The Blue, Blanc et Rouge were back among the NHL’s elite last season, producing a brand of hockey that was both successful and aesthetically appealing. Montreal can skate and pass with anyone, but the Canadiens did try to play a little too perfectly at times.
2007-08: 47-25-10, 104 points (first in Northeast)
PLAYOFFS: lost to Philadelphia in second round
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Bell Centre was rocking all season long, and for good measure. Les Habitants were the top team in the Eastern Conference, and were one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch for good measure. Alex Kovalev had the second-best point total of his career (84) and finished eighth in the Hart trophy voting. People who didn’t know just how good Tomas Plekanec is, well, they found out. Chris Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn combined for 53 goals.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Wunderkind goalie Carey Price made the team and was handed the No. 1 job at the trade deadline, but he did not play well against the Flyers in the playoffs. Also, GM Bob Gainey should have gotten more than a 2009 second-round pick for Cristobal Huet. Michael Ryder was a disappointment and will not be missed. Fake defenseman (i.e. forward sort of trying to play on defense) Mark Streit had a great year thanks to the team’s awesome power play but priced himself out of town.
ARRIVALS: LW Alex Tanguay, RW Georges Laraque, G Marc Denis
DEPARTURES: RW Michael Ryder, C Brian Smolinski, D Mark Streit
IMPACT PROSPECTS: LW Max Pacioretty, C Brock Trotter
Insert several hundred questions directed towards Carey Price here
Look, the team returns mainly intact, so the Montreal media are going to need something to talk about (who replaces Streit on the power play will only have so much lasting power). Price’s postseason play will provide plenty of ammunition for the skeptics. It should be pointed out that while Huet received a ton of attention for his work with the Caps, Price did go 12-3 to finish the regular season and tossed two shutouts in the playoffs (those three five-goal nights, including the final game of the Flyers series weren’t so good).
PROGNOSIS: It will be tough to not pick Les Habs to win not only the Northeast but be the top overall seed in the East again this season. Tanguay can be an upgrade over Ryder and offset any loss of offense with Streit gone. None of the other top point-getters in the East (Pittsburgh, New Jersey and New York) look better on paper right now. Sure, some of the old guys (namely Kovalev and Saku Koivu) could experience sudden declines, but the talent and depth is in place. Bottom line: this is the 100th year for the franchise and Montreal is going to be the center of the hockey universe with both the all-star game and draft in the city (advantage: members of the media). If Price lives up to 85 percent of the hype, there could be at least two Stanley Cup finals games at Bell Centre as well.
|Jaroslav Halak/Marc Denis
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations