BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens had many bumps in the road during the 2022-23 season but nothing marked their campaign more than injuries.
Cole Caufield (shoulder), Christian Dvorak (knee), Sean Monahan (groin) and Arber Xhekaj all had to undergo season-ending surgeries. Josh Anderson (ankle), Kaiden Guhle (ankle), Kirby Dach (concussion) and Juraj Slafkovsky (lower body) also had their seasons cut short.
Head coach Martin St. Louis and the Habs front office were forced to recall player after player in order to have enough bodies on the ice.
General manager Kent Hughes said Canadiens management will “evaluate every injury case” in the coming weeks in order to see what the organization can improve on.
“We led the league in man games lost last year, and I think we broke the record this year so we’re pretty mindful of it,” added executive vice president Jeff Gorton. “We’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out where we’ve got to get better and it’s definitely something not lost on us.”
As doubts began to rise around the effectiveness of the medical staff, Joel Edmundson gave them a vote of confidence and referred to Montreal’s season-long injury bug as “bad luck.”
“We have a bunch of ankles, knees, stuff you can’t control,” said Edmundson. “It’s a tough game, there’s gonna be injuries and just happened that there’s a bunch this season.
“I think everyone’s just excited for a nice long summer to get healthy, get stronger and hope for a healthy season. That’s all we can ask for.”
Sean Monahan also admitted that players have their role in the situation, saying “it was my choice” to return to play. Monahan came back from a broken foot against his former team, the Calgary Flames, on Dec. 1. He was later ruled out of the season after undergoing groin surgery.
“I’ve played through a lot of injuries in my career, and I’ve played through a broken foot multiple times, he said. “I really wanted to play that game against Calgary. It was obviously an important game to me.”
“Am I totally honest (with the medical staff)? Probably not,” said Brendan Gallagher, who injured his ankle a second time while blocking a shot. “You want to be in the lineup, you want to be there. They assess you, they deal with you, but they can only deal with so much information. As a player, you have that responsibility.”
BRIGHT FUTURE, HIGHER EXPECTATIONS
The Canadiens stayed in high spirits despite ending two consecutive seasons in the bottom five of the National Hockey League. Hughes’ rebuild plan paired with St. Louis’ drive for success has the players foreseeing an upward trajectory in Montreal.
“I think that we have a lot of potential in this group,” said Kirby Dach. “I think this year maybe the results weren’t there at all times but we’re able to compete with some of the top teams and play hard games.”
While the rebuild plan is still in effect, Hughes made his players understand during his exit meetings that this will be an important off-season for the team.
“We want them to know that our expectations are changing,” Hughes said. “I don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs but we’re not coming into the season saying it’s a foregone conclusion.
“We want to push to try to make the playoffs. If we don’t make the playoffs, that’s fine. It is what it is as long as along the way we’ve seen a great effort.”
Comparing his Montreal rebuild project to the one he had started with the New York Rangers as general manager, Gorton called for fans to keep trusting their process.
“I don’t like to put timetables on something,” Gorton said. “The fans’ expectations are going to be there to win more on a regular basis but I would just ask for a little more patience and understand that it’s coming.”
DROUIN: OPEN TO STAYING
After six seasons with the Canadiens, Jonathan Drouin may have played his final game with the team last Thursday against the Bruins.
The 28-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent in the summer and will test the market. However, Drouin hasn’t shut the door on his hometown team.
“They told me they’ll make some management decisions and they’ll look for me and what the lineup will look like,” said Drouin. “I was very open to coming back. I love how Martin thinks about the game, it’s a really good place to play and I think that the best is yet to come for the Montreal Canadiens.”
BYRON CONSIDERING MANAGEMENT
Paul Byron didn’t play a single game this season and his contract with the Canadiens runs out this summer, but he isn’t ready to hang up his skates. Several setbacks, including a hip injury which needed surgery, have left the forward unable to play due to the lingering pain.
“I still want to play but I know it’s tougher with every passing day,” Byron said. “I will take time to make a decision. I’m not ready to make a decision right now but maybe in the next few weeks.”
Byron decided to stay in Montreal this season, notably watching games alongside Hughes and Gorton. The 34-year-old added that he expressed his desire to possibly transition into management during his exit meeting.
“Obviously that could be a factor in my decision going forward,” Byron said. “New management, new teams, they don’t know you. So I just took the time to kind of be there, put myself out there and let them get to know me and the kind of person I am.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.
Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press