The Montreal Canadiens’ season is over, but the most difficult part of the team’s journey is just beginning.
For the 15th consecutive spring, the Habs will be on the sidelines as the Stanley Cup is being awarded to another team.
There were those who thought a surprising first-place finish in the Eastern Conference during the regular season meant there was a good chance Montreal would win the Cup back, but that’s obviously no longer the case.
The Canadiens’ 2007-08 campaign is dripping with positives, from the emergence of the Kostitsyn brothers, to the inspired play of Alex Kovalev, to glimpses of future glory from Carey Price.
But the transition Montreal just completed, morphing from a team on the outside of the playoff picture a year ago to one that entered this post-season as the East’s No. 1 seed, pales in comparison to the next challenge.
The Canadiens now must find a way to cover the substantial ground from being a good team capable of winning a playoff round or two, to one of a handful of squads with legitimate championship aspirations.
That’s no small task.
Many people look at the progress the team made this year and assume great things are around the corner, simply waiting to be discovered. But in order to find them, the Canadiens need to collect some important pieces.
Montreal has some talented forwards, but in truth every one of its top-six skaters is better suited to a second-line role.
Kovalev is at his most dangerous when the other team forgets about him because their best resources are busy spent covering the top line.
Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec are terrific centers, but neither fit the mold of a quintessential big man in the middle.
Mike Komisarek is a bruiser and Andrei Markov is a mover, but most teams that reach the top of the mountain boast a slick, solid defenseman who plays a Markov-Komisarek hybrid style of game.
It’s a lot to ask for, but then again, there’s a reason only one team wins the title each year. If the Canadiens want to get back on the list of clubs capable of doing that, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro Newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.