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Front office getting another big makeover

The Sports Xchange
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A last place finish in the Eastern Conference wasn't what the Canadiens expected at the start of the season but injuries, underachieving players and turmoil in the front office combined to destroy what had been a promising season.

Before they do anything else, the Canadiens have to hire a general manager and a head coach. General Manager Pierre Gauthier was fired late in the season and owner Geoff Molson and former GM Serge Savard are currently sifting through resumes.

The new GM will then have to find a coach. Randy Cunneyworth replaced Jacques Martin in December. He failed to turn things around and lacks one of the key requirements for the job -- the ability to communicate in French.

Stability hasn't been a hallmark for the Canadiens this century. They have gone through seven head coaches and four GMs since 2000.

The good news for the Canadiens coming out of the season is that they have the core of the team which reached the Eastern Conference final in 2010 and then took Stanley Cup winner Boston to seven games in the 2011 playoffs.

They are solid in goal with Carey Price although his season-ending concussion underlines the need to give him more protection. While his injury was the result of an accident in practice, Price had to deal for most of the season with opposing forwards running into him.

The late-season return of Ryan White from injury and the addition of Brad Staubitz provided the Canadiens with players who could respond when the opposition took shots at Price or some of the Canadiens' smaller forwards.

The long-awaited return of Andrei Markov provided a boost for the defense. He's not the same player he was before he underwent two major knee operations but he joins P.K Subban, Josh Gorges and fellow Russian Alexei Emelin to give the Canadiens a solid top four on defense.

The Canadiens could use some size on the blue line and 6-foot7 junior star Jarred Tinordi should join the team after a few months of seasoning in Hamilton. Until then, the Canadiens will have to make do with Tomas Kaberle, Raphael Diaz and Frederic St. Denis, who was impressive as a late-season callup

Kaberle was added to juice up the power play but was a liability on defense. The Canadiens would like to dump him but that's unlikely because he has two years remaining on a contract with a $4.25-million cap hit.

Up front, the Canadiens have added some size with Erik Cole and Brad Staubitz but they're still small down the middle

David Desharnais, who is only 5-foot-6, emerged as the team's No. 1 center with 30-goal scorers Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole on his wings. The three have displayed great chemistry and will likely stay together.

Tomas Plekanec has been the team's top center for the past three seasons but his numbers dropped off slightly. That's because he had nobody to play with. He started the season between Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri but they both struggled with injuries and Cammalleri was eventually traded to Calgary for Rene Bourque.

On paper, a line with Plekanec, Bourque and a healthy Gionta has potential but Bourque has been a disappointment since his arrival. He has five goals and three assists in 38 games with the Canadiens despite averaging more than 18 minutes a game of ice time. Finding a big, physical forward to play with Plekanec and Gionta will be a priority.

The Canadiens also have center Scott Gomez and his $7.3-million cap hit under contract for another two years. The Canadiens will dump Gomez but it remains to be seen whether they buy him out or bury him in the minors.

There's potential for a shutdown line with Lars Eller at center. He played his best hockey with potential unrestricted free agents Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche on the wings. Darche should be back because he's a local guy and doesn't make much money but Moen will attract interest from other teams.

The Canadiens have lots of spare parts for a fourth line. They're hoping that Bourque comes around because he has four years remaining on his contract. Rookie Louis Leblanc, a first-round draft pick in 2009, played well after being called up from Hamilton but the Canadiens will be looking to him to add some muscle in the offseason. He's 6-foot but weighs only 175 pounds.

SEASON HIGHLIGHT
After picking up only one win in their first eight games, the Canadiens went on a 6-2-0 run from Oct. 26 to Nov. 12. The run was impressive because the six wins were against teams that wound up in the playoffs. They beat Boston twice, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Nashville and Phoenix. Their losses were to the New York Rangers and Edmonton.

TURNING POINT
The Canadiens reached the high point in their season on Dec. 13 when they beat the New York Islanders and improved to 13-11-7. Four days later, general manager Pierre Gauthier fired coach Jacques Martin hours before a home game against New Jersey. Randy Cunneyworth lost in his head coaching debut and then went 1-5 on a six-game road trip around the Christmas holiday.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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