MONTREAL CANADIENS 2013/14 SEASON PREVIEW

Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded, the draft has taken place and everyone’s had a good laugh over Toronto’s bat shit insanity on Free Agent Day.

So what’s left to do except fawn over what the 2013/14 NHL season might bring?!

First up, we’ll take a look at 2013 North East Division Champions, the Montreal Canadiens.

What happened in 2013?

Image courtesy of canadiansportsbetting.org.

After an awful 2011/12 season, the Canadiens were a team in transition.  Not a full rebuild, as they already had many key pieces in place and a decent stable of prospects, but the new CBA allowed them to move out pariah Scott Gomez and the 2012 draft brought them high-end youngster Alex Galchenyuk.  Along with fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher and blossoming NHL talents PK Subban, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller, the youth movement was in full swing.

The team had a decent start, going 4-2-0 in January, but really enjoyed their strongest stretches of the season in February (9-2-3) and March (9-3-2), and despite a middling final month (7-7-0) they found themselves laughing all the way to 2nd in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, they found themselves up against their Canadian rivals the Ottawa Senators, a team that was considered a dark horse entering the post-season thanks to the fact they survived a rash of injuries to their top players and still finished in the top half of the rankings.  With their puck possession style and strong systems play, they were potentially all kinds of wrong for the Habs.

And unfortunately, that’s how it played out.  In a series that was bound to chippy, things got ugly in a hurry.  Fights and brawls were the big stories, along with the goal-tending collapse of Carey Price and the absence of much in the way of scoring from Montreal’s talent.  Losing by a combined score of 20 to 9, the proud Habs were sent home limping in a 4-1 series loss.  The future, however, remained promising.

Top 5 Scorers

  1. Image courtesy of habseyesontheprize.com.

    MAX PACIORETTY (44gp, 15g 24a 39p)

  2. PK SUBBAN (42gp, 11g 27a 38p)
  3. TOMAS PLEKANEC (47gp, 14g 19a 33p)
  4. ANDREI MARKOV (48gp, 10g 20a 30p)
  5. LARS ELLER (46gp, 8g 22a 30p)

Trades in 2012/13

  • Brendan Nash to Florida for Jason DeSantis.
  • Cedrick Desjardins to Tampa Bay for Dustin Tokarski.
  • Erik Cole to Dallas for Michael Ryder and a 3rd Round Pick (2013)
  • 5th Round Pick (2013) to LA for Davis Drewiske

Signings for 2012/13 Season

  • Brandon Prust (4 years)
  • Cedrick Desjardins (1 year)
  • Francis Bouillon (1 year)
  • Colby Armstrong (1 year)
  • Mike Condon (2 years)

2013 Off-season Activity

The Draft

  • Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

    25th Overall – Michael McCarron

  • 34th Overall – Jacob De La Rose
  • 36th Overall – Zachary Fucale
  • 55th Overall – Artturi Lehkonen
  • 71st Overall – Connor Crisp
  • 86th Overall – Sven Andrighetto
  • 116th Overall – Martin Reway
  • 176th Overall – Jeremy Gregoire

Free Agency / Player Signings

  • Daniel Briere (2 years)
  • Martin St Pierre (1 year)
  • Nick Tarnasky (1 year)
  • Gabriel Dumont (2 years)
  • Ryan White (1 year)
  • Michael McCarron (3 years)
  • Stefan Fournier (3 years)
  • Sven Andrighetto (3 years)
  • Robert Mayer (2 years)

Lost to Free Agency

  •  Yannick Weber
  • Michael Ryder
  • Frederic St Denis

Trades

  • 7th Round Pick (2013) to Florida for 7th Round Pick (2014).
  • Danny Kristo to NY Rangers for Christian Thomas.
  • Philippe Lefebvre and Florida’s 7th Round Pick (2014) to Florida for George Parros

Projected 2013/14 Roster

FORWARDS:

MAX PACIORETTY – TOMAS PLEKANEC – BRENDAN GALLAGHER

DANNY BRIERE – LARS ELLER – ALEX GALCHENYUK

TRAVIS MOEN – DAVID DESHARNAIS – BRIAN GIONTA

BRANDON PRUST – JEFF HALPERN – RENE BOURQUE

This is an odd collection of forwards; no superstars (yet) and no standouts in any one area, but all-in-all just a nice group of pretty versatile players.

Image courtesy of ledevoir.com.

Max Pacioretty is, at the moment, the offensive go-to guy here, improving his points per game rate from 0.82 to 0.88 from 2011/12, and driving the play in a dominant fashion – though it should be noted he was placed in favourable situations by the coach.  Can’t knock a guy for doing his job though, and he did it wonderfully.  A physical scoring presence is precisely what every team in the league wants, and the Habs have it.  Playing in the first line center role is Tomas Plekanec, an underrated forward who can chip in on scoring at a decent, though not elite rate, play in all situations and take on the toughest competition.  He may just be a placeholder for Alex Galchenyuk in the first line role, but he’s hugely important to this team in more ways than one.  Brendan Gallagher was something of a surprise last year, with not many predicting he’d have the offensive impact he did given his age and size, but impress he did.  With his tenacity and chippy, agitating style, he reminds me somewhat of Brad Marchand.  Hopefully he can continue what he started in his sophomore year.

Daniel Briere is the big free agent addition to the group and whilst he’s not the scorer he used to be he can still be a useful secondary scorer.  He’s 35 and many are questioning whether he’s even a top 6 guy anymore, but I still think he’s got something left, plus the guy is money in the playoffs.  Lars Eller finally began to show this year why he was the 13th overall pick in 2007, notching a career high in points despite playing in the lockout shortened season.  He didn’t get a ton of icetime in 2013, but his scoring is even more impressive when you factor in that he received less than 45 seconds per game on the powerplay, which would no doubt put a dent in anyone’s numbers.  He is clearly a trusted secondary PK option too.  Trending upwards, as they say.  Alex Galchenyuk, according to many, struggled when asked to play center last year, and his shot differentials (despite soft minutes) indicate that he did indeed find 5v5 play tough to handle at the age of 18 and coming off an injury-plagued junior season in 11/12.  Nonetheless, he impressed with his skill and flashes of brilliance on his way to finishing the season among the top scoring rookies along with Gallagher.  It likely won’t happen this season, but Galchenyuk will be one to watch for sure.  The question is not if, but when.

Image courtesy of canadiens.nhl.com.

Travis Moen may not receive much in the way of appreciation for his play, but he probably should.  He’s not a scorer, that’s for sure, but he takes on some of the most difficult zonestarts on the team whilst also playing big PK minutes.  He could well find himself swapping with Rene Bourque on the 4th line, but this is more a depth chart than a roster prediction so for now he’s here ahead of Prust.  David Desharnais is a difficult one to peg.  His numbers in 2011/12 were fantastic, with many anointing him (perhaps prematurely) the new number 1 center.  Yet this year his numbers dipped a little, and the shine came off for money.  Still, he’s a decent scorer who dominates soft minutes at 5v5 in shot differential.  Along with Eller and Plekanec, that’s not a bad center depth chart.  Brian Gionta could quite easily find himself in the top 6 this year, particularly if Gallagher or Galchenyuk struggle.  The captain can still produce decent offense whilst taking on some of the toughest competition on the team.  Can’t ask for much more really, though he is clearly on the downslope of his career.

Brandon Prust is not a bad player to have in the bottom 6, he can score a little and was trusted with some PK time and relatively difficult 5v5 minutes whilst being a physical force.  That said, paying him $2.5m per season is a bit much in all honesty.  Jeff Halpern did the other centers a favour by taking on the most difficult zonestarts on the team – less than 30% of his faceoffs were in the offensive zone – though he was taking on relatively easy competition.  A decent pickup from the Rangers in midseason, he doesn’t have much offense anymore but is still a trusted PK option, and rounds out a solid group of centers.  Rene Bourque, like Gionta, could find himself elevated if the young guns struggle and/or he plays the way many know he can.  No way should he be buried on the fourth line but as it stands that’s where I have him.  His 13 points in 27 games was solid, nothing to write home about but far better than the 8 in 38 from 2011/12.  His contract runs for 3 more seasons, so he’d better pick up his offensive game or he could find himself buried ever deeper.

DEFENCE:

PK SUBBAN – ANDREI MARKOV

JOSH GORGES – RAPHAEL DIAZ

FRANICIS BOUILLON – ALEXEI EMELIN

Image courtesy of lastwordonsports.com.

PK Subban is obviously the major item here.  He had a funny first couple of NHL seasons where he displayed high end skill and decent numbers, but many fans seemed to expect more – perhaps due to the hype.  However, the advanced stats crowd saw something there that suggested he might destined for great things – his possession numbers for such a young defender were fantastic – and the prophecy came true in 2013.  He may have muddied his name somewhat thanks to a protracted contract negotiation which ate into the beginning of his season, but once he joined the team for their 5th game of the year and never looked back.  Finishing joint-top of the scoring charts with Kris Letang at 38 points, Subban had truly announced himself on the NHL stage, his play finally matching up to the big-talking character.  His defensive play was pretty outstanding aswell, though he did receive fairly easy minutes compared to his peers.  He was decent in the playoffs aswell, with 4 points in 5 games.  All this led to the 24 year old joining Chris Chelios, Larry Robinson, Jacques Laperriere, Tom Johnson and Doug Harvey as fellow winners of the Norris Trophy.  This is the star play on the Habs, this is the guy that will lead the team where it wants to go.

Joining him is veteran Andrei Markov, who just completed his first healthy season since 2008/09.  He was very good too, notching 30 points and taking on relatively tough competition which he performed OK against.  At 34, he’s not too old to have a few more decent years as the veteran presence on the team’s top 4.  Josh Gorges has established himself as a very good defensive option in the NHL, playing a tough game with big minutes at 5v5 and on the PK, and he’s not incompetent in moving the puck either.  He played the toughest competition of any d-man on the team last season, and whilst he didn’t do great in shot-differentials, it’s partially explainable by the situations he was used in.  Clearly a trusted option by the coach.

Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

27 year old Raphael Diaz has impressed NHL observers in his first two NHL seasons since signing as a free agent from Switzerland.  He has decent puck moving ability (30 points in 82 NHL games so far) and has been trusted to take on tough competition with sub-45% offensive zonestarts and heavy special teams minutes.  His actual sample size of NHL action is still relatively small, but the early returns are very promising.

Francis Bouillon, the 37 year old veteran of 724 NHL games – most of them in Montreal – is still a decent NHL defender in a depth role.  He can contribute a little bit of offense, but more importantly is solid defensively and capable of playing in all situations.  Alexei Emelin, much like Diaz, has impressed with his solid two-way play since arriving in Montreal.  He played big minutes at 5v5 and on the PK, and represented good value defensively in particular.

All in all, a solid group with a range of skills, led by a sublime talent who is only going to get better.

GOAL:

CAREY PRICE

PETER BUDAJ

Image courtesy of o.canada.com.

Whilst Carey Price didn’t have a great season — his 2.59 GAA and 0.905 SV% were a bit of a drop from the previous year — he is in no danger as of yet in losing his starters role.  His talent is undeniable and he is generally regarded as one of the top goalies in the league.  Having one of the worst powerplay save percentages at .804 certainly didn’t help, though on the other hand he had one of the best short-handed save percentages at .974.  Both those numbers are likely unsustainable, i.e. he should be better whilst his team is on the penalty kill and likely worse whilst on the powerplay.

Backing him up is veteran Peter Budaj, who has been solid in that role for the last two seasons.  At age 30, he is still in his prime as a goalie, and should stay relatively fresh whilst only seeing 15-20 games per year behind Price.

Goaltending is far from this team’s biggest problem.

EXTRAS: DAVIS DREWISKE (D), JARRED TINORDI (D), RYAN WHITE (F), GEORGE PARROS (F)

Expectations for the Season

 

After the success of the 2013 regular season but the crushing disappointment of falling out in the playoffs to Ottawa, both the team and the fans will be chomping at the bit to get the 2013/14 season underway.  This is a decent team, with a high-end goalie and an elite young defender at it’s core, along with well-rounded players at all positions and no glaring weaknesses.  However, “well-rounded” is not a glowing review, rather a middling one.  This is a team that shouldn’t have trouble making the playoffs, particularly if Price can right his ship, and they are centered around a young, exuberant talent-base which can only be a good thing, but I’m not convinced the team has what it takes yet to get far into the second season.

I see a re-occurrence of the 2013 season: a decent regular season followed by a first round exit, albeit with more of a fight.

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