It’s been anything but a quiet summer for General Manager Marc Bergevin and his Montreal Canadiens. We’ve seen several acquisitions and departures this off-season.
With the main training camp scheduled next month, the Habs roster is set to look a lot different from the one that took the ice for the last game of the season on April 22nd. Claude Julien is entering his first full season in his second stint as head coach and will be looking to help his squad gel in time for puck drop on October 5th versus the Buffalo Sabres.
First, let’s talk about the big acquisitions that took place. The trade that sent Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens top prospect, to the Tampa Bay Lightning for star forward Jonathan Drouin sent sparks around the league, showing the Habs weren’t afraid to make a move for much-needed offence. Yes, Bergevin had to give up a grade-A prospect to acquire Drouin, but that’s the price for a player of Drouin’s potential, especially with him being only 22 years of age.
Next came the signing of ex-Washington Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner, who penned a five-year contract on opening day of free agency. A stay-at-home defender, Alzner brings stability, experience and will now link up with friends Shea Weber and Carey Price.
Price signed an eight-year contract, that will likely keep him a Canadien’s sweater for the rest of his career.
Furthermore, depth signings like Ales Hemsky, Joe Morrow, Peter Holland, Byron Froese and Mark Streit shouldn’t be forgotten. These are all players who provide options within the lineup and will motivate others to be fighting for roster spots, night in and night out.
On the other hand, there were a few big departures too, with the biggest names being Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov. Radulov signed a five-year $31.25 million contract with Dallas while Markov headed to the KHL unwilling to wait until October for Bergevin to make his decision. It’s unfortunate that the two Russian stars will not be returning but that’s the business of the sport.
Nathan Beaulieu was also traded a few days before the expansion draft to the Buffalo Sabres. The expansion draft saw Alexei Emelin selected by the Vegas Golden Knights, who, in turn, traded him to the Nashville Predators.
Sure, many players who’ve been part of the Canadiens organization for several years are now gone. However, in my opinion, this is not necessarily negative.
On paper, the Canadiens are a better all around hockey club than they were last season. Why? I see a combination of depth, a full season with coach Julien and young players being one year older, stronger and more mature.
As we’ve seen with the Pittsburgh Penguins over the past two seasons, depth scoring wins games when star players are shut down. Radulov is gone, but I would argue that his offense will be replaced by Drouin, a player who is nine years younger and just as dynamic.
There isn’t a direct replacement for Markov but the Habs will rely on Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, David Schlemko and Jakub Jerabek to provide a spark offensively from the back-end.
Alex Galchenyuk can aim for the 25-goal milestone like he did a few seasons ago.
As for the bottom six forwards, Ales Hemsky is a player who can contribute offensively which is helpful to a team that has had trouble putting the puck in the net. Players such as Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen, and Charles Hudon will be looking to improve from last season.
After a disappointing season offensively, I fully expect Tomas Plekanec to have a better year as the third line centre. He’s up in age, so 20 goals is likely out of reach but achieving 40 points would help contribute to a winning club.
And last, but not least, Carey Price is going to be the guy for the Habs for the rest of his career. An elite goalie can take you very far, especially in the post-season, much like Pekka Rinne did with the Predators last spring.
The lineup will have a complete different look. While the coaching staff have a tentative plan in place we can expect a surprise breakout during training camp. Who will it be this year?
I have identified why I believe the 2017-18 edition of the Canadiens will be better and deeper than the team who fell to the New York Rangers last April.
With social media discussion focusing on the slow, mediocre Habs defence, keep in mind that the Stanley Cup winning Penguins had Ron Hainsey patrolling their blueline. And never forget the impact that Carey Price can have on the outcome of a game.
In my estimation, it’s all positive vibes for the Canadiens heading into the 2017-’18 season, as the Bleu Blanc Rouge will look to ignite a fire in the Bell Centre once again.