It’s Week Two of our cross-country trek through the NHL, profiling each of the Canadian franchises and trying to figure out how they’ll do in the upcoming season.
Bienvenue a Montreal!
Our final stop on this Canadian NHL Preview adventure is in La Belle Province, where the Canadiens finished with 50 wins and 110 points last season before flaming out in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the eventual silver medalists from Tampa Bay. As much as the season ended with disappointment, there were also incredible highs, like Carey Price taking home four trophies, including the rare Vezina-Hart combo, at the NHL Awards.
Of course, the last time a Montreal goalie managed that feat, Jose Theodre came back the next season, pooped the bed and was eventually sent packing, so don’t be surprised if Habs fans are a little jumpy if Price starts slowly this year.
Still, a lot of the core from last year’s club that finished first in the Atlantic and second in the Eastern Conference is back and that is as good a starting point as any Canadian club has heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
Outgoing: F Brandon Prust (Vancouver), F P.A. Parenteau
Incoming: F Zack Kassian (Vancouver), F Alexander Semin
Prospects: F Sven Andreghetto, F Christian Thomas, G Zachary Fucale
As I said, there weren’t a lot of changes in Montreal in the offseason, with the club trading the gritty veteran Prust for the younger, gritty Kassian, someone I’ve heard far too much about given how little he’s produced as a result of living in Canucks Country, but adding Semin is an interesting roll of the dice.
It’s a one-year deal worth not a lot of money (by NHL standards) for the mercurial 31-year-old Russian, who topped the 20-goal plateau six consecutive seasons in Washington and once more in Carolina before bottoming out and getting bought out last year by the Hurricanes. He’s way too far removed from his consecutive impact seasons with the Capitals to expect him to be a 30- or 40-goal man in Montreal, but slotting him alongside Alex Galchenyuk, who is moving to center this year, and crossing your fingers is worth the $1.1M investment.
If it works, GM Marc Bergevin looks like a genius. If it doesn’t, you can dump him in a heartbeat and no one will blame you for kicking the tires on a proven sniper looking for another chance.
While the prospect list looks shallow, part of that is because Montreal has a lot of 20-somethings that are already regulars in their lineup, including Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallager and defensemen Nathan Beaulieu. Even the veterans are still reasonably young, as Price just turned 28, P.K. Subban is 26 and new captain Max “Patches” Pacioretty will turn 27 a couple months into the season.
Every team has to deal with health issues, but it seems to be one of those things that really sticks out for the Canadiens from year-to-year.
Pacioretty suffered a concussion late last season and missed the first game of the playoffs, though he returned to lead the club in scoring, and will likely be unavailable to start the year after injuring his knee during the offseason.
This squad is solid, but they don’t necessarily have the depth or design to sustain an injury to one of their key contributors and keep moving forward. Oddly enough, the place they’re most likely to manage is between the pipes, as back-up Dustin Tokarski has played well when called upon and Fucale is one of the top goaltending prospects in the game.
The key for Montreal this year will be to continue getting balanced production across the board and for youngsters like Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Devante Smith-Pelley to take a step forward in their development.
If any of the other youngsters can make the leap to being contributors this year (we’re looking at you Christian, Son of Stumpy), Montreal should be clear to continue being Canada’s best bet for bringing Lord Stanley’s mug back where it belongs.