The Montreal Canadiens put the wraps on the 2015-2016 season with a 38-38-6 record and set off to fix things. Naturally the injury to goalie Carey Price, which kept him out of all but a dozen games, hurt the Habs’ chances. But it also revealed significant weakness, as no team can rely on one player alone. The Canadiens will hope to play as a stronger unit in 2016-2017, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.
Part of crafting the aforementioned stronger unit may or may not come with the arrival of defenceman Shea Weber, who was acquired as the Canadiens sent defenceman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. The deal is still sinking in for many in the Montreal fanbase and for good reason: Subban was a generational talent, a franchise player not easily replaced.
But life goes on and so do the Canadiens, with designs on winning games and taking risks. General manager Marc Bergevin took another risk with the pickup of Alexander Radulov, a questionable forward with a less than sterling history in the National Hockey League. The arrival of Radulov and the departure of Subban accounts for a contentious summer, to say the least, but there may be a method to the perceived madness.
Up front, Max Pacioretty brings home the bacon. The 27-year-old had 64 points last season, including 30 goals, and he’ll propel Montreal’s attack. He averaged 18:31 of ice time a game and came up with eight power play goals, plus one short-handed goal. He fired an astonishing 303 shots on target and is blessed with good speed, good hands, good two-way skill.
Edmonton’s Brendan Gallagher had 40 points in 53 games and will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing year. He missed 29 games with broken fingers and a lower body injury, but he still scored seven goals on the man-advantage and averaged 16:34 of ice time a game. Gallagher is a tenacious forward and he’s a strong fore-checker, plus he can disturb netminders and get in the way.
Tomas Plekanec had 54 points in 82 games and is one of the most polished players on the roster. The 33-year-old centre shows up and does the job, which accounts for his 18:31 of ice time a game and his resolve in the faceoff circle. Plekanec is a quick and clever player and he can play a balanced game at both ends of the ice.
Alex Galchenyuk had a tremendous year, with 56 points in 82 games last season. He reached the 30-goal mark, with nine goals scored on the power play. He averaged 16:15 of ice time a game and had 201 shots on goal. 30-year-old Radulov is a gamble, as mentioned, but he can play the game if he has the desire to. The Russian has confidence to spare and has a wicked left-handed shot.
Weber is the top man on the blueline in Montreal. The 31-year-old has many years of good hockey left in him and he’s a born leader. He also has a roaring point shot, which accounted for the fact that 14 of his 20 goals in 2015-2016 came on the power play. He averaged 25:22 of ice time a game, had 189 shots on goal and produced seven points in 14 playoff games.
37-year-old Andrei Markov is the anchor of the Canadiens. The Russian logged an average of 23:50 a game last season and had 44 points in 82 games, including five goals. He’s a poised player and he can lead the rush. Knee problems have slowed him down a little and age is becoming a factor, but Markov will join with Weber in giving the Habs’ blueline a serious dose of stability.
Defenceman Jeff Petry is a smooth skater and he has the ability to jump into the play. He registered 16 points in 51 games last season, tallied 21:21 of ice time a game, registered 98 shots on target, and had a power play goal. Strathroy native Nathan Beaulieu is another option, with 19 points in 64 games last season. He’s another great skater and he can see some big minutes.
Price went 10-2-0 in the dozen games he managed to play, with a 2.06 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. He earned two shutouts and allowed just 24 goals. Imagining what might’ve been had he remained healthy hurts to this very day, as Price was running on all cylinders. And when the 29-year-old from Anahim Lake is on his game, there’s no stopping him.
The Canadiens brought in netminder Al Montoya to shoulder the load, but it was Mike Condon who took the weight last season. He went 21-25-6, with a .903 save percentage and a 2.71 goals against average. Condon has a projectable frame and is a hardy player. 31-year-old Montoya is still trying to emerge as a netminder in the NHL, but he’s self-assured and capable when it comes to handling the puck.
Montreal has a pretty solid selection of talent the prospect pool, even if things are a little thin at centre. Michigan’s Michael McCarron is a nice option. The Habs drafted him in 2013 and he saw 20 games of action last year, coming up with two points in the process. He’s 6’6, so he owns immense presence and can use his size and strength to dominate the opposition.
24-year-old Daniel Carr could be an option in the top six along the left side. He debuted for the Habs in December and put up nine points in 23 games, including six goals. The Sherwood Park native is a natural scorer, plus he plays a complete game and likes to possess the puck. Montreal signed him after his senior year in the NCAA and looks set to grant him a significant role this season.
The Path Ahead
The Canadiens will be a different team in their own end this season and that could be a good thing, especially if last season proved them to be a one-dimensional squad. Weber and Markov will give them steadiness, while the quick forwards will fuel an offensive game that should overwhelm many an opponent. And then there’s Price, one of the best goalies in the game today. If he’s healthy, Montreal will win a lot of games.