A long time ago, back before expansion, the Montreal Canadiens
and the Toronto Maple Leafs
piled up Stanley Cup championships about as often as Lance Armstrong lied
about using performance-enhancing drugs.
Post-expansion, the Canadiens kept on winning. They celebrated NHL championships eight times in the late 1960s and 1970s, and again in 1986 and 1993. But on June 9 of this year, the Habs will see the 20th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup come and go. This is the longest the storied franchise has gone without winning a league title.
Do we really need to review the Maple Leafs' sad-sack history since NHL expansion? No Stanley Cups. No visits to the final. The last time they were seen in the playoffs was May 4, 2004, when the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated Toronto in the second round.
These once proud franchises have been mired in a funk. Sure, the landscape among all seven Canadian-based NHL clubs has not been peachy. But at least the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames each have skated all the way to the Stanley Cup final in the last nine years.
On the other hand, the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs both missed the playoffs in the same spring for only the third and fourth time in league history in 2006-07 and last year.
Now both teams start the lockout-shortened season with new general managers and new coaches (although Toronto's Randy Carlyle had an 18-game head start at the end of last year) and there is no sure bet either team will see action in the post-season.
Even if as many as three teams drop out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference from last year, can you say the Canadiens and Maple Leafs made more improvements to their rosters than the Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes?
Nevertheless, out of Toronto and Montreal, which team is more likely to emerge from their current dire situation and start to experience better times?
We asked three scouts to scour the Maple Leafs' and Canadiens' current roster and list of prospects to determine which team will rise first. The answer was that the Habs have not only the better short-term outlook, but the better long-term future as well.
Habs have leg up in goal, on D
Montreal has better goaltending, better depth on the blue-line, providing new GM Marc Bergevin can get restricted free agent P.K. Subban signed and added to the mix of a healthy Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges as well as Tomas Kaberle, veteran Francis Bouillon and Alexei Emelin.
The Habs, a team in transition from mostly European players to one with more North American grit, also have a better unit up front with Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais.
The Maple Leafs have Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner and a bunch of other inconsistent parts, especially in goal and on defence. Poor defensive play and suspect goaltending are the biggest reasons why Toronto has been near the bottom of the league in penalty killing and goals against in the seven seasons between lockouts.
Of course, a trade to acquire Roberto Luongo
would aid the cause.
Lupul is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Will he want to stay with a team in constant rebuild mode?
On the blue-line, the Maple Leafs appear to have a good player with Gardiner and have junior talent in Morgan Rielly, Matt Finn and Stuart Percy. But up front it's thin. It looks like Nazem Kadri will get another shot to stick in the NHL. Tyler Biggs has a future as an NHLer. Maybe Josh Leivo. The jury still is out on Joe Colborne, a skilled big man who is not a bruiser.
The Canadiens have solid prospects in defencemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, as well as forwards Brendan Gallagher and Patrick Holland. There still are too many questions for others like Louis Leblanc.
There still is plenty of work ahead for Bergevin
and his Maple Leafs counterpart, Dave Nonis
. But the Habs are in a better position right now to turn around their fortunes. The Maple Leafs have more challenging times ahead.
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