2017-18 team-by-team NHL season outlook: Previewing the Montreal Canadiens
Lots of moving parts may be the biggest hurdle for Carey Price and Co., a defensively geared contender
As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 25th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
A year after a sub-.500 finish, just the second time in eight years they didn't earn a postseason berth, the Canadiens soared back to the top of the Atlantic Division in 2016-17, albeit not without a jarring change behind the bench. A flaming start, including an 8-0-1 October and a 12-1-1 tear at home through the first two months of the season, preceded a fall back to Earth in the winter. That's when Claude Julien, a week after being fired by the Boston Bruins, arrived to replace Michel Therrien for the second time in his career, jump-starting the Habs just in time for a playoff push. A 12-5-1 finish and continued dominance from Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price sent Montreal (47-26-9) into the playoffs, but the magic ended there, when the New York Rangers rode Henrik Lundqvist and Co. to a 4-2 series decision.
Determined to get back in the race for an Atlantic Division title and playoff push, the Canadiens were very busy over the summer, but it remains to be seen whether their activity was, as a whole, for better or worse, especially with a couple of longtime familiar faces heading for greener pastures.
Key additions: F Jonathan Drouin (trade with Lightning), D Karl Alzner (Capitals), D David Schlemko (trade with Golden Knights), D Mark Streit (Penguins), F Ales Hemsky (Stars)
Key losses: F Alexander Radulov (Stars), D Andrei Markov, D Alexei Emelin (Predators), F Nathan Beaulieu (trade with Sabres), D Mikhail Sergachev (trade with Lightning)
The biggest doling out of cash came inside the organization thanks to an eight-year, $84 million extension for Price, who may very well be overpaid at the tail end of the new deal but was a must-have as the centerpiece of Montreal's top-three defense. Kudos to Montreal for choosing to risk big bucks on its own superstar, especially because the rest of the Habs' offseason was only partially inspiring.
Drouin is an intriguing catch as a young gun with a high ceiling after a tumultuous time in Tampa Bay, and he could be the offensive spark this team is looking for after 2016-17, especially if his last 21-goal outing with the Lightning was just a glimpse at his talent. Alzner, meanwhile, is a rock-solid D-man whose presence, coupled with that of Schlemko, Streit and regulars Jordie Benn and Shea Weber, should keep Montreal's blue line among the better units in the league. But there's also a ton of risk involved with a lot of the moving parts. Drouin, for one, cost the Habs an elite defensive prospect in Sergachev, whose loss looks a little weightier with Markov getting spurnedand Emelin snagged by Vegas in the expansion draft. And Alzner, hardly a threat to add offense, is probably being paid a little too handsomely -- something the Canadiens might have better liked attributed to Radulov, whose scoring stroke they kissed goodbye in free agency.
The Canadiens are one of the most interesting contenders in that, like the Dallas Stars, their frenetic offseason could prove to be the make-or-break factor in the team's run at the playoffs. Let's be clear off the bat, though: The "break" for Montreal is probably a fringe postseason berth, because this is still a talented organization with a lot of veteran pieces, starting with Price. And even if the Habs can't start as well as they did a season ago (hint: they probably won't), they're due for a rebound in several areas, too, such as in offensive contributions from guys like Tomas Plekanec and Andrew Shaw. Consider a potential Drouin outburst in a new setting and the defensive wall of Weber and Alzner in front of Price, not to mention a team coming off a full summer under Julien, and you might have reason for Stanley Cup hopes.
The problems arise when you consider what could go wrong in the wake of too many unproven or one-dimensional players coming in to replace more proven predecessors. Markov and Radulov come to mind immediately. Neither guy was getting any younger and you could argue that Montreal was better off letting Dallas give the latter a big-money deal, but the Canadiens are still putting lots of trust in Drouin, who had his fair share of down moments in Tampa, to shoulder the offensive load. Collectively, the new blue-liners should account for as much production as Markov and Emelin offered, but if the question entering this offseason was whether Montreal possessed -- or could find -- a true puck mover on "D," the answer is still up for debate.
Are the Canadiens a playoff team once again? It sure looks like it. Are they true title contenders? The potential is there, but a lot of gelling has to take place first.
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