THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
THN's Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 22-1
Key additions: Shea Weber, D; Andrew Shaw, LW; Alexander Radulov, RW; Al Montoya, G; Mikhail Sergachev, D
Key departures: P.K. Subban, D; Lars Eller, C; Tom Gilbert, D; Victor Bartley, D; Ben Scrivens, G
-Is Alex Galchenyuk a No. 1 center? Sweet lord, yes. It took the Habs long enough to figure out, but they got there eventually. Galchenyuk was one of the few bright spots in last year’s cratering, and a combination of skill and vision led the youngster to his first 30-goal NHL campaign. Galchenyuk still needs to improve on his faceoffs, but with a win percentage of 47.9 percent last season, he’s not that far off the mark. Should coach Michel Therrien attempt to claw back Galchenyuk’s development, the Habs would regress to being a team with three second-line centers, and that’s just not going to cut it.
-Will the Habs regret the Subban-Weber trade? Maybe not immediately, but eventually they will. Weber is older and appears to be declining in effectiveness. He’ll still be a No. 1 defenseman short term, but there will be diminishing returns from there. Plus, trading the charismatic Subban did nothing to change the image of the Canadiens as a cold, personality-killing franchise. In the meantime, enjoy Weber’s bomb point shots and surly corner work, Habs fans.
-What kind of impact can Alexander Radulov have? Based on his reputation, Radulov is probably a little underhyped right now. The mystifying veteran says he has matured since his curfew antics got him benched in Nashville a few years ago, and his numbers in the KHL haven’t tailed off one bit. At 30, he’s no youngster, but he knows how to put the puck in the net and how to operate on the NHL’s smaller ice surface, so there won’t be much of an adjustment period – assuming he stays in line discipline-wise.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Montreal Canadiens looked like the best team in hockey last October. Then Carey Price went down and suddenly they weren’t. They were a train-wreck, and it proved every doubter of the previous season right; the team was nothing without Price.
What was interesting though was that their underlying numbers were actually decent despite the tumble. The team got incredibly awful goaltending that consistently held them back, but the team in front wasn’t playing that bad, they just weren’t getting the results.
This year they’ve got Price back and that alone adds about seven points back to this team putting them right back into the playoff mix. They’ve still got two stars up front, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, a lethal duo that rivals almost any in the league.
The latter may not seem like a star-calibre player, but he’s been quietly putting up elite numbers for the Habs the last few seasons. He’s bred from the same cloth as super-pest Brad Marchand, who finally got noticed last season for the actual talent he has. Expect Gallagher to have a similar breakout this year into the public conscious.
The team made two big additions up front that should provide a spark to the rest of the forward group. Andrew Shaw is a moderate upgrade over Lars Eller and the addition of Alexander Radulov provides a big boost to the top six (if his talent translates well to the NHL and meshes with the team that is). Montreal actually has a decent ensemble of talent at forward, especially if Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto can get a bigger role.
The back-end on the other hand is mostly unremarkable and the big trade didn’t help. P.K. Subban is an all-world D-man in his prime while Shea Weber is a former all-world D-man no longer in his prime. He’s still good, but he’s lost a step over the past few seasons and isn’t the same player he once was. His influence on shot attempts continues to decrease and while he’s usually been good at getting the most out of those attempts, even his goals percentage is trending down.
The trade was a large misstep, especially with the age discrepancies, but Montreal definitely still has the talent to compete right now. They’ve got a very good shot at making it back to the playoffs this season, although if Price gets injured again or Weber declines any further that obviously changes.
Up next: Colorado Avalanche