THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens are coming off a run to the Eastern Conference final that could have gone a little longer had Carey Price not fallen to injury. But do the Habs have the horses to do it again? We peg them to finish third in the Atlantic Division.

2013-14 record: 46-28-8

Acquisitions: Joey MacDonald, To Gilbert, Jiri Sekac, Manny Malhotra, P-A Parenteau

Departures: Ryan White, Devan Dubnyk, Brian Gionta, Thomas Vanek, Josh Gorges, Daniel Briere, Louis Leblanc

Top five fantasy players: Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Alex Galchenyuk

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Last season, an inspired playoff run was derailed in the Eastern Conference final by an injury to superstar goalie Carey Price. In 2014-15, the Habs are hungry to go further, and they’ve got the talent to do it. Price is their most crucial player, but just behind him in the importance department is P.K. Subban, fresh off signing an eight-year, $72-million contract extension.

Subban’s new deal was the biggest piece of off-season business for GM Marc Bergevin, but it wasn’t the only one. He made his team younger (trading Daniel Briere for P-A Parenteau, dealing Josh Gorges to clear cap space and allowing captain Brian Gionta to walk) and he signed a couple veterans (Manny Malhotra and Tom Gilbert) to shore up his defense. In essence, however, Bergevin is putting his trust in the same core and hoping for better luck with injuries come playoff time.

Bust: Montreal has bona fide superstar talent in goal and on the blueline, but the Canadiens still lack an A-1 presence at forward. Alex Galchenyuk may get there one day, and Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty are well-above-average NHLers, but compared to Pittsburgh, Chicago or Anaheim, and other offensive powerhouses, Montreal’s forwards aren’t its strong point.

This is part of the reason why the Canadiens averaged only 28.4 shots-per-game last season (sixth-worst in the league), why their offense was ranked 21st overall (2.55 goals-per-game) and why their power play (19th overall at 17.2 percent) was nothing to brag about. They need to find more goals. But where?

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The loss of Gionta’s 18 goals (fourth-best on the team) and Briere’s offense (13 goals) won’t be totally offset by Bergevin’s additions, putting more responsibility and pressure on the likes of Lars Eller and Rene Bourque to produce better results than they did in 2013-14. If they can’t, Montreal will have to lean even more on Price than it already does. That’s too much.

Bottom Line: Under coach Michel Therrien, the Canadiens have developed into a confident, slippery group that can move the puck quickly and creatively while the last line of defense takes care of any odd-man rushes that result from an up-tempo style. They proved in the 2014 playoffs that they could knock off the East’s best team in a seven-game series, but they still don’t have the weapons to overtake them in an 82-game marathon.

Prospect To Watch: There are three blueliners worth keeping an eye on in Montreal: Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi. Beaulieu and Tinordi are two first round picks who have both played with the Canadiens for around a quarter of a season. Pateryn is a fifth-rounder from 2008 coming off a very strong 34-point season with Hamilton in the AHL. It’s a big statement year for all three players.

THN’s Prediction: Third in Atlantic Division

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Contributors: Adam Proteau, Rory Boylen