Montreal Canadiens, 2013-2014: Third in Atlantic Division with 100 points. Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New York Rangers in a 4-2 series.
Team Departures: Forwards Thomas Vanek (MIN), Brian Gionta (BUF), Daniel Briere (COL), Louis Leblanc (ANA), Ryan White (PHI), Nick Tarnasky (NYR), Mike Blunden (TB) and George Parros (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign). Defenseman Josh Gorges (BUF), Francis Bouillon (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign) and Douglas Murray (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign). Goaltender Devan Dubnyk (ARZ).
Team Additions: Forwards P.A. Parenteau and Manny Malhotra. Defenseman Tom Gilbert. Goaltender Joey MacDonald.
2014 Draft: Forward Nikita Scherbak (26th overall), Defenseman Brett Lernout (73rd overall), Defenseman Nikolas Koberstein (125th overall), Forward Daniel Audette (147th overall), Goaltender Hayden Hawkey (177th overall), Forward Jake Evans (207th overall).
Coaching and Front Office Changes: No significant changes.
Caps Play The Canadiens Three Times.
The Canadiens surprised everyone but themselves when they battered all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. A goaltending crisis found themselves just short of the prize. But after a tight salary cap situation, can the Habs find themselves right back where they left off?
The Canadiens have respectable lines all up and down the team, and that was evident in their playoff run. They were simply out skating and out working their opponent day in and day out, and it started with the forward unit. None on the team are better at their craft than Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty has quickly gone from "that guy who was almost paralyzed by Zdeno Chara" to a common household name in the hockey world. Pacioretty finished fourth in the entire league with 39 goals, and led the league in game winning goals with 11. His 60 points led the Canadiens on the season. He has become a consistent 30 goal scorer in this league, and will shock no one if he puts up more than 40. After all, he did miss nine games on the season.
The trade Montreal made for P.A. Parenteau will turn out to work wonderfully for the Canadiens. Daniel Briere is well past his prime. Parenteau really isn't. He was never really given a solid chance in his time in Colorado, where he played behind really young superstars. He saw just the seventh highest time on ice with the Avalanche. It can be a fair expectation to see Parenteau getting valuable minutes on the second line, and he will most likely see time with the young playmaker, Alex Galchenyuk. Parenteau recorded just 33 points last season. While he probably won't see to great of an increase, a reasonable expectation for Parenteau this season would be around the 45-50 point range.
Lars Eller had a relatively disappointing regular season, finishing with just 26 points this season, his lowest output since his rookie season (even less than the lockout-shortened year). But during the Canadiens playoff run, both he and line mate Rene Bourque became the go to forward unit. Eller was second on the Canadiens in points during the playoffs with 13, and Bourque trailed right behind him with 11. Now, there is no reason to believe that these two will develop into an offensive powerhouse for Montreal this upcoming regular season. In fact, Eller could benefit his team a ton if he's willing to play a defensive-minded pivot role for the Canadiens. He's never wowed anyone offensively, even in his time as a teen in Denmark. If he and Bourque can provide defensive stability with the looming threat of an offensive punch, they can be a highly effective third line. Either Brandon Prust, whose always been defensive minded or Dale Weise, who emerged during the playoffs as a highly aggressive pest, can benefit the line.
This forward unit is a little bit more defensive in their approach to the game, where the majority of the team starts off their time in the defensive zone, and most are out possessed. While he wasn't on the team for very long, a consistent scoring threat like Thomas Vanek will hurt the Canadiens. They also don't have a true, pure playmaker that's good for setting guys up all over the place. But what they do have is consistency, and that alone can carry them right back to the playoffs.
This group lives, breathes and dies through Pernell Karl Subban. He has emerged as a top five defenseman in this league. He has tremendous offensive ability, leading his team in assists this season with 43. He is an incredibly powerful skater, with the ability to knock any guy off the puck with ease, and he has tremendous hockey senses. This off season, he was paid accordingly, and is set to earn $72 million over the next eight seasons.
Subban and Markov will be the shutdown pairing for the team, and they are a near perfect pair. Subban is a highly aggressive two way player, while Markov is more of a stay at home type player. And now that Markov is 35 (he'll be 36 in December), he has to rely on his hockey senses more than anything. He will be able to make up for the few mistakes Subban will make, whether it's because of Subban going to far up the ice offensively or going for the big hip check.
Emelin really showed this past year that he can be a reliable puck mover. In just his third season NHL at 28, he recorded a career high 14 assists. He will likely play on the second pairing alongside either Tom Gilbert or Mike Weaver. Gilbert has always been a defensive minded player, and at just 31 he still has something left in the tank. Weaver played very well for Montreal during their playoff run. He can provide veteran leadership for the team alongside Markov. The sixth defenseman for the Canadiens isn't as clear, as it could be a toss up between Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu. Both saw time last year during the regular season, though Beaulieu did see time in the playoffs.
This unit will see a lot of time in their own zone. They aren't particularly impressive all up and down, but they are capable of getting the job done. But, ultimately, they are fortunate to have such a successful goaltender backing them up.
If Carey Price doesn't injure his knee in the Chris Kreider collision in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Montreal Canadiens would have battled it out in the Stanley Cup in a much closer final. There, I said it.
There are very few that are better than Price. He won gold in Sochi for Team Canada, and he easily could have carried his NHL team right to the top if he had stayed healthy. Price had a .927 save percentage this past season, good for third in the league, a 2.32 goals against average, good for 14th, and had six shutouts, good for second. His numbers weren't quite as good in the playoffs, but he is a strong, capable goaltender. He started only 59 times last season, his lowest (excluding the lockout year) since 2009-2010. But, Price may see his starts go right back up to what he's used to, because the second goaltender isn't quite as clear.
It's between Peter Budaj, whose drudged along as the Canadiens backup for the past three seasons, or Dustin Tokarski, who has 10 regular season games in his career, and just two with the Canadiens. Tokarski was the one who stepped up in the Eastern Conference Final when Price got hurt, and, given the circumstances, he did quite well. His .916 save percentage and his 2.60 goals against average gave the Canadiens a fighting chance in that final. On the other side of the equation, Budaj has been pretty bad in virtually every start he's had for the Canadiens. He had just a .909 save percentage last season, and that's just a touch over his career save percentage of .903. These two will battle it out to become the second goaltender, but it just might be time for Montreal to give the job to the 24 year old Tokarski.
The Canadiens have really made size their top priority in the past few drafts. It's quite evident with forward Michael McCarron, a forward who stands at 6'6". But he's a while from the NHL. But, the Canadiens do have three different players at three different positions that have the potential to be outstanding relatively soon: Forward Jacob de la Rose, defenseman Jarred Tinordi and goaltender Zach Fucale.
|Jacob de la Rose|
Tinordi, who saw some time this past season, is a gigantic 6'6", 227 lbs. He is known to use his size and strength to his advantage, something the Canadiens definitely need. He's played professionally since 2011, but he just hasn't quite made the jump to the current Canadiens roster. He won't score too many goals or record too many assists, but Tinordi has the potential to be a great player for the Canadiens someday. (Side note, Tinordi is from Millersville, MD and played for the Washington Junior Nationals in 2007!)
Fucale was the highest rated goaltender in the 2013 draft, playing for a stacked Halifax Mooseheads team that included Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. His junior level play has earned him over 100 wins. He is very calm in the net, and finished with a .905 save percentage this past season. He's got average size for a goaltender, but really needs to bulk up. Fucale is tabbed as a franchise goaltender of the future, but he looked beatable in his five games at the World Junior Championship. He will continue playing with Halifax, and he is far from NHL play, but there is no doubt within the Canadiens organization that he will one day be playing consistently in red, white and blue.
Player To Watch
Alex Galchenyuk is slowly, but surely tapping into his full potential. The former third overall pick scored 13 goals and 18 assists in 65 games for the Habs last season. If he's gradually given more and more time on the ice, with another skilled player, say, like, Pacioretty or Desharnais, we could see a ton of points from the 20 year old. He consistently scored 30ish goals in Sarnia in his junior playing days, and put up 83 points in the 2010-2011 season. His skill level is there, it's just a matter of time before he becomes comfortable on NHL ice, and we start to see his 60-70 point seasons.
No free agency story became larger than P.K. Subban's. The saga had twists and turns with each growing day, and by the time it hit arbitration, it turned a little ugly. Subban asked for $8.5 million, and Montreal said he should earn $5.25. Subban obviously wasn't happy, and Subban's agent, Don Meehan, even stated that Subban wouldn't be willing to negotiate with Montreal after the hearing. Ultimately, Montreal and Subban settled on the eight year, $72 million contract. The $9 million against the salary cap is the third highest, behind only Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
This is still a playoff team, but they no doubt have gotten worse since their playoff team. Losing Vanek, Gionta and Gorges just hurts the Canadiens. Sure, they saw success without Vanek, but his constant scoring threat alone helped out the Canadiens immensely. Gionta was the bonafide leader of this team, and Gorges led the blue line. Ultimately, young guys like Galchenyuk and Gallagher will have to step up and perform at a high level, and Pacioretty has to continue his upward trend. The third line really needs to develop into a solid checking unit, which they are easily capable of doing. Price needs to stay healthy, and if he does, he's capable of carrying Montreal through the playoffs with a little more ease than his New York counterpart. But, possibly most importantly, Subban needs to prove he is in fact worth $72 million.
(Editors Note: I apologize for the delay. With the deletion of the web site Extra Skater, I was looking around to find a good website that recorded possession numbers, zone starts and quality of competition. The stats used for this, as well as the upcoming previews, were used through Hockey Abstract, and basic stats from NHL.com. As always, thanks for reading)