4th in Northeast Division
8th in Eastern Conf.
GM: Pierre Gauthier
COACH: Jacques Martin
$58,472,000 ($1.4M below cap)
Playing in the most concentrated hockey market, in front of the most rabid hockey fans, it’s easy for the Montreal Canadiens to be feeling a lot of pressure every season. After all, when there are no other pro teams around (no, the Alouettes don’t count), every single eye is trained on you and every single decision you make is scrutinized to the ultimate degree.
This season promises to be no different.
During the playoffs, the previously written off Habs rose up to stun the world for two straight series. As the #8 seed, they first dispatched the heavily favoured Washington Capitals, then the equally heavily favoured Pittsburgh Penguins, with both series coming down to a thrilling 7th game. They ended up losing in the conference finals to the Philadelphia Flyers, but they made a significant run all the same based on clutch goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and a defensive system tailored to block out all comers.
And, after this glorious run that revitalized pride in the team for the fanbase, the Canadiens made the logical offseason move of trading Halak to the St. Louis Blues, in exchange for a couple of prospects. Wait, what?
Yes, it’s true. New Habs general manager Pierre Gauthier had a tough decision to make in terms of his goaltender of the future. On one hand was Halak, the budding superstar with solid fundamentals. On the other was Carey Price, the athletically brilliant and potentially dominant youngster who had shown flashes of both awesomeness and mental weakness. Gauthier went with the gifted youngster, making a decision that will probably be debated for the rest of these two players’ careers.
The good news for Montreal is they return largely the same roster as last year. The bad news is that roster was only good enough to eke into the playoffs. Add in the pressure due to the Price decision, and it all creates a boiling season in wintry Montreal.
MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: It has to be the anointed goalie of the future, Price. I went into the details of the Price-Halak situation above so I won’t bore you with them again, but suffice it to say the decision was unpopular in Quebec. So unpopular, in fact, that two MEMBERS OF FEDERAL PARLIAMENT, Justin Trudeau and Denis Coderre, Tweeted their displeasure, with Coderre even using an obscenity (in French, naturally) to describe his feelings and Trudeau calling for Gauthier’s head. In essence, the eyes of an entire country are on Price. Price is a very good goalie, even being selected to an All-Star game via fan ballot, but has had a stormy relationship with his various pressures. Sometimes he rises to the challenge, and sometimes he crumbles. If he rises to the challenge, Montreal will be in decent shape. If he crumbles, Montreal is completely sunk. So much of Montreal’s success last year predicated on superb goaltending, and the mercurial Price is now the one who has to provide it, for now and forever.
KEY ACQUISITION: I really don’t want to spend an entire article talking about Montreal’s great goaltender debate, but seeing as Montreal acquired very little in the offseason, it has to be forward Lars Eller. Eller, 21, was the key figure acquired from St. Louis in the Halak deal. He was drafted 13th overall by the Blues, but has only played seven games so far in the NHL, scoring two goals. Eller is a talented, versatile player who can play both wing and centre with a two-way edge, but is still largely untested. Well, he’s about to get tested. He’s expected to earn a spot with the Habs, and he’s expected to contribute, if only to help mollify the Habs fan base that wishes Halak were there instead.
KEY DEPARTURE: Halak. What, you expected me to say Shawn Belle? Halak was not only the clear-cut starting goalie after the Olympics, but he also is the record holder for most saves by a Canadien in a playoff match ending in regulation. He elevated his game in big moments (he was dynamite in the Olympics as well for Slovakia), and he just uncorked one of the legendary goalie performances in Montreal’s storied history. He’s a guy whose absence will be sorely felt if/when Price struggles. His absence is already felt by the Montreal community.
KEY YOUNGSTER: Getting away from the goaltending drama, my selection for key youngster is P.K. Subban. While technically still a rookie, it seems as if Subban, 21, has been around forever. Subban is a swift, dynamic defender who has already become quite popular among Habs fans. He can score with the best of them, racking up eight points in 14 playoff games, and has become a trusted defender as well largely due to his pure speed and willingness to stick with his man. In short, he’s dynamite in all situations. This year he should play a top-four role with Montreal all season, and has already been mentioned as a candidate for the Calder Trophy. If he can provide a good pinch of offense and defense, then the Habs will be a stronger team.
OUTLOOK: This all really boils down to one question: do you trust Carey Price? That is the single significant factor that will determine where the Habs will place this season. This really can’t be overstated. Without consistent goaltending, Montreal doesn’t have the depth or talent to be anywhere near a contender.
And I don’t trust Carey Price.
Price simply doesn’t have the mental makeup to succeed in a hockey kiln like Montreal. The fans don’t trust him, as evidenced by the fact they boo his every move. Price doesn’t respond well to the booing he receives, and his confidence is on life support. Already this preseason, he has told his loyal fans to “chill out” after they booed him. He simply isn’t mentally tough enough at this point in his career to take everything Montreal is throwing at him. He can, and will, crumble. And if there’s one thing Montreal can’t cover up, it’s a trainwreck in nets. The Habs may have the pedigree, but this season I can’t see them challenging for the playoffs.
- 35 wins
- 79 points
- 4th in Northeast/11th in Eastern Conference