With the signing of Tyler Toffoli, and the limited money available to Marc Bergevin, it is becoming more clear who is likely to be on the roster come opening night. Obviously everything stated regarding the upcoming season is subject to change, as the Habs may move a player out in a cap dump to get under the salary cap, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the opening lineup prior to 2019-20 season to the projected lineup given the current roster.
2019-20 Opening Day Lineup
Tatar - Danault - Gallagher
Lehkonen - Domi - Suzuki
Drouin - Kotkaniemi - Armia
Byron - Thompson - Weal
Mete - Weber
Chiarot - Petry
Kulak - Fleury
Reilly - Folin
Projected 2020-21 Opening Day Lineup
Tatar - Danault - Gallagher
Drouin - Suzuki - Anderson
Lehkonen - Kotkaniemi - Toffoli
Byron - Evans - Armia
Poehling - Weal
Chiarot - Weber
Edmundson - Petry
Kulak - Mete
When comparing these two lineups, it's really clear which team is more complete. The LW and first line project to be the same so for the sake of this post we won't discuss it too much. Down the middle Kotkaniemi and Danault slot into similar roles, however given his strong playoffs and progression, expectations for Kotkaniemi will certainly be elevated. Domi is obviously the biggest departure, however the emergence of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi should make the Canadiens Top 3 centres stronger as a whole. At 4C Nate Thompson is replaced by Jake Evans. Evans has the tools to be a very effective bottom 6 centre in the NHL, however if he fails to lock down that role, finding a replacement 4C should not be incredibly difficult. The most significant upgrade takes place with the RW position. Toffoli and Anderson replace the spot initially taken by Suzuki and Weal. Both are natural RW that have scoring touch and add a physical element to the team. In addition, they allow the rest of the forward group to play in their natural positions, namely Suzuki, Lehkonen, and Byron.
Part of why this forward group is far more talented than last years is there isn't a reliance on one player/line to produce. The talent on the wing should provide secondary scoring far better than in the past, and the physicality Anderson adds was certainly an element that was missing from the forward group last year. The Canadiens seemed to be far more balanced this season, and should have 3 effective lines that are responsible in both ends, with a trustworthy 4th line which Julien always seemed to desire. In addition, the powerplay which was a huge problem for the Canadiens now adds Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. Add that too Suzuki and Kotkaniemi being one year older and the PP should see a boost from the moves made.
On defence, gone are Mike Reilly and Christian Folin and in are Alex Romanov and Joel Edmundson. With these changes, it allows each of Brett Kulak, Victor Mete, and Cale Fleury slot into their more appropriate positions. Kulak seems like a logical player for the third pairing, and Victor Mete is closer to a 5-7 defenceman than he is a top-4 defenceman. Romanov is obviously the wildcard as he could play anywhere from the top-4, to starting initially with Laval. No matter how you project the pairings though, its hard again to think this team isn't in a significantly better position than last.
In net Jake Allen is a huuuuuuge improvement on Keith Kinkaid. Carey Price is still Carey Price.
Marc Bergevin has been catching a lot of heat recently with the Anderson trade+contract, however when you look at the changes he's made, it's hard not to give him a ton of credit for addressing needs. The biggest needs of this team in my opinion were, in order: Backup Goaltender, Improved scoring/powerplay, Top-4 LD, MOAR BIGGER. Jake Allen addresses the first need, Toffoli/Anderson address the second need, Joel Edmundson addresses the third need, and Anderson/Edmundson address the 4th. The offseason isn't over yet, however this is already the most satisfied I've been with the roster in a long time. An added bonus is the moves made help give the Canadiens more security heading into next offseason to offset the inevitable loss of certain players due to expansion/expiring contracts.