You couldn’t help but laugh.
When Carey Price misplayed the puck in the dying seconds of the Montreal Canadiens’ season-ending 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, allowing Patrick Marleau to score, there was no anger. Or, at least there shouldn’t have been.
No, the place for anger was months ago. Denial, too. Usually when a season ends, unless you’re the Stanley Cup champion, fans are frustrated. But not for Canadiens fans. It wasn’t a sense of despair or what went wrong. It was relief.
This season couldn’t have gone much worse. From Price’s struggles and injuries, to Shea Weber, to an “improved” defence proving their general manager wrong. This team was many different shades of disappointing. And that, in a way, is encouraging.
I fully expect the Canadiens to make changes to the roster and the organization this summer. But as bad as the results for this team were for much of the 82 game season, I have zero doubt that if they had the exact same roster next season, they would be a better team. A playoff team? Maybe not. But they wouldn’t be the 28th team in a 31 team league.
That’s where the hope is.
Now it comes down to what changes they will make.
We already know that Marc Bergevin and Claude Julien will be back next season. I would imagine there will be other changes at both the NHL and AHL levels with regards to the coaching staffs.
There will be some changes to the roster as well. I’m not going to fathom a guess as to what will be done, but let’s just say if I were to speak at next year’s Canadiens golf tournament, I would be able to say that the 2018-19 defence is better than the 2017-18 edition and not be laughed at.
That’s where the hope is.
As bad as the second half of the season was, as long and as draining as it was, there is reason for hope.
Jeff Petry had absolute flashes of brilliance. And sure, there were times he was caught, but when you are the best defenceman on the team with a bunch of rookies or bottom pairing guys, what do you expect?
Noah Juulsen eliminated all doubts about his NHL future. He is an NHL defenceman right now. Whether that means he will start next year in the NHL remains to be seen. He is one of the few defenceman to not need waivers next season. Victor Mete gained confidence after the World Juniors, and in his second NHL season, he should be much better now that he will be trusted more.
Players like Nikita Scherbak and Jacob de la Rose may not be ready for the NHL full-time, or at least regular NHL roles, but they definitely showed that they belong in the league. Players got a taste of the NHL, which is always good for their futures.
So with the 82nd game being played, it is now time to turn the page, and for the Canadiens, that’s looking towards next year instead of 2017-18.