For a town that is obsesses with hockey the last two decades have been tough. The almighty (at one time) Montreal Canadiens have not won the Stanley Cup in 21 seasons. With our last hoisting of Lord Stanley’s trophy being in 1993 Montreal hockey fans have had to suffer through a long drought and several seasons of really poor teams. In head coach Michel Therrien’s third year back behind the bench this fall has brought with it hope for the present as well as the future.
Last spring the Montreal Canadiens went on a largely thought to be improbable (though I don’t know why as they had a 100 point season) ride deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They only succumbed in the Eastern Conference finals to the New York Rangers after having defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning and then the hated Boston Bruins. We were one of the last four teams left standing. So close to grabbing glory.
Now there have been some additions and subtractions to the team that went so deep into the playoffs last season. Captain Brian Gionta signed with the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent, veteran defenseman Josh Gorges was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, veteran winger George Parros was not resigned, seldom used winger Mike Blunden was not offered a contract and so signed with the Tampa Bay Lighting, veteran centreman Daniel Brière was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, seldom used winger Louis Leblanc was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, centreman Ryan White was not resigned, winger Thomas Vanek chose to sign as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild, and veteran defenseman Douglas Murray was not resigned.
With all those players gone there were spots opened up for new or younger players to compete for. Additions to the roster this year are veteran defensive centreman Manny Malholtra was signed as a free agent, winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau was obtained in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche, veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert was signed as a free agent, and left winger Jiri Sekac was signed as a free agent. Plus there are younger players like defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, defenseman Jarred Tinordi, defenseman Greg Pateryn, 2014 draft choice winger Nikita Scherback, goaltender Dustin Tokarski, right winger Sven Andrighetto, left winger Charles Hudon, and left winger Jacob De La Rose who will all be trying to make the team.
There is a depth to this team like there hasn’t been for a long time. With a nice mixture of veteran leadership from guys like Andrei Markov, Travis Moen, Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust, and Peter Budaj along with younger guys like PK Subban, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and Carey Price really coming into their own this is a team that is in the top 10 in the league in regards to talent on paper.
There were many positives last year and the Montreal Canadiens are looking to build on that. What they have to do to accomplish that is to learn to be more consistent. For instance, the team had a poor start last season with a 10-9-2 record out of the gate. Two of their more important offensive players, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, getting off to very slow starts. Desharnais had one assist over the first 17 games. Then the team got into gear over the month of November only to slump again in December and January. The boo birds were out in force during a couple of games in January. Fans were frustrated. Then they finished the season strong. To do better they have to eliminate those long term down periods.
Several questions have to be answered before you will be able to answer the question of “How good will the Montreal Canadiens be this season?” Questions like: how has Carey Price recovered from his season ending knee injury, can PK Subban live up to the expectations of his 8-year, $76 million contract, will the young guys be able to step up to NHL level players, can the leadership void created by the departure of Gionta and Gorges be filled, a year removed from his knee surgery will Alexei Emelin return to his form of two seasons ago, will the addition of some size throughout the squad really help, can Lars Eller and Rene Bourque be the players they were for the Habs in the playoffs on a consistent basis, and can two right wingers like Bourque or Parenteau or Sekac step up to fill up the spots on the 2nd and 3rd lines? To be determined.
Montreal kicks off the season with a mini road trip with their first game in Toronto on Wednesday, October 8.
-Regular Season: October 8, 2014 – April 11, 2015
-Ticket Purchase: www.canadiens.nhl.com