The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
Stanley Cup odds: 25-1
Key additions: Jonathan Drouin, C; Karl Alzner, D; David Schlemko, D; Ales Hemsky, RW; Mark Streit, D; Peter Holland, C
Key departures: Alexander Radulov, RW; Andrei Markov, D; Nathan Beaulieu, D; Alexei Emelin, D; Nikita Nesterov, D; Mikhail Sergachev, D; Brian Flynn, LW
Are the Canadiens deep enough to be legitimate contenders?
Judging only by top talent, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has assembled quite the roster. Carey Price is undoubtedly one of the world’s best netminders, Shea Weber is one heck of a No. 1 rearguard and Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin offer a nice bit of punch up front. But the roster beyond the top handful of players is incredibly thin, to the point one has to wonder what happens if anyone goes down with a significant injury.
On the blueline, things are looking pretty thin for the Canadiens outside of Weber and possibly Jeff Petry. Karl Alzner helps, but he’s not the same calibre as Weber when it comes to shutdown defensemen, nor is Schlemko in the same category as Petry when it comes to puck-movers. Offensively, Drouin is backed up down by Philip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, which doesn’t exactly make for a Murderer’s Row down the middle. The wings are just as barren once you remove Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher from the equation, too.
The Canadiens face outstanding pressure every season to win, but the lack of depth throughout the lineup calls into question whether Montreal can do much more than push for a playoff berth. Price is the great equalizer and can steal a game or a series, but overall, the Canadiens might not have enough depth to do much more.
A blueline anchored by Shea Weber and the goaltending of Carey Price, possibly the best netminder on the planet, were enough to cause nightmares for opposing offenses last season. The Canadiens surrendered only 198 goals, the league’s fourth-lowest total, and did so with a commitment to strong defense and even stronger puck possession. Sure, the offense left much to be desired, but GM Marc Bergevin took a big step to address that problem.
By landing Jonathan Drouin from Tampa Bay, the Habs hope to have rectified the scoring issues that plagued them. Even after a career-best 21-goal, 53-point season, Drouin’s combination of puckhandling poise and deft playmaking seems to give him untapped potential, and the opportunity Montreal provides could turn him into a bona fide star. Furthermore, adding Drouin allows the Habs to move Alex Galchenyuk back to the middle and give him the opportunity to finally fit in at his natural position. If Drouin plays as advertised and his presence helps Montreal stretch its legs offensively, challenging for a third division title in four years is within reach.
During the 2015-16 season, countless words were written about Carey Price as the league’s MVP. He played only 12 games that season, but the argument was clear: with Price, the Canadiens are one team – successful, potential Stanley Cup contenders – and without him, they’re a wild-card club at best. And there isn’t a single Montreal fan who ever wants to see the latter version of the squad again.
This team was dreadful without Price in 2015-16, finishing with 28 fewer points than the year prior, and it was no surprise to see the Habs rocket past the 100-point plateau upon Price’s full-time return last season. In short, Montreal’s success hinges on its No. 1 goalie. There’s no worry about his play, as Montreal can bank on 30-plus wins and a .920-plus save percentage from Price, but things are a lot less certain if Al Montoya, a capable backup, has to take on full-time starting duties. Montoya managed a .912 save percentage behind the same defense that shielded Price and his .923. If Price goes down, it’s the difference between Stanley Cup contention and an extra long summer.
THN’s PREDICTION: 3rd in the Atlantic. Montreal’s top-end talent is enough to propel them past the division’s bottom-feeders and into the middle of the pack, but a second-straight division title is asking too much.
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