Exclude Canadians after last year

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MONTREAL – Controversy, criticism and question marks are what Canadians seem to be eating for breakfast these days.

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But after what they did last year, few doubt they can take on new challenges in 2022.

“When I think about last season, I take all the positives with us,” forward Joel Armia said Monday morning ahead of the Stanley Cup finalists’ second exhibition game against the Leafs. “Just to know that we can win against any team, play any team and face adversity too.”

Still, the Habs squandered much of the respect they’d earned in their home province after returning to upset Toronto in the first round – and fended off many new fans in the league. It started a few weeks after their unexpected run against Tampa Bay ended, when they drafted Logan Malloux and all his extra baggage. The London Knights star had faced legal action for posting sexually explicit photos of his girlfriend while playing in Sweden. General manager Marc Bergevin ultimately had to freeze Malloux when the OHL suspended him for six months. As this unfolded, Bergevin and the apologizing club property were roasted inside and outside the NHL.

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Key playoff free agents have rushed in, such as Auston Matthews’ nemesis, Phillip Danault, and workhorse Corey Perry. The Habs also lost sniper Jesper Kotkaniemi to Carolina, dragging their feet on a contract before the Canes hit with an offer sheet. Bergevin got draft picks on the move, but had to give up two high caps to immediately replace Kotkaniemi with Arizona’s Christian Dvorak.

What Bergevin couldn’t control was the wear and tear of team MVP Carey Price, who is recovering from a knee injury and will miss the camp, while the various illnesses of defenseman Shea Weber probably ended his career. Paul Byron has had hip surgery, while goal-scoring new guy Mike Hoffman is out for a month with a lower-body injury and young pistol Cole Caufield has just learned he will miss a week with an upper body injury.

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Much like the Leafs, Montreal is back in the Atlantic Division, a much tougher roster than facing all-Canadian teams, whose results barely earned them the North’s last place in the playoffs in May.

But coach Dominique Ducharme seems fairly comfortable in his daily training camp briefings. The fiery Brendan Gallagher is now in camp and there’s a new line to be excited about. Jonathan Drouin, after leave for personal issues, is with Dvorak and Josh Anderson and there is the return to North America of 31-year-old defenseman Chris Wideman after a year in the KHL.

“We will have more answers tonight,” said Ducharme. “In scrums and playing against each other, you never get the real feel (of how the players are doing).

“They’re three different players on that line. We know Josh’s power, Jonathan’s vision and skill, and Devo is reliable on both sides of the puck. If played correctly, they can be effective offensively and responsible defensively.

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Knowing only a little what happened to the Habs last season, Wideman arrives in Montreal in awe of history.

“To tell my friends (from the St. Louis area), who aren’t very familiar with hockey, it’s like playing for the Yankees with the stripes.

Wideman found his career on the rocks a few years ago when his negative comments about the Ottawa Senators coaching staff leaked during a limo ride he and his teammates took on a trip on the road. Trade in Edmonton, Fla., And time spent on three minor league teams followed, before leaving the NHL entirely for a season in the KHL.

“This is something for which I took full responsibility, faced head-on,” Wideman said on Monday. “I came back here and learned a lot about life, hockey and how quickly things can change.

His season with Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia forced him and his new wife to fly 13 days after the wedding.

“A honeymoon in Russia was a hard sell,” Wideman said with a laugh. “But it was a great life experience.”

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