The Montreal Canadiens’ magical race is about to end. On the bright side, there’s Cole Caufield

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It looks like there won’t be a 25th Stanley Cup banner for the Montreal Canadiens, not this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning has emphatically proven itself worthy of being a repeat champion.

For the Habs, it is obviously a big disappointment to find themselves in a 0-3 hole with little chance of coming back. It happened so fast, in just five days. A week ago there were all kinds of possibilities in the air. Now Montreal is just trying to avoid the embarrassment of becoming the first team in 23 years to be swept away in the Cup final.

Until the Bolts arrived to spoil the party, Marc Bergevin’s bet on a bigger, more solid roster had surely paid off in these playoffs. Yet in the end, he probably won’t have any championships to show, his goaltender Carey Price will be 34 at the start of the next NHL season and his captain Shea Weber will be 36. It was probably the best chance for them. two players. to win a ring.

Price was brilliant in the first three rounds. In the final, however, he was decisively dominated by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Weber, meanwhile, has averaged over 25 minutes per game in those playoffs. But he’s no longer a star. Weber didn’t attract a single vote – not even a fifth-place ballot – for the Norris Trophy, although the NHL awards vote was so missed this year that it’s not necessarily surprising.

The Habs have however proven that they definitely have quality young people to bet on, including Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Caufield dropped out of college to join the Habs at the end of the season a la Ken Dryden and, from what we’ve seen, has at least a chance of becoming the sniper Montreal has lacked since quitting. ‘he traded Max Pacioretty.

Pacioretty scored 30 or more goals on five occasions for the Canadiens, for a total of 39 goals in the 2013-14 season. Can Caufield be that kind of player? It is not as guaranteed as some might have you believe.

He was the 15th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, a pick that we’re still in the early stages of evaluation because only two players have played 100 games. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko got a brace, and both are still establishing themselves as frontline players in the NHL. Great German defender Moritz Seider is expected to be in Detroit’s lineup next season, and the Red Wings have high hopes for him. When you imagine what Caufield’s advantage might be, you have to believe that 14 other teams underestimated his talent if you think he will become a 40-goal scorer in the NHL.

Either way, Caufield will definitely be at the top of the list of most interesting players to watch next season. He’s shown enough and scored enough under the warm white lights of this playoffs to suggest he might be the real deal. Of course, standing up to a full NHL season will be a very different challenge for the 20-year-old from Wisconsin.

For starters, the NHL is expected to return to its old divisions next season, which means Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa will once again be part of the Atlantic with Tampa, Florida, Boston, Detroit and Buffalo. It will be a difficult group, more difficult than the North was.

The statistics on Caufield so far are impressive. In 10 regular-season games, he’s scored four goals on 30 shots, and two of those goals were overtime winners. In the playoffs, he scored four more goals in 18 games. All of these players came to the NHL semifinals against Vegas, possibly the most impressive series played by the Canadians.

He must have played his side wing every now and then, which is why he sometimes looks absolutely lost, especially against Tampa. He was a negative player in the Cup final and only managed five shots. Against a fast and experienced Tampa team, Caufield didn’t look so dangerous. But few Montreal forwards did.

Caufield is definitely quick, and he has both a big shot and a sniper mentality. He’s short at five foot seven, and that’s not going to change. This type of setting hasn’t stopped Alex DeBrincat from scoring 119 goals in four seasons. Still, playing along the boards inside his own zone will be a major challenge, as it was for Leafs’ Mitch Marner.

Caufield has stood out with the Habs in these playoffs in large part because he is so different from the rest of the roster. So, with a full offseason to train and get stronger, will he be the favorite to win the Calder Trophy next season and become Montreal’s next big scorer?

That’s a fascinating question, and part of the answer lies in whether the Canadiens will continue to be a great crushing team under Dominique Ducharme, or try to become a faster, more creative offensive team.

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Other youngsters will compete with Caufield for the star next season. Alexis Lafrenière. Trevor Zegras. Maybe Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

Caufield has shown in a small sample that he can get people out of their seats. From the disappointment of this Cup final, Montreal has reason to hope that it will be able to do so in the long term.

Damien Cox is a former Star sports reporter who is currently a Toronto-based freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DamoSpin



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