The NHL is less than 31 days away from the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Over this period we’re diving into the 31 NHL teams in alphabetical order, take a look at their previous standings and upcoming season predictions, as well as their key additions and subtractions. Yesterday we looked at the Minnesota Wild, today we head north of the border and look at the Montreal Canadiens.
2016/17 record: 47/26/9
2017/18 prediction: Playoffs again, but it won’t be easy.
Last season; the Montreal Canadiens looked like Canada’s best hope of winning the Stanley Cup. Despite a 10-0 thumping early on in Columbus, the team romped to the top of the Atlantic division. The wheels fell off in November though and the losses piled up, so much so that head coach Michel Therrien was sacked, replaced in February by former Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Despite inconsistent performances on the ice, the Hab’s held on to the top-spot in the Atlantic and Julien was able to steady the ship, guiding the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately that regular season success did not carry over into the playoffs, and the Canadiens lost the first series in six games to the New York Rangers.
But, that was then and this is now. The Canadiens have made some good signings and trades during the off-season. Steve Yzerman solved the Lightning’s ‘untenable’ Jonathan Drouin situation by trading the Winger to the Habs for prospect blueliner and conditional pick next year. Despite certain behavioural concerns, Drouin played well enough for the Lightning last season, scoring 21 goals and 53 points last season. The guy isn’t likely to trouble the Norris Trophy but is handy enough, and to take a good defenseman from a division rival is a smart move. Drouin was signed to a six year contract by the Habs.
Drouin will likely get top or second line minutes with the Habs, and may end up alongside former Dallas Star Ales Hemsky who was picked up from free agency. Alexander Radulov, who scored 54 points last season left in free agency to go to the Dallas Stars.
Defensively, the Habs look to be a little bit of trouble; having lost more players than they’ve gained. The team did pluck Karl Alzner from free agency. After nine seasons with the Washington Capitals, Alzner will probably partner Shea Weber. Nathan Beaulieu was traded away to the Sabres for a third round draft pick, the Habs drafted blueliner Scott Walford using the pick.
Andrei Markov, drafted by the Habs way back in 1998, and alternate captain since 2014 parted ways with the team. Markov will play his hockey in the KHL for at least the next two years. This is a big loss for Montreal who still have a respectable defensive corps but the potential lack of depth may cause issues should injury hit. This may be an over-reaction though, well see what the preseason brings.
There are no issues or changes in goal. Carey Price was given an eight year contract worthy of his status as best goalie in the league. His new contract extension carries an annual cap hit of $10.5 million US. Al Montoya continues as Price’s reliable back-up.
I’ve predicted that the Canadiens will make the playoffs this season. Claude Julien is a good coach and is capable of getting the best out his team. The Habs’ success last season was more testament to how inconsistent the other teams were in the Atlantic division. This season looks to be more of a challenge. If the the new and old players can gel over the next few months then the Habs might just progress past that first round.