With only a few weeks before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Montreal Canadiens. As far as being a serious threat to contend for the Stanley Cup, Montreal remains the lone standout out of all Canadian teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs could surprise if everything goes right, but in terms of talent and based on recent history, the Habs are the likeliest team to bring the Cup back to Canada.
Last Season – The Montreal Canadiens hit the 100-point mark last year, an impressive feat for any team. It was made even more impressive when one takes into account that two other teams from the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, also finished with over 100 points. Montreal reached the century mark thanks in part because of their success in the shootouts. Only two other playoff teams were more successful than Montreal in that aspect of the game (the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues), and Montreal owed much of its success in the shootout to David Desharnais and Lars Eller, both clicking at over 70 percent in the shootout last season.
However, the biggest factor for the Montreal Canadiens last year was goaltender Carey Price. His save percentage of .927 was tied for second in the league among starters, behind only Tuuka Rask’s .930 mark. It was the most successful season Price has had since the 2010-2011 season, and it could not have come at a more opportune time. Montreal did not have much in the way of scoring threats last season, with forward Max Pacioretty and defenseman PK Subban providing the majority of the offense, so the team relied heavily on their goaltender to win them games.
In the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens took care of the other Cup threats in the Atlantic, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and upsetting their bitter rivals, the Boston Bruins, in the second. The Habs fell to the New York Rangers in the Conference Finals, after losing Price in the first game of the series. A collision between Price and Rangers forward Chris Kreider caused a knee injury to the goaltender, forcing Montreal to rely on backup Dustin Tokarski to finish the series. The Rangers would win the series in six games.
The Offseason – The Canadiens did not have to make many moves in the offseason to remain a competitive team. General manager Marc Bergevin did make the roster slightly younger, allowing Brian Gionta to leave for free agency, and dealing Josh Gorges and Danny Briere for cap space and a younger player, respectively. However, since their playoff run was cut short only due to the injury of their most important player, it appears the Montreal Canadiens are content with the core they have and simply hoping for some better luck from the hockey gods this year.
The biggest storyline in the offseason for Montreal was the deal with superstar defenseman, PK Subban. Subban was a restricted free agent at the end of last season, allowing him the opportunity to file for salary arbitration. After weeks of negotiation, the hearing took place on August 1, and Subban’s new deal was signed the next day. The Canadiens signed their defenseman to an eight-year, $72 million contract, making him the highest paid defenseman in the league.
An unheralded signing by the team was that of Manny Malhotra. Malhotra is a league-veteran who ran into some poor luck. An eye injury nearly ended his NHL career a few seasons ago, but after receiving a try out from the Carolina Hurricanes last year, he proved that he was still able to play at a high level. If nothing else, his faceoff prowess will help Montreal maintain possession on the 50/50 pucks.
What to Watch for Next Season – The Montreal Canadiens will be all about recovery and living up to expectations next season. To remain Canada’s biggest, and possibly only, threat to win the Stanley Cup, the events of last season and the offseason can not affect the players this year.
Carey Price must be fully recovered from the lower-body injury he sustained in collision with Chris Kreider. Reports in the offseason have been that he has been skating again and that he should be ready to go once the season begins, but when a team is so heavily reliant on a player, one cannot be too worried about the state of his health.
With a massive new contract in tow, PK Subban has to be the defenseman that won him the Norris trophy in 2013 on a consistent basis. It should not be too much of a risk, given that Subban has recently been gunning for the title of Montreal captain, but there is always a concern that a player will enter a bit of a lull in their play when they receive a contract that essentially sets them up for life.
Finally, keep an eye on Max Pacioretty. The young scorer came so close to reaching 40 goals on the season for the first time in his career, and though he probably could have reached it if he remained healthy (after scoring 39 goals in 72 games), there is a stark difference between being close and actually accomplishing the objective. No doubt he will lead Montreal in scoring again this upcoming year, and it will not be a disaster if he does not reach 40 goals, but having a 40-goal season is a nice notch on one’s belt, and it is one that Pacioretty can accomplish if things go right.
Things do not have to go right for the Canadiens in order for them to make the playoffs. They can afford to face a few hardships in the season and still make the playoffs with ease. However, to win the Stanley Cup and become the first team to bring the Cup back to Canada since the 1992-1993 season, the hockey gods have to show favor to the Montreal Canadiens.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the Nashville Predators. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Minnesota Wild.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner