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Are the Montreal Canadiens really that offensively challenged?

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A look at how the Habs forwards stack up against some of the perceived big guns of the Atlantic Division

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Five Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again:

“While they added Drouin in the off-season, they didn’t do much more to improve a stagnant offence.” - SB Nation Season Preview

“The Canadiens’ fatal flaw — lack of scoring — will push GM Marc Bergevin to pull the trigger and trade for Matt Duchene before Christmas.” - 31 Bold Predictions for the NHL Season, TSN

Case against: No team did more with less offence than the Canadiens, who were 15th in goals (223) and tied for seventh in wins (47).” - 2017-18 NHL Season Preview: Montreal Canadiens, ESPN

“Au-delà de ce premier trio, et malgré la pétarade de samedi soir, il existe encore de l'incertitude à l'attaque. [Beyond the first line, and despite Saturday night’s fireworks, uncertainty in the attack still exists.]” - Malgré les victoires de la fin de semaine, les incertitudes persistent chez le Canadien, RDS

On the one hand, these notions are understandable. The Montreal Canadiens do not have a historical record of scoring large amounts of goals. The offence was a debacle versus the New York Rangers in last year’s post-season and the team did not astound anyone with their offensive prowess during the pre-season. But are these perceptions actually couched in facts, or has history pulled a fog over everyone’s eyes?

Remember, the Canadiens scored 226 goals last season, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference and 15th in the NHL. They accomplished this despite a power play that certainly did not meet expectations and in spite of playing under Michel Therrien’s system for the majority of the season. To that offence, Bergevin has added Jonathan Drouin, Charles Hudon, and Ales Hemsky, with the only subtraction of substance being Alexander Radulov.

Let’s perform a simple exercise. Take the current 13 forwards on the Habs roster and sum up their NHL-level games played and goals scored from last season (no adjustments).

Projected opening day lineups for the Montreal Canadiens. Colour bands indicate quartile stratification, with brightest indicating top liners (rank 1-90) and faintest indicating fourth liners (rank 270+).

What we get is an average of 0.222 goals per game for each player, or 2.66 goals per game. That number, over 82 games, adds up to 218.4 goals for the season from the forwards alone.

On the one hand, this number is certainly inflated because it’s not normalized to TOI. Hemsky, for example, will likely play fewer minutes with Montreal than he did in Dallas, and Drouin will cause a trickle-down effect which will decrease minutes for the likes of Alex Galchenyuk and Phillip Danault.

On the other hand, this number is before considering that Hudon will likely bring more to the table than his zero goals last year; That Galchenyuk is a good bet to pot at least 20 goals; that at least one of Brendan Gallagher or Tomas Plekanec will surpass 10; and that all of these factors will exceed whatever regression may hit Torrey Mitchell, Paul Byron and/or Artturi Lehkonen.

Therefore, it should be perfectly reasonable to assume that the offence actually has improved quite significantly relative to last year.

How does that improvement stack up against the feared azure offences of the Toronto Maple Leafs (251 total goals in 2016-17) and Tampa Bay Lightning (234)?

Projected opening day lineups for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Toronto roster based on information from Pension Plan Puppets. Tampa Bay roster based on information from Capfriendly.com. Colour bands indicate quartile stratification, with brightest indicating top liners (rank 1-90) and faintest indicating fourth liners (rank 270+).

As it turns out, not that badly.

Montreal can’t quite stack up against the top-end power of Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov, but four-line depth sees the Habs’ forwards thoroughly outclass Tampa Bay’s bottom six and remain competitive against a Toronto team that prefers Matt Martin to Kasperi Kapanen. Even a full season of Steven Stamkos only brings the Lightning to parity with the revamped Glorieux.

Any conversation about the Canadiens invariably turns to Carey Price and Shea Weber, painting the image of a team that must win 1-0 if they are to win at all. However, the Canadiens are clearly not devoid of firepower upfront, and while not necessarily the reincarnation of the 1984 Edmonton Oilers, certainly have enough offence to place themselves as a Stanley Cup contender.

To close, remember this: last season Toronto outscored the Habs by 25 goals en route to finishing eight points behind the Canadiens in their division. Montreal would not complain about a repeat performance.