• By: Dave Gross

Hockey’s back, Part II! (Well, almost)

Last week Ottawa had its fill, this week we move on to its chief rival(s) in Montreal and Toronto.

In case you missed it, what we’re attempting to do here is toss together a number of questions-and-answers-and-observations regarding said teams, as National Hockey League training camps and the regular season draw closer.

Some are even relevant and might cause pause for thought.

Let’s face it, hockey passionistas are craving a fix – particularly here in Ottawa where it’s been dry-gulch-city since 2017. And as we know, the passion metre in both Original 6 locales, Montreal and Toronto, is generally off the charts 24-7 as well.

If you’re timing things too, camps open for all three clubs on Sept. 11th. All three start exhibition play on Sept. 15th.

So here we go . . .


How fast can that baby-blueline grow up?

First-rounder David Reinbacher is on his way but needs time; Hobey Baker finalist Lane Hutson is a special talent and will join Reinbacher soon; Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron have arrived; trust in Johnathan Kovacevic grew as last season wrapped; Logan Mailloux figures into the mix in due time; and Arber Xhekaj is a beautiful human being (hey, it’s an opinion piece people).

The fact that Kovacevic’s the old man in this group at 26 (and the least enticing of these youngsters) has Hab Fan anticipating great things in the future.

Another growth year in Montreal on the back end but they’re getting oh-so-close.

Cleaning out the attic

Montreal’s management team is on the ball, big time.

Mike Hoffman and his $4.5 million US cap hit is gone. Meantime Jeff Petry – the human trading chip – first brought in a younger, better replacement in Mike Matheson . . . then was re-acquired . . .  then quickly sent out again for (yet another) defence prospect in Gustav Lindstrom.

A tidy bit of business.

More Marty

When Martin St. Louis was brought here in Feb. 2022, the mighty Habs weren’t only bad, they were a depressed lot. Down on their luck and down on themselves.

St. Louis, a guy used to winning during his playing career, turned the dressing room around spiritually and the team responded with a more ‘responsible’ effort. Ask the skaters and they’ll tell you main change Marty brought in was instilling confidence in the youngsters.

2023-24 marks his second full term behind the bench.

“I’ve never been a guy that thinks he knows it all,” St. Louis said on a recent podcast. “I’ve always been somebody that’s willing to find the answers and the answers are everywhere. Sometimes you got to be patient to find them. I would say patience is huge in terms of finding those answers and it’s OK to not have all the answers, but it’s a crime if you’re not willing to find them.”

Can a ‘haunt’ really go on and on for five years?


You’ve heard of the seven-year itch and here’s the five-year haunt. If Montreal hadn’t gone snake-oil salesman and stuck to the original deal – which was to not draft wild card Jesper Kotkaniemi at Pick No. 3 – the Habs would likely be knocking on the door of the post-season a lot quicker.

Imagine the absolute hit Brady Tkachuk (one pick after Jesper to Ottawa) would have been and would be for years in La Belle Province: A big personality with a big body . . . joie de vivre.

Then there was the possibility of landing swift blueliner Quinn Hughes (seventh to Vancouver).

Big sigh.

I guess the goal of this piece is to dwell on the future, not the past. But something this out-front can’t be ignored . . . for at least another five years.


How ‘bout this defensive juggernaut?


We’ll get to the Good Brad Treliving Story in short order. For now? The troubling stuff: The defence.

Not since the Ottawa Senators believed the answers to their prayers involved Josh Brown and Victor Mete playing big minutes have we seen such a mess.

For all Toronto’s good points – and they have many – the defensive gang is not one of them. As my old broadcast partner Shawn Simpson would say: “Soft as church music.”

Here’s your wow factor: T.J. Brodie, Morgan Rielly, Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren, John Klingberg and Jake McCabe.

Outside of McCabe the hits will be short-lived from this group.

This group has ‘steamrolled’ written all over it. Not a good formula come playoff time.

Treliving will need to address this.

The up-front guys though? Outstanding

No question there. Treliving did in a few short weeks what Kyle Dubas never could – bring in a couple of quarts of mustard for the hot dogs.

Adding guys like Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to the front lines gives the club edge and talent when it counts the most (Bertuzzi had five goals, 10 points with Boston in seven post-season games last season while Domi chipped in 13 points for Dallas in 19).

After being Sam Bennett-ized by Florida in the second round, Toronto’s brought in its own version, X-two.

And forget the much-critiqued short-term deals for these two. Toronto is in must-win-now mode.

(Mind you, that’s been said many times the last two seasons.)

What’s next there Auston?

Punching out Steve Stamkos would be a start. But I digress.

Seriously folks, now that Auston has Bertuzzi and Domi riding shotgun, perhaps the uber-talent gets more room to dazzle.

There’s not a better shot in the entire league (OK, Draisaitl’s right there too) and a healthy and exceedingly rich Matthews should get back to near-60 this season.

No-one’s more tired of losing when it counts more than Matthews (well maybe Marner, and of course the 18-billion fans aboard Leaf Nation).

Ryan Reaves, yay or nay

You’re either on-board with this signing or not.

Shocking, I know, but I’m of the former.

I really don’t care how many games Reaves dresses for or how many minutes he plays or (ridiculously being argued) how many goals he scores, the idea that he’s actually there is enough for me.

Reaves has never been a goal-scorer or minute-grabber. He’s fairly proficient at intimidation though and if you don’t think fear-factor plays a role (still) in hockey, move on.

“All hail King Reavo!”

Bring back Cujo?

Well, as my dad used to inform me: “You can’t have everything you know . . .”

We’ve ripped apart the defence here and fluffed the pillows on the forwards. The goaltending? To-be-determined.

Ilya Samsonov, fresh into a very reasonable dollar-figure, is Toronto’s No. 1. He’s kind of Chris-Osgoode-good; not great, but good enough.

Joe Woll and newly inked Martin Jones likely act as back-ups.

Not much to see here or get terribly wound up about.

And hey, whatever happened to Matt Murray?


Photo of Treliving courtesy TorSun. Habs photo courtesy nhl.com