After a season that saw them finish with one of the worse records in the NHL, the Habs have nowhere to go but up. The past year in Montreal has been one of turmoil at a level rarely seen in the history of one of the most successful franchises in professional sports. Since our season preview of them last year, they have departed ways with two coaches, have a new General Manager in charge with Marc Bergevin and the fan base thinks they should be a Stanley Cup contender every year.
The overhaul in Montreal necessary. They made a lot of changes off the ice with the front office as Bergevin brought in both former NHL players and personnel familiar with the Montreal organization. Names you might be familiar with are Rick Dudley (Assistant GM), Scott Mellanby (Director of Player Personnel), Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Development), and Patrice Brisebois (Player development). Back for the second time benind the bench, Michel Therrien will not have much to work with in terms of new players. The roster is very much the same, except for newcomers Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon. But what he does have to work with is players with the potential to put the puck in the net (Max Pacioretty) and the ability to keep it out (Carey Price).
One problem they had last season was a lack of scoring. They tied for 19th in the league in scoring with an average of 2.52 goals per game. They’ll have Pacioretty and Cole to generate offense but after them the list of dependable forwards takes a steep drop off. Remember when there was a website last season dedicated to Scott Gomez and his scoring drought? That site might have to get going this season because further down the lineup scoring will be a problem. They will also have to find another winger to play with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta with Rene Bourque undergoing surgery. If you are looking for a sleeper, look for Lars Eller to reach 20 goals and 15 points as a third-line center.
On defense, the big X-factor is the health of Andrei Markov. Last season the big Russian was limited to 13 games but he was someone effective when he did play following knee surgery as he recorded three assists. Markov and P.K. Subban will form the top pairing as well as seeing significant special teams minutes. One of their good depth additions was Bouillion. He’ll be a top-six defenseman as well as someone who could be used on the penalty kill. One positive Bouillion brings to the table is toughness and grit, something the team has been missing in recent seasons. One of the things that did go right for them was their success on the penalty kill. They had an 88.6 percent success rate, good for second-best in the league. One of their penalty kill leaders was Josh Gorges, who was among the league’s best in blocked shots. When you have someone who can play like a second goalie, scoring can become more difficult.
If there’s anything the Canadiens don’t have a need, it’s in goal. The pressure from the organization and the rabid Montreal fan base will be on Carey Price. Price can be counted on for another 65+ games played this season and he’ll be the one that will keep the team in games where the scoring just isn’t there. They have a proven backup in Peter Budaj, who could be used on several occasions when the team plays consecutive nights (especially if they play a shortened season due to the lockout).
Price, Subban and Pacioretty are all between the ages of 23 and 25 and that’s the core of the team respectively at goalie, defense and forward. Each are still on the upswing of their careers and are the right pieces needed for Bergevin to build around. If I were a betting man they will miss the playoffs again, but they will be a better team this season than they were last year.