Since we’re well into the dog days of summer as far as hockey news is concerned, the least we can do is offer a quick look ahead to what’s coming for the seven Canadian NHL teams this season.
With a month to go until training camp, I’ve asked a blogger from each city to weigh in on how their team has changed since last season and where they believe they rank in their conference. We’ll run one team every weekday, with today the third of our series in the Montreal Canadiens.
Who's in? Erik Cole, Peter Budaj, Jeff Woywitka
Who's out? Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Benoit Pouliot, Brent Sopel, Paul Mara, Jeff Halpern, Alex Auld, Tom Pyatt, Alexandre Picard
The Habs rode a red-hot 18-8-2 start to last season to a sixth-place finish in the East, finishing with 96 points and only seven back of the Northeast Division champion (and eventual Stanley Cup winners) Boston Bruins.
They pushed Boston to the limit in the first round, too, going to overtime of Game 7 before Nathan Horton's winner ended their season.
The one constant for Montreal all season was the play of Carey Price, who was one of the league's top five netminders all year and finished seventh in Hart Trophy voting as league MVP, keeping his team in games despite their injury decimated defence core.
One major issue for the Canadiens, however, was putting the puck in the net, as they had one of the lowest goal totals of any playoff team despite converting at a nearly 20-per-cent rate on the power play.
For a few thoughts on what’s in store for the Habs this coming season, here’s Olivier Bouchard from En attendant les Nordiques with reasons for optimism, pessimism and a midsummer prediction as to how they’ll finish.
Reasons for optimism:
"Luck and better depth for the forwards. They had crappy shooting luck at even strength last year, with Scott Gomez and Lars Eller being the poster boys. The team out shot and out chanced the opposition whenever one of those two were on the ice and this will continue next season; Gomez will 'bounce back' if only because rotten luck doesn't stick around forever. As for depth, well, take the playoff roster and replace Halpern and Pouliot/Pyatt with Max Pacioretty and Cole and count on Eller and David Desharnais's continuing progress. All of that should do wonder to their 5 on 5 goal differential."
Causes for concern:
"Defence and discipline. If everybody's healthy on defense, this is a very nice group, with decent upside on the back end and two tough minutes duos in Andrei Markov with Josh Gorges and Hal Gill with PK Subban. But are Markov and Gorges going to stay healthy all year long? That's a big question mark. Poor discipline also plagued this team over the last two seasons: They were on the penalty kill over 300 times last year, often derailing their efficient 5-on-5 play."
Predicted finish in the East:
"Fifth. Price is a true difference maker, but he's alone for now. I believe Subban is a year from joining him and we don't know about Markov's health. The forwards are a deep and versatile group but without a true game breaker. Still, I'm being conservative; they aren't the Red Wings, but they can take down any team on any given day. And they do have $5-million left under the cap."
Now I'll turn it over to you in the comments section: How do you think the Habs will do this season?
Tuesday: The Ottawa Senators