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No one has to tell any NHL players just how much of a mess the Montreal Canadiens have become.

Just ask John Tavares.

Actually, someone did after the Toronto Maple Leafs’ morning skate on Monday morning, several hours before the visiting Canadiens’ scrubs beat the Leafs’ scrubs 5-1 for the latter’s first preseason loss. A Montreal reporter asked Tavares why he didn’t make the Habs one of the six teams he sat down with before deciding to leave the New York Islanders for a US$77-million contract with his hometown Maple Leafs.

Now, an acceptable response would have been something along the lines of, “Are you freaking kidding me?” But Tavares was much more polite, although he was still direct in his answer.

“I can only play for one team. I’m not here to make everyone happy,” he said. “I had to do what’s best for me, and I felt this situation was the perfect fit for me and the right timing in my career.”

In other words, “Why on earth would I sign with a team that trades away most of its young talent (hello, P.K. Subban), not to mention alienating its stars so much they have to be traded (hello, Max Pacioretty) can’t find a centre with a GPS but still insists, according to general manager Marc Bergevin, that it is not rebuilding.” “Refresh and reset,” was how Bergevin put it recently on Montreal radio station TSN 690. He also insisted the Canadiens will be doing everything they can to make the playoffs.

Now, Bergevin was a notorious joker during his days as a so-so defenceman, both practical and otherwise; during the national anthem, Bergevin would often lean to the guy next to him and say, "I always have a terrible game when they play this damn song.” So it’s hard to tell if he is really serious when he insists the Canadiens have no interest in tanking this season in the hope of landing phenom Jack Hughes in the 2019 NHL entry draft.

However, no Canadiens fans are laughing when it comes to the team’s prospective centres this season. The tentative No. 1 is Max Domi, who is being converted from the wing, where he scored nine goals in each of the past two seasons. Funny thing, this one. Alex Galchenyuk was taken third over all in the 2012 NHL entry draft as a centre, the position he always wanted to play. But the Habs insisted he play the wing, where he scored 30 goals a few years ago, and then traded him over the summer to the Arizona Coyotes for Domi.

Down as the No. 2 centre is Phillip Danault. He scored eight goals last season. But don’t worry, Hab fans. He scored nine the year before.

Then there is Matthew Peca, the 20-game NHL veteran, and Tomas Plekanec, 35, who last scored 20 goals or more back in 2014-15. Leaf fans have a soft spot for him, though, as he came to Toronto last March in a trade-deadline deal. Plekanec did absolutely nothing for the rest of the regular season but came out of nowhere in the playoff series against Boston to stymie the Bruins’ big line for a time.

Open this photo in gallery:

Toronto Maple Leafs' John Tavares celebrates a goal against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL pre-season game at Scotiabank Arena, Sept. 21, 2018 in Toronto.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Naturally, as Tavares’s contract with the Islanders ran down last season, the Montreal media and fans did a lot of day-dreaming about seeing him in the bleu-blanc-et-rouge.

“Obviously when I came to play [in Montreal] when I was with New York last year, people asked me questions about it,” he said.

When the short list came out, of course, Montreal was not on it. Aside from the Leafs, those rating a personal visit were the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Bruins and Islanders.

“I felt humbled to have the interest I had,” Tavares said. “You feel very fortunate to be in the position I was in.

“I met with the teams I felt were in the best situations that could be good fits for me and see what there was to offer. That’s why I picked those six teams, including New York. Those were the teams that I felt were the best fit that I wanted to interview with.”

Again, Tavares was too polite to state the obvious. But whatever the Canadiens get up to this season, he knows they aren’t going to be winning a whole lot.

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