3 bold Canadiens predictions for 2022: Shane Wright in bleu, blanc et rouge

Canada's Shane Wright (15) and Czech Republic's David Spacek (3) battle for the puck during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on Sunday, December 26, 2021. (Jason Franson/CP)

This is a lemon assignment for me — making bold predictions about the most unpredictable team in the National Hockey League.

We’re talking about a Montreal Canadiens team that went to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final last July and essentially missed the 2022 playoffs by the end of this past October. No one saw either of those things coming.

So, how am I supposed to figure out what happens next?

Barely a month into the Jeff Gorton era, with interviews pending to hire a new general manager, how can I reasonably predict anything, let alone come up with something bold?

I’m punting…

Editor just called, said punting is not an option.

Fine. Here are three bold predictions about the Canadiens.

Brendan Gallagher won’t be traded before the trade deadline

Teams will come calling, especially after Gallagher opened the door to potentially moving on from the Canadiens if Gorton sends them down the path of a full rebuild.

“This is my 10th season now,” Gallagher said when he was asked in late November if he’d want to stay in Montreal under those circumstances. “I’ve always come in with the expectations to win. I felt like my teammates had the same goal, I felt like management had the same goal and sometimes organizations go through those things. I guess those are conversations that would probably need to be had down the road.

“But for me, I play this game to win. It’s really the only way I can enjoy it. You don’t always have to win every game, but the important thing is I need to feel like we’re trying to win. I need to feel like it’s important. If that’s the decision that they want to make, those are probably conversations that you have to have going forward.”

No matter where that conversation goes, it’s hard to imagine it leading to Gallagher moving before Mar. 21.

The heart-and-soul winger is in the first year of a six-year, $39-million contract. He has a no-movement clause and partial no-trade, and the idea that you can push him out (without retaining money) and recoup good value is farfetched.

Not that teams won’t appreciate what Gallagher brings to the table. He’ll play any role, bring everyone around him into the fight, and he still has the potential to be 25-goal scorer for years to come.

But if you’re an acquiring team, you’re looking at his four goals in his last 37 playoff games and using it as leverage—on top of his lofty contract—to steal him away from the Canadiens.

If you’re Montreal, you’re asking yourself if the player is worth more to you than he is on the market.

The answer is, he’s worth more to you. Gallagher is the player you make captain, the one you want leading a new crop of up-and-coming players, and not a guy you move for pennies on the dollar.

“I still feel like this is an organization I love dearly,” he said on Nov. 30. “That’s probably not being strong enough with it. I love this city, I love everything about it.”

If you’re Gorton, lean into that and convince Gallagher to stick around for the time being.

Unless, of course, someone makes you an offer you absolutely can’t refuse.

It’s just highly unlikely that offer is coming prior to the deadline.

Tyler Toffoli will be traded before the trade deadline

Toffoli has two years left under contract after this one and he hardly fits in the guaranteed-to-be-traded category like, say, pending unrestricted free agent Ben Chiarot.

And considering the 29-year-old is out another six weeks, after undergoing hand surgery on Dec. 11, he’s probably under the radar as a trade target.

The thing is, even if Toffoli has only scored five goals in 29 games this season, he had 28 in 52 last year before scoring some big ones and posting 14 points in 22 playoff games. The Scarborough, Ont., native, who hoisted the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, has a penchant for coming up clutch when it matters most.

He’s a player who helps get you to the playoffs and helps get you through them, so you have to think teams making a push for the playoffs—and Cup contenders—will be interested.

And it’s unlikely Toffoli’s $4.25-million average salary scares anyone away. There will be little concern about fitting his prorated salary under the cap by the time we get to late March, and the remaining two years are almost guaranteed to be bargains for any team that snatches him up.

That Toffoli doesn’t have any trade protection baked into his contract is a bonus for an acquiring team, as he can be moved again down the line to recoup some assets.

Canadiens land the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft

This is also a bold one because, let’s be honest, even if the Canadiens are currently in second-to-last place in the NHL, they’re more likely to damage their lottery odds than stay there from here to the end of the season.

Carey Price will probably return soon. Paul Byron and Joel Edmundson, too. Some players who have underperformed will pick up their games. And no matter how many players get traded or injured, a regression to the mean seems inevitable.

It’s not likely to be long-lasting, but you could see a surge moving the Canadiens just far enough up the standings to make landing the top pick more improbable.

But I can just as easily see them bottoming out from here to the end of the season. We’re still talking about a team that hasn’t won consecutive games since the puck dropped in October.

Even if the Canadiens move up a bit from the bottom, I feel like there’s an element of destiny at play. With the draft being hosted in Montreal, it’s not hard to imagine the lottery balls falling into place for the Canadiens to land Shane Wright.

I’m predicting it happens.

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