEfpNP42OV
— Lamiss (@Lamiss927) December 9, 2018
17. Carey Price gets huge ovation for passing Jacques Plante for most appearances by a Canadiens goaltender
It was Price’s 557th start with the Canadiens, setting a franchise record towards the end of the worst season of his career.
It was a season that saw him booed on several occasions. A season that saw him mock-cheered many times, too.
That’s why it meant so much to Price, on April 3, when the Canadiens played a tribute video with Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden congratulating him for reaching the milestone and the fans gave him a massive ovation for passing the legendary Plante.
We won’t soon forget that scene, nor will we forget Price saying how much he actually needed that support.
16. Brendan Gallagher hits the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career
With five games left in the 2017-18 season, Gallagher scored twice to reach — and surpass — the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.
It was a nice story. Especially since Gallagher’s two prior campaigns were marred by horrific hand injuries that left him short of the 20-goal mark in both seasons.
“Those 30 goals are well deserved,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien on Mar. 26. “It’s an example of what hard work and perseverance and commitment and dedication is all about. He never complains about anything. He goes about and does his job. That’s what you expect from your leaders.”
15. Canadiens hire Dominique Ducharme as assistant coach
It was on April 27 that Bergevin announced the man who had coached Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship was joining the Canadiens’ bench.
A good move for a team that has speaking French as a prerequisite to being the head coach. If Ducharme is Julien’s heir apparent, might as well make him a part of the organization and groom him accordingly.
Also, Ducharme’s a good offensive strategist, as evidenced by the Canadiens being among the top teams in even-strength scoring this season.
14. Canadiens hire Joel Bouchard to coach the Laval Rocket
The announcement of Bouchard’s hiring, which came three weeks after Ducharme was hired, coincided with the firing of Sylvain Lefebvre, who had failed to bring the team’s AHL affiliate to the playoffs more than once over his six-year tenure.
Double win for the Canadiens, who were adding a fierce competitor with a very successful track record in Bouchard. Someone who, by all accounts, has a bright future in the organization.
13. Canadiens hire Luke Richardson to coach the defence
The July move shored up the Canadiens’ bench and wrapped up a summer’s worth of significant change in the team’s hockey operations department.
The reviews of Richardson’s performance since the pre-season got underway have been all positive.
“When I make a mistake, he just keeps it positive and tells me to move on,” said 20-year-old defenceman Noah Juulsen earlier this season. “We’ll watch it later on tape, but during the game he really keeps everyone calm and focused.”
That can’t be a bad thing.
12. The world is introduced to ‘Tatar Guy’
That would be a young Canadiens fan named Derek Toulouse, who stumbled in front of a Hockey Night in Canada camera earlier this season and gave us the gift that keeps on giving:
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) November 17, 2018
True story: Bell Centre announcer Michel Lacroix has since changed the way he pronounces Tatar’s last name on goal calls.
11. Paul Byron signs a four-year, $13.6-million extension
How could you not be happy for a guy who was originally claimed off waivers by the Canadiens?
Byron recorded 20 goals for a second straight season in 2017-18 and played out the string on a bum shoulder. Off-season surgery to fix it was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2018-19 season, but he rehabbed so aggressively that he was able to start training camp with no restrictions.
Byron’s reward? A big payday at 29 years old and some well-earned security with the team that values him so much it later named him an assistant captain.
10. Price passes Roy for second on the all-time Canadiens wins list
Posting a 33-save shutout to pass your boyhood idol as you climb up the ranks and get within reach of becoming the winningest goaltender in the regular season in Canadiens history? Priceless.
When Price did this on Oct. 27, it was certainly one of the best moments for the Canadiens in 2018. And it was unquestionably the best moment of the year for him.
9. Shea Weber named 30th captain in Canadiens history
It was on Oct. 1 that the Canadiens etched the fabled captain’s ‘C’ on Weber’s jersey, putting him in an elite club with the likes of Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bob Gainey and Saku Koivu among others.
It was a special moment that left Weber somewhat speechless, as Bergevin sat next to him and said the decision was unanimous among the Canadiens’ brass.
8. Bergevin trades Pacioretty for Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick
Considering how untenable it was for the Canadiens to hold on to Pacioretty after attempting to trade him and making it clear they wouldn’t renew his contract upon expiry in 2019, Bergevin shocked the hockey world with the return he got for his former captain on Sept. 10.
It looked like a win for Montreal when an A-level prospect in Suzuki — who was drafted 13th overall in 2017 — and a 2019 second-rounder were recouped from the Vegas Golden Knights for the perennial 30-goal scorer who was a year away from unrestricted free agency. Now it looks like a slam-dunk win with Tatar on pace to shatter his previous career highs and out-producing Pacioretty in every category while Vegas still pays some of his salary.
7. The Canadiens pull out a thrilling 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre
After a year’s worth of mostly terrible games at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens exploded in the third period to come back from down 4-3 and beat the reigning Stanley Cup Champions on Nov. 1 of this season.
It was a back-and-forth, hard-hitting affair that featured four lead changes, some miraculous saves and some beautiful goals. It was arguably one of the most exciting games ever played at the Bell Centre.
6. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scores his first goal as a Montreal Canadien
It was in that wild win for the Canadiens over Washington that Kotkaniemi became the youngest player in the NHL to score a goal this season.
The first of his career got the Canadiens on the board. It was a rising wrister from the left faceoff circle. A goal Kotkaniemi — and his fans — will likely remember forever.
5. The Canadiens move up a spot at the 2018 Draft Lottery
The odds were that after finishing 28th the Canadiens would be picking fourth overall at the June Draft.
But when the lottery balls fell into place on April 28, the Canadiens moved up to third, which was essentially the best thing that happened to them between September and May of last season.
4. Kotkaniemi officially makes the roster
We’d have never thought it possible after watching him stumble through his first appearance in a Canadiens uniform, when he looked completely lost in a rookie game against the Ottawa Senators.
But with each passing day after that, Kotkaniemi showed he could handle playing in the NHL as early as this season. And on Sept. 29, the Canadiens made it official they were keeping him.
The fans were apoplectic about this deal on June 15, with their Canadiens moving a former 30-goal scorer for a player who’d had only 36 goals over his career.
Little did they know this would be one of the best things that would happen to their team over 2018, with Domi moving to centre and recording more than a point per game over the first 30 of the 2018-19 season.
We didn’t predict Domi would be that good, but we had an inkling this trade might work out far better for the Canadiens than people expected.
The 23-year-old has been Montreal’s best player through the final three months of 2018.
2. Weber returns after 345-day absence
Off-season knee surgery, which followed a radical ankle procedure, was supposed to keep Weber on the sidelines until at least mid-December.
There was a chance the newly minted captain, who was officially shut down in December of 2017, wouldn’t play a game in 2018. Instead he returned on Nov. 27 to rousing ovations at the Bell Centre, and he played over 25 minutes in what ended up being a 2–1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that night.
His presence made a considerable difference, however, with the Canadiens registering a season-high 93 shot attempts in the game.
1. The Canadiens take Kotkaniemi third overall at the NHL Draft
They caught some people by surprise picking Kotkaniemi as high as they did (check the reaction of the Canadiens fan at 1:40 of the video below):
We’re not sure why. Throughout Bergevin’s six-year tenure as GM, he spoke ad nauseam about not being able to trade for or sign an impact centreman. How anyone could think he was going to pass on taking the consensus best centre available at the 2018 Draft is a mystery to us.
Considering how Kotkaniemi has fared in his first season, we’re thinking it would be hard to find a Canadiens fan who would want Bergevin to go back in time and reverse the decision.