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Canadiens setting the standard early in North Division

Justin Cuthbert
·6 min read
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Welcome to our weekly tour of the NHL’s North Division. Fingers crossed that this column will live beyond this season. Do it, NHL. It’s best for everyone.

Everything is slow-moving in the NHL. It takes time to tear things apart — it can be snail-like to build it back up to even a reasonable level of respectability. Those are just the facts in a league where it seems there are several hoops to jump through just to take one positive step forward.

This truth had been particularly frustrating for fans of the Montreal Canadiens in recent seasons. With the body clocks beginning to wind down on the likes of Carey Price and Shea Weber, the stagnancy with which the organization was functioning was beginning to teeter on a level of hopelessness. Had it chosen a firm direction, maybe the two highest-paid players in the organization wouldn’t be total anchors by the time the process is ready to bear fruit. Remaining in that idle state, however, it seemed the Habs were risking watching their major investments produce next to nothing of material value.

But while this team seemed stuck in an unforgiving reality, something incredibly important was being nurtured in the boardroom. General manager Marc Bergevin had been slowly accruing something worth its weight in gold — and the only commodity that can be used to accomplish anything fast in hockey nowadays.

VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 21: The Montreal Canadiens celebrate a goal by Montreal Canadiens Right Wing Josh Anderson (17) against the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on January 21, 2021 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Marc Bergevin couldn't have envisioned this start. (Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bergevin was sitting on cap space, lots of it. And when he saw what he had, and what he was without, when the organization was gifted a postseason appearance in the NHL’s summer restart after the season shutdown amid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — in addition to knowing what was coming in terms of low-earning prospects — he knew it was time to spend it.

Able to free-wheel while most NHL executives were searching for loopholes to make the money right, Bergevin completed a flurry of moves in the offseason, each of which ate away at the cap space he had reserved.

Some were lauded, and several were questioned at the time. But now almost two weeks into the season, it’s had to argue Bergevin had anything less than a brilliant offseason and hit on every acquisition.

To this point, literally every move the Canadiens made between the time they left the bubble and now has worked out beautifully.

This was made wholly true over the weekend when the least of the important additions, veteran winger Corey Perry, was promoted from the taxi squad and promptly scored in Montreal’s 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

Perry’s contributions in the final stop on a six-game road trip was merely icing on the cake. Because as the Canadiens have jumped out to pole position in the North Division with 10 points from those six games, it seems that every offseason addition has not only performed from an individual standpoint, but brought a measure of completeness to the entire roster.

Hard on goals all of last season, and in several years before that, Montreal now leads the NHL with 29. More encouraging than that, 80 percent of the team’s non-goaltenders scored in the first six games of the season, including every forward save for Philip Danault and Paul Byron.

With Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen now in the fold, there are the individual contributions, plus an associated impact. That’s been the key so far for Montreal.

Anderson has proven to be the perfect match for rising star Nick Suzuki, while also helping bring the best out of Jonathan Drouin.

Toffoli has a share of the league lead in goals, contributing in all phases and helping Jesperi Kotkaniemi along from his third line function.

Edmundson has now settled in. And when he’s not building on league-best plus-minus numbers with stud partner Jeff Petry, he’s handling the police work out on the ice, earning respect from his teammates by standing up to the opposition’s biggest and meanest.

Allen has two wins from two starts, which is all he needs to accomplish to serve his role, which is to allow the Canadiens to lighten the load on Price without it hurting them in the standings.

It’s not often that an NHL general manager can work almost unrestrained in an NHL offseason. So credit Bergevin for not only taking advantage of a rare opportunity, but creating it for himself and the organization in the first place.

It’s not supposed to happen in short order, but it just might in Montreal.

And elsewhere up north

Ottawa Senators: It was not a good week for the Ottawa Senators, who lost all three of their games and coughed up 14 goals. However, we did have ourselves a look at their new road jerseys in action for the very first time, and they might be even nicer than their revamped home-ice threads.

Forget crucial on-ice development, the season is a success already!

Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s probably not the best sign that everything the Maple Leafs seemed to have had planned from the perspective of matchups and general strategy seemed to fizzle when a 41-year-old forward was injured. But this is a process for Sheldon Keefe, and the wins keep coming despite things not adhering exactly to the original plan.

Winnipeg Jets: If the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade was on the table as early as the NHL Draft, I wonder why Kevin Cheveldayoff rushed to use up so much cap space with the addition of Paul Stastny? That’s an expensive third-line centre.

Calgary Flames: A sad thought crept into my head when Matthew Tkachuk flopped on former Los Angeles Kings backup Jack Campbell on Sunday night: No clashes with Drew Doughty this season.

Edmonton Oilers: As the No. 2 and No. 3 picks from the 2016 draft swap cities, the No. 4 selection has improved his surroundings as well. Jesse Puljujarvi getting some run with Connor McDavid is a massive deal for a player who has been a huge disappointment.

The returns perhaps aren’t spectacular yet, but he played a considerable role in the Oilers’ dramatic win over the Jets on Sunday. That’s a start.

Vancouver Canucks: Big week for the Canucks and Canucks Twitter with a three-game home-ice set versus Ottawa. Anything less than two wins could mean that Vancouver sinks to the bottom of the division (while giving up games in hand).

Could be ugly, really ugly, by end of week.

More from Yahoo Sports:

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
-125+1.5O 6.5
+105-1.5U 6.5