Montreal Canadiens look to remain legitimate threat
A year removed from making an incredible play-off run the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a similar position as they did at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. With little to no changes in his line-up General Manager (GM) Pierre Gauthier has had difficulty convincing the public that the Canadiens are capable of a similar run in 2010-11.
The Canadiens still lack depth up front, and are relying on youngsters to step up at the back end. It will be difficult for them to remain a threat in the powerful Northeast Division and Eastern Conference.
Gauthier kicked off the off-season by making a trade that confused everyone but himself. The GM sent play-off hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for youngster Lars Eller. Gauthier followed it up by shipping volatile forward Sergei Kostitsyn to the Nashville Predators for what ended up being Dustin Boyd.
On the free agent market Gauthier acquired Alexandre Picard, and back-up goalie Alex Auld, while watching Dominic Moore and Glen Metropolit sign contracts with the Tampa Bay Lightning and EV Zug respectively.
Up front not much has changed from last season. The Canadiens are still small and will rely on Mike Cammalleri to get it done on the score-sheet.
The first line will remain the same with Scott Gomez centring Cammalleri, and Brian Gionta. The second group will have recently re-signed Tomas Plekanec playing between Andrei Kostitsyn, and youngster Eller. The third line will house pest Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot, and Travis Moen. The fourth line is likely to feature Tom Pyatt with Mathieu Darche, and Boyd.
It is still unclear as to whether or not Andrei Markov will be able to start the season after suffering yet another knee injury. Nevertheless, he is pencilled in to appear on the team’s top defence pair with Roman Hamrlik. The second unit is likely to house Jaroslav Spacek, and rookie sensation P.K. Subban. The final unit will be the shut-down pair of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill, who did a great job keeping the opposition off the board in the play-offs.
Although Carey Price has yet to re-sign with the club, the restricted free agent is expected to appear for the Canadiens next season.
Price will be the squads starting goalie, and will have little support, as perennial back-up Auld is the only competition he will have in the crease. Nevertheless, expect the Canadiens' coaching staff to limit Price’s time, giving him close to 55 games next season.
Can the Canadiens improve on last season?
Up front the Canadiens are still incredibly thin. Having Cammalleri for a full season should help. Nevertheless, the club still lacks a real second line scoring threat. Gauthier is putting a lot of stock in Lapierre and Pouliot, who will need to contribute in 2010-11 if the team hopes to get back to the post-season.
On defence the Canadiens are simply old. Markov is a legitimate all-star but has not played a full season since 2007-08. Losing arguably the team’s best player for the beginning of the season will not help their play-off chances. In addition, Hamrlik is no longer capable of playing over 20 minutes a game, while it would be a stretch to call Spacek a first line defenseman.
Montreal needs Subban to build on his success in the play-offs last year, and will be required to log over 22 minutes a game by the end of the year.
The goal-mouth is especially concerning for Montreal fans, as Price has been the definition of inconsistent over the past two years, and Auld is not a legitimate starting tender.
Expect the Canadiens to hang around the eighth spot but eventually drop to fill the ninth or tenth place in the Eastern Conference.