Montreal Canadiens are the champions of Canada. Fourth ranked team. The team with the fewest points in any play-off team. The team that fired their coach a few months ago. The team that really shouldn’t have come this far.
However, they beat Toronto, the top ranked organization of the division, in seven matches despite losing 3-1. And just last night, they defeated the Winnipeg Jets, the team that swept Conor McDavid and Leon Drysittle, in four games.
Kinda crazy, right?
But with the latest celebration taking place at the Bell Center in Montreal, #FireJim and #FireBenning have started trending in Canada for what appears to be the billionth times over the past year.
For Vancouver Canucks fans, seeing a player they left unpaid in the off-season — after giving up a handful of valuable assets to fetch a key part of the team’s playoff hopes — scores the game-winning goal. Toffoli was willing to stay, but the offer never existed.
And now he just helped his team win a Cinderella berth in the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Granted, Montreal isn’t a favorite to beat Colorado or Vegas, but they weren’t the favourites against Toronto or Winnipeg either. If the series in the West continues to come out, even if it’s seven games, you can’t count on the Montreal Canadiens at the moment.
Through 11 games, Toffoli’s 10 points were the most among all Canadian players and tied for 14th overall in the post-season. A year earlier, an ankle sprain knocked Toffoli out in all but one of the opening rounds of the playoffs, and when he came back against Vegas, he finished with four points in seven games. It was certainly a brave effort, but that was his entire tenure. Ten points in the regular season, four points in the playoffs. Then he’s gone.
Toffoli’s arrival was notable in Montreal. He finished with 44 points in the first year of his four-year deal and has always been one of Montreal’s best players. And when it really matters, it was great.
With Canucks continuing to sit on the sidelines having missed the entire preseason almost less than a year after earning a final berth in the conference, watching Toffoli perform the way he has is a stark reminder of what the Canucks could have been. It might not have worked. The Canucks needed more than Toffoli goals to be competitive this year, but it sure would have helped, right?
It’s not like Canucks fans need to be reminded. Bad contracts for underperforming players hampered the team’s ability to perform. Thatcher Dimko is starting to live up to expectations as the season drags on, but there was a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for some time between him and Braden Holtby. The team only had 26 games from Elias Peterson and team depth couldn’t find a way to fill in the gaps. It was a season doomed from the start that only got worse when COVID-19 ousted the team for the better part of a month.
It wasn’t an easy season for the Canucks, nor did seeing a good player let him go so far in the depths of post-season. when building Ben Kuzma said Of the boycott that the team “ran out of time” to sign Toffoli, Canucks fans were incensed. The mistakes of the previous Benning decade have finally caught up with him. But that’s not news for fans of Canucks.
Faithful Canucks want the best for Toffoli. They weren’t bitter that he left him, but how he left. They could have kept it with better roof management, but they didn’t. The Canucks already have Vasili Podkolzin and a few other possibilities on his way, so all hope is not lost. But that doesn’t do much at the moment.
But given the two different paths Vancouver and Montreal took to get to this point, the short-term pain will leave long-term painful memories of a difficult era for a team removed a decade from appearing in the Stanley Cup.
All of that could have been avoided.