Three bold predictions for the Montreal Canadiens in 2020

Montreal Canadiens' Shea Weber (6) celebrates with teammates Artturi Lehkonen (62), Victor Mete (53) and Jonathan Drouin (92) after Lehkonen's goal during first period NHL pre-season hockey action against the New Jersey Devils, in Montreal, Monday, September 16, 2019. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Predictions, eh?

I’m going for bold here, but not Doritos Bold. I don’t want the flavour of these to be too off-putting, so I’m more angling for things that might actually happen versus ridiculous stuff that probably never will.

Still, with more than half a season remaining, I’m going out on a limb with no matter what I predict. So, here goes nothing.

1. The Montreal Canadiens are going to finish in one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division.

There’s no part of me that believes the Canadiens can conjure enough magic to somehow overtake the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic, but second or third is a race between them and four other teams and they just have to beat three of them to finish in one of those two other spots.

I’m no math wiz, but I’m fairly confident this equation checks out.

Now, going on probability, Montreal is currently in one of those two other spots—sitting third in the Atlantic—so this is an achievable mandate.

What makes it bold, though, is two-fold. First off, the Canadiens certainly wouldn’t be considered an on-paper favourite to finish ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Tampa Bay Lightning, and we’re not sure most people would consider them a favourite to beat the Florida Panthers or Buffalo Sabres to second or third in the division, either. And secondly, 23 of Montreal’s 45 remaining games will be played away from the Bell Centre.

The good news for the Canadiens is they’ve been better on the road than they have been at home thus far.

2. Marc Bergevin is staying on as general manager whether the Canadiens make the playoffs or not.

Nothing too spicy about keeping Bergevin on as GM if the Canadiens make it, but it’s bold as bold can be to say he’ll keep his job if they miss for the fourth time in five seasons and for a third season in a row.

Ever since Bergevin kept his job out of the miserable 2017-18 season—he blamed the players for having a bad attitude, but he created that bad attitude with some bad management—it’s been clear that he successfully sold owner Geoff Molson on a plan to revitalize this roster. And so far, the work that’s been done in that aim, both on the draft floor and on the development front, has been nothing short of impressive.

Molson is clearly on board and said as much in this late-November interview with The Athletic’s Sean Gordon.

That Bergevin has made it clear he won’t deviate from the plan, selling off premium future assets for a quick fix, has likely only galvanized support from Molson.

There’s plenty of risk that I’ll be wrong about this prediction—especially if the Canadiens completely fall apart from here to the end of the season. But even if I’m wrong on my first prediction that they’ll finish in one of the top three spots in the division, I still think they’ll be in the fight for a playoff spot until the bitter end.

So, in my mind, Bergevin’s going to have a ninth year at the helm of the team. And if all goes according to plan, he’ll likely be in his seat at least until his contract expires in 2022.

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3. Shea Weber finishes as a Norris Trophy finalist for the fourth time in his career.

Hey, if Weber keeps up the level of play we’ve seen from him through 37 games—and if he stays healthy—there’s no question he’ll get the support of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members who watch him every night.

But all of us in Montreal should also be able to make a compelling enough case for the writers in the 30 other markets to consider him worthy of a top-three spot when all is said and done. Something along the lines of this Twitter thread I wrote a couple weeks back:

Granted, this is a case for Weber to eventually win the Norris, which I know is not going to stack up against the one John Carlson is building as a standout with the Washington Capitals.

Again, I’m not going Doritos Bold with this prediction, but I digress…

I will say that Carlson plays regularly with future Hall of Famers Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and point-per-gamer Evgeny Kuznetsov while Weber’s currently running point of a power play unit that depends on Canadiens third-liners Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins down low, and that should be a factor that gets considered when the time comes. And we’re far away from time coming.

Weber, who has 11 goals and 30 points, may not catch Carlson (13 goals, 48 points), but he might be able to close the gap enough to make this a real conversation.

I’m not betting against that possibility, and neither is 2019 Norris winner Mark Giordano.

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