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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Northeast Preview: Montreal Canadiens

by Louis Moustakas

With summer well behind us, it seems like the perfect time to contemplate the moves made by Montreal and its various division rivals. Over five parts, we will take a look at each team and venture a guess at where they will finish in 2011-12. It is now time to look at our favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens.  

Last season: 44-30-8, 96 points (2nd in Northeast, 6th in East)

Additions: Michael Blunden, RW; Peter Budaj, G; Erik Cole, W; Peter Delmas, G; Raphael Diaz, D; Nathan Lawson, G; Mark Mitera, D; Brock Trotter, C; Brian Willsie, RW; Jeff Woywitka, D; Alexei Yemelin, D

Subtractions: Alex Auld, G; Dustin Boyd, C; Mahtieu Carle, D; Nigel Dawes, LW; Jeff Halpern, C; Roman Hamrlik, D; Kyle Klubertanz, D; Drew MacIntyre, G; Alexandre Picard, D; Benoit Pouliot, LW; Tom Pyatt, F; Ryan Russell, C; Brent Sopel, D; James Wisniewski, D; J.T Wyman, RW;
Last year, the Canadiens managed to finish a respectable sixth in the Eastern Conference in spite of a slew of injuries that forced Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek and Max Pacrioretty, to name but a few, to miss considerable time. As a result, Pierre Gauthier spent significant resources plugging holes in his lineup, especially on the backend. In the end, Gauthier would be compelled to acquire three blueliners, James Wisniewski, Paul Mara and Brent Sopel, over the course of the season.

Clearly, as Gauthier entered the summer, he looked to avoid a repeat of that situation. While many defencemen, including Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski and Brent Sopel, left the organization, depth, and youth, was added to the backend.
Raphael Diaz and Alexei Yemelin, who both have considerable international experience, were brought over from Europe. Jeff Woywitka and Mark Mitera should add above-average talent to the Bulldogs. Add to that the returns of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges along with the continued development of Yannick Weber and Brendon Nash, who was a surprise call-up last season, and the squad seems far better equipped to handle injuries to its blueline.

Meanwhile, management also landed a big fish in winger Erik Cole, who adds much needed size and scoring to Montreal’s attack. Even should his production fail to meet expectations, his addition, along with rising youngsters Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, gives the Habs scoring options throughout their top-nine. It has been a long while since we were able to sincerely make that statement.       
In short, this edition of the Canadiens appears to have a depth that was not present in recent years. This depth not only allows the team to more comfortably absorb injuries, but also creates precious competition for ice time. Beyond that, they also possess two of the league’s rising stars in P.K Subban and Carey Price, players who are both able to elevate their game and literally carry their team.  

Key players returning to health. Improved depth. Emerging youth. Sounds like a recipe for success.

And if the above does not work out as planned, there is always that four million dollars of cap space that could be handy.

Prediction: 2nd in the North East.

What do you think? Where will our favourite team finish next season? Can they win the Division?   
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Louis is an editor at HabsWorld.net and has been writing about Canadiens and NHL hockey since 2009. Louis was born in Chicago but grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. He currently lives in Ottawa and works for the Coaching Association of Canada. He can be reached at l.moustakas@habsworld.net.

4 comments:

I think they can win the division. Where's the scoring for boston? Ug-lic? Marshmont? Horton, who scores 15 goals in ten games, and 10 in 72? I'm not expecting Tim Thomas to be a flop, but no one, except Jacques Plante can duplicate a cup, vezina and conn-smythe quality season. I think the cup hangover, and the habs quick starts gets the bleu blanc et rouge, of to a ten point lead in December, then wire-to-wire to close the season.

Good stuff Louis...

I see the Habs battling the Bs for the top spot all season long. I think it comes down to how well the Bruins bounce back from their short summer. To be honest, I think they are a team that can be had this season simply because of the Stanley Cup Hangover.

@Nick: great point! I personally DO see Thomas taking a minor step back this season and Rask getting more playing time. That plus another full season without Marc Savard can't do anything good for their team.

Montreal has more depth than they have had in a decade but, are paper thin at center. What happens if Plekanec or Gomez go down with an injury for an extended period of time?

There is no one in the farm system capable of taking their place. And, to Louis' point, that is why health will, once again, be a prime factor for this squad!

I think the Canadiens will win the North East Division if not at least second, they seemed to have a improved a lot. I wish they had kept Wiz especially if Markov doesn't make back until Christmas, lets hope that is not the case. All I can say is Go Habs Go!!!!!

Hello Nick, Kamal and Charles.

Thank you all for reading and the feedback.

@Nick Sadly, I am not as pessimistic about Boston who, I feel, will repeat as division champions. Nathan Horton may be streaky, but that is the nature of most scorers. With Lucic, Bergeron, Krejci, Peverley, Marchand and an emerging Seguin, the team does have some scoring threats. They also added Corvo, who should do a better job than Kaberle at anchoring their powerplay. And they have Tukka Rask, a starter in probably over 20 other teams, in case Thomas falters.
Of course Montreal can win the division. It could shape up to be an interesting fight between them, Boston and Buffalo. But until the season unfolds, the benefit of the doubt should go to the Champs.

@Charles I made the argument for keeping Wiz some time ago, and really the notion has gone back and forth in my mind. However, the defense is younger and deeper than last year. That can only be good a thing. The 4 million dollars in cap space helps as well.

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