The Montreal Canadiens enter this season hoping to put a disastrous 2011-12 campaign – in which they finished dead last in the Eastern Conference – behind them.
Ownership opted for a clean sweep of its front office and coaching, hiring Marc Bergevin as GM and bringing back no-nonsense Michel Therrien for a second stint as coach.
Bergevin wasted little time addressing the Canadiens’ need for more toughness and grit, signing left winger Brandon Prust and right winger Colby Armstrong and bringing back former Habs defenseman Francis Bouillon.
He was also busy re-signing key players, including goaltender Carey Price, left wingers Max Pacioretty and Travis Moen, centers Lars Eller and Ryan White and defensemen Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz.
The new Habs GM was also reportedly among the numerous early suitors this summer for unrestricted free agent right winger Shane Doan, who eventually re-signed with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Bergevin’s interest in Doan suggested a desire to add more skilled size and strength to his forward lines. Depending upon his club’s performance this season, Bergevin could continue shopping for more sizable scoring depth.
One notable problem for Bergevin was his inability to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The blueliner’s contract status was a source of concern for many Habs fans, fearful the rising young star might be signed away via expensive offer sheet from another club.
Subban’s contract situation was also the source of endless summer trade speculation. The Philadelphia Flyers were believed to have contacted Bergevin regarding the blueliner’s status soon after their failure to pry Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators via offer sheet.
Term and salary are reportedly the sticking points in Bergevin’s talks with the Subban camp, but the Canadiens GM isn’t likely to shop him, while any offer sheet for Subban is expected to be matched.
The young blueliner is a rising NHL star and fan favorite in Montreal. Given the uncertainty over veteran Andrei Markov’s health, moving Subban would do more harm than good for the Canadiens defense, especially on the power play.
Expect the two sides to have a new deal in place shortly following the implementation of a new CBA.
Though expectations are low for the Canadiens entering this season, it’s possible they could return to playoff contention sooner than anticipated.
In Price, they have one of the league’s top goaltenders, who gives them a chance to win every night.
A healthy Markov and re-signed Subban should provide a substantial boost to their defense corps and powerplay, as could the development of young blueliners Emelin and Diaz.
At forward, Pacioretty blossomed into a scoring star teamed up with right winger Erik Cole and center David Desharnais, one of the few pleasant surprises in Montreal’s otherwise dreary ’11-12.
A healthier season for right winger Brian Gionta, the development of Eller at center, improved effort from center Tomas Plekanec and right winger Rene Bourque, plus the additional grit of Prust and Armstrong could provide the Habs with a much-needed boost of scoring and physicality.
Still, the Canadiens remain a rebuilding club, and will find it difficult jockeying for playoff positions in the Eastern Conference. They simply cannot afford another season of setbacks and turmoil as they experienced in 2011-12.
If Les Canadiens fail to make any significant improvements this season, more changes could be in store.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.