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3 mistakes from division rivals that the Canadiens should avoid

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The Montreal Canadiens are at a crucial point in their rebuild and could learn from their rivals' mistakes about what to avoid this summer.

With the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and, until recently, the Florida Panthers, the Atlantic Division was the most unbalanced division in all of ice hockey; over the last 15 years, there have been repeated dry spells in the playoffs.

Whether due to disastrous trade transactions, poor planning or inadequate asset management, their reconstruction efforts suffered from being rushed.

These moves confused executives, fans and even bookmakers, as these teams were at the top of the NHL betting odds and believed the hype about the improvement.

As the Montreal Canadiens prepare for an important game, here are three big mistakes their rivals should avoid if they want to reach new levels in the coming years.

Excessive spending on free agents

Overspending on free agents is a fact of life, especially for Canadian teams like the Montreal Canadiens, but sometimes it could come back to haunt you during a salary cap crisis.

Take the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, who signed future Hall of Fame forward Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $6.25 million-per-season deal in the summer of 2017. While Marleau's leadership qualities were viewed as extremely valuable, it came with a significant risk, as the former second-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft had just turned 38 when he first played a game for the Leafs.

After two years of poor performance, the Maple Leafs were in a tight spot. They needed more cap space to sign another free agent in John Tavares, while also wanting some room to sign their new core of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

The result? They had to pay the Carolina Hurricanes an unprotected first-round pick to take on Marleau's contract, proving the signing was a blatant unforced error by former GM Kyle Dubas.

What's worse? Carolina used that first-round pick to select shooting star Seth Jarvis 13th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Imagine where the Leafs would be now if they had a cost-controlled Jarvis in their lineup?

Habit of overspending

The Montreal Canadiens general manager has mentioned in the past that he is willing to overpay for players or assets he truly desires.

With the right deal, this might not be a problem, but in most cases it can significantly delay your rebuilding, especially if the assets acquired are not tied up for the long term.

At the 2022 NHL Draft, the Ottawa Senators sacrificed the 7th and 39th picks overall as well as a 2024 3rd round pick to sign star scorer Alex DeBrincat.

With this move, the Senators wanted to take the next step in their rebuilding and finally fight for the playoffs. But this aggressiveness proved to be unwise.

Not only did Ottawa make the trade without DeBrincat's commitment to stay in Ottawa long-term through a contract extension, the Senators were also forced to trade him to a division rival, the Detroit Red Wings, a year later after he again missed the playoffs.

The following year, during the past 2022-2023 season, the Senators took a big step backwards following the loss of DeBrincat and the organizational restructuring that resulted from the failure of the hasty rebuild.

Now the Senators want to make comprehensive changes to a rebuild that most experts had described as a future powerhouse.

Holding on to subpar prospects for too long

This is perhaps the most difficult problem to overcome, as NHL candidates are usually

The Montreal Canadiens have been guilty of this in the past when they traded former first-round picks like Louis LeBlanc, Michael McCarron and others for a ridiculously low price.

Then there were the Nikita Schebaks, Noah Juulsens and Victor Metes, who were also placed on waivers. Some of these can be considered accidental, but getting value from your top picks and prospects is imperative for a rebuild to be successful.

The Ottawa Senators are in a similar bind, having spent heavily in the form of first-round picks to fill their major needs on the right side of their defense. They drafted Lassi Thomson (2019) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (2018) and traded for Erik Brannstrom (a left-hander who can play on the right side).

None of the three managed to establish themselves as the true top-four defensemen they were expected to be in their draft years. And Bernard-Docker, at 23, is just beginning his full-time entry into the NHL.

The Brannstrom case was well-known, as he was unhappy due to his time in Ottawa after being the key piece in the Mark Stone trade in 2019. Now that his trade value is all but exhausted, the Senators are expected to trade him for a pittance despite having virtually nothing to show for it after trading away one of the best players in the last two decades to wear the Senators' jersey.

In Thomson's case, not only was he lost once (before being claimed off waivers), but he has now signed to play in Europe next season. It's a shame, as he had good numbers in the AHL as a 20-year-old, but unfortunately the Senators waited too long to trade him for a real solution on defense.

The Montreal Canadiens will soon be subjected to this critical scrutiny when they begin to integrate the more than 30 young players they have drafted or acquired through trade into their professional team in the coming months.

Highly drafted talent will be looked at for improvement, but given the depth of talent available, the hope is that general manager Kent Hughes will make a deal sooner rather than later if he feels a talent is not living up to expectations.

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