2014/15 Season Preview – Montreal Canadiens

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/84/Alex_Galchenyuk_-_Canadiens_de_Montr%C3%A9al.jpg/640px-Alex_Galchenyuk_-_Canadiens_de_Montr%C3%A9al.jpg

2013/14 Season Record – 4th in Eastern Conference, 3rd in Atlantic Division

W

L OT PTS GOAL DIFF.
 46 28 8 100 +11

2013/14 Season Recap

T

he Canadiens’ enjoyed a very strong season, perhaps somewhat surprisingly given the youth on the team.  They didn’t have a sub-.500 record in any month of the season, and were regarded as a deserving playoff team with considerable talent.  They didn’t disappoint in the playoffs, sweeping Tampa Bay and then taking down the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in 7 games.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, their first trip there since 2010, they faced the upstart New York Rangers – billed as a battle between not only Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, but also PK Subban and Ryan McDonagh.  The Habs had as good a chance as any team to prevail, but were thoroughly outplayed at home in games 1 and 2, and eventually succumbed to the Rangers in 6 games.

Projected Roster

LW C RW
 Max Pacioretty David Desharnais Brendan Gallagher
 Alex Galchenyuk Tomas Plekanec PA Parenteau
 Michael Bournival Lars Eller Rene Bourque
 Dale Weise Manny Malhotra Brandon Prust
LD RD
Alexei Emelin PK Subban
 Andrei Markov Tom Gilbert
 Jarred Tinordi Mike Weaver
G
Carey Price
 Peter Budaj
EXTRAS
Travis Moen
Jiri Sekac

Top Call-Up Options

Forward Sven Andrighetto, Gabriel Dumont, Christian Thomas
Defense  Nathan Beaulieu, Davis Drewiske, Greg Pateryn
Goal  Joey MacDonald

Top Prospects

 1. Nikita Scherbak2. Zachary Fucale

3. Nathan Beaulieu

Key Additions

  • Manny Malhotra
  • Tom Gilbert
  • Jiri Sekac
  • Joey MacDonald
  • PA Parenteau

Key Subtractions

  • Thomas Vanek
  • Brian Gionta
  • Mike Blunden
  • Devan Dubnyk
  • Ryan White
  • Josh Gorges
  • Daniel Briere
  • Louis Leblanc

Roster Thoughts

The Canadiens lack elite-level star power up front, with only Max Pacioretty approaching that status over the last several seasons.  That said, overall they have a very solid group, a respectable blend of experienced veterans who can impact the game in multiple areas, and budding young stars with plenty of potential.

David Desharnais has proven his doubters wrong to become a solid top-6 center. He’s not a true number one, but he does his job well. They are joined by uber-pest Brendan Gallagher, who like Desharnais has proven that size isn’t everything by developing into a quality offensive performer, and at 22 has plenty of room to grow.

Alex Galchenyuk may or may not begin his career as an NHL center this season. He was drafted as one, but as with most teenagers breaking into the league has been sheltered so far. He regressed somewhat last year, like former Sarnia Sting team-mate and current Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov, but his potential to be a top-line forward remains, being an exciting blend of size and skill.  Playing on a line with an elite two-way forward in Tomas Plekanec and an experienced quality offensive player in PA Parenteau should really help develop Galchenyuk’s game at both ends of the ice, hopefully in much the same way as Tyler Seguin did with Boston and now Dallas.

Speedy and with two-way skill and versatility, young Michael Bournival will have a good opportunity to play an important bottom-six role this year, particularly if joined up with solid centreman Lars Eller, who really started coming into his own the last two years.  Eller will be looking to rebound offensively somewhat though.  Rene Bourque is something of a mystery, having been much maligned since his trade to the Habs in 2012, though he exploded for 8 goals in 17 games in last year’s playoffs, which got him back into the good books of many.  He will have to prove that wasn’t just a hot streak, though.

The bottom line sees respected veteran Manny Malhotra join the club, and as usual he’ll likely take on extremely tough defensive minutes. Underlying numbers suggest he is beginning to wane in that role, particularly after his eye injury a couple of years back, but he’s still got some game left. Prust and Weise provide the truculence on the team, and it’s unclear how much assistance they’ll give Malhotra in the actual hockey playing side of the game. Or maybe it is clear: they won’t.  If Travis Moen can get back into form he’d be a more desirable option.

Any discussion of the Canadiens’ defense is going to begin with controversial (for some reason) star PK Subban.  Subban takes a lot of flak for his brash persona, not to mention his wild-rover on-ice style, along the same lines as Erik Karlsson and Mike Green. The thing is though, Subban is actually a positive difference-maker for the team. With regards to shot-differentials, the Canadiens perform far better with him on the ice than without him, dominant in fact. In fact, the only players to perform better in this area when playing apart from Subban were Brandon Prust, Alexei Emelin, Michael Bournival, Patrick Holland and Mike Weaver, and those were players who didn’t spend much time with Subban over the season. So yeah, Subban’s pretty good, is still only going to get better, and the Habs are better for it.

Alexei Emelin has spent much of the last couple of years injured, but has been respectable when healthy.  He took on some of the toughest minutes on the team last year, and will likely be relied upon to do the same this season, particularly with defensive stalwart Josh Gorges out of town.

Andrei Markov isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still a high quality offensive option and one of the team’s stronger puck possession players at even strength. Offense from the blueline certainly won’t be hard to come by for the Habs this year.  Added to the mix is Tom Gilbert. Gilbert has long been a goat for many fans, while also managing to be a darling of advanced stats followers.  He played top-pairing minutes for most of his time in Edmonton, and did it last season too in Florida. Excluding one dreadful season in his home-state of Minnesota, where the hockey gods seemed to truly conspire against him, he has been a highly effective puck possession defender and quality defensive option.  He can move the puck and play in all situations. The reason fans don’t like him? He isn’t physical, and because the puck goes through him so often (there’s a reason for that, believe it or not), he has more giveaways than your average face-puncher.  The Canadien’s, in my opinion, rounded out their top-4 very, very nicely with the addition of Gilbert, and Gilbert finally gets to play on a decent team.

A physical specimen on the blueline, Jarred Tinordi will finally look to stick in the big leagues this year.  Physical, a decent skater and with quality defensive tools, he certainly looks like a capable NHL defender. How good he can be at his peak depends on providing him with the proper situations to thrive in now, and with the quality of Montreal’s top 4 that shouldn’t be too hard. Bring him along slowly in that third pairing role, hope that his offense can develop a bit more (that may be the sticking point), and have experienced veteran Mike Weaver guide him through.

In net, there’s not a great deal to talk about.  Price had the third highest SV% in the league last year and won more than half the games he appeared in. Whatever issues the team has, it’s not with Price. If he continues his form he could find himself in the conversation for a Vezina before long.  Peter Budaj is a decent-not-great backup, who will get a few starts here and there playing behind a solid team, and should be good enough not to be a liability.

Key Player

Max Pacioretty is as close a thing as this team has to a superstar forward. He’s not quite in the upper echelons of the league’s forwards just yet, but since the 2010/11 season he has averaged 35 goals per 82 games played, including a career-high 39 last year, in what was actually considered a mildly disappointing year for him overall.

The Habs are a relatively well-built club, but do lack that star power up front.  If Pacioretty can push for 40 goals again, that will go a long way in ensuring the position of the Canadiens in the upper-half of the league standings.

2014/15 Expectations

This should be a playoff club, no question.  The talent level and roster balance is just about there, along with an elite defenseman and goalie in place – the cornerstones of any contending club.  I really do feel the one thing holding them back is the lack of a truly dominant scorer up front.  Pacioretty is excellent, but again, I wouldn’t yet consider him among the league’s best. Alex Galchenyuk is the player most likely to fill that role, and I’m sure the team is hoping he will take that next step forward in his career.

It is for that reason that I don’t think the team will make a huge noise in the playoffs. They could well make it to the second round, but I don’t foresee a repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals this season.

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