After making the playoffs in 2011, the Montreal Canadiens took a serious step back last season, finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference and having the third worst record in the NHL. Naturally with any struggling team, injuries were a serious factor as key players missed games at some point in the season.
Brian Gionta, Carey Price, Mathieu Darche, Travis Moen, Ryan White, and Scott Gomez all missed time throughout the year and most of the time due to concussions. Head coach Jacques Martin didn’t even make it until Christmas before being fired and interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth would merely be a placeholder until the ending of a dismal season. But the chopping block didn’t only claim coaches, as GM Pierre Gauthier would be axed in March.
The horrid season led to a lottery pick for Montreal and they would select Alex Galchenyuk with the third pick in the draft. Galchenyuk had a magnificent 2010-11 season but missed all but two games last year with a torn ACL. The Habs hope that Galchenyuk will be the big playmaking center that every team desperately wants leading their forward corps.
The Canadiens didn’t go out and make waves in free agency this past summer but they did make some intriguing signings that could pay off nicely if they work out. Colby Armstrong was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and can be a great addition at half his original cost if he can stay healthy. Francis Bouillon comes over from the Nashville Predators and will provide decent depth. While Brandon Prust probably got a longer term than anyone expected he would get, he’ll provide some desperately needed tenacity to the roster.
Chris Campoli hasn’t found a new home yet but he’s not going to be with Montreal after the Habs filled his spot with Bouillon. Montreal never really saw much from Campoli, as the injury bug held him back. Campoli’s exit is really the only name of significance from last year’s roster as much of the team will be back. However, both P.K. Subban and Darche remain unsigned.
Max Pacioretty had a career year, putting up 33 goals and 65 points. He’ll be relied upon as one of the go-to guys on team that has trouble scoring. If he takes a step back, the Canadiens will have lots of problems.
Don’t ask me why, but I feel like Lars Eller finally breaks through and becomes the offensive force the Canadiens were hoping they got when they traded Jaroslav Halak. Montreal needs to develop young players to return to success and Eller is a big part of that.
With the house-clearing of the coaching staff and front office, the Habs will have new men in charge both behind the bench and in the general manager’s chair. Former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien will get a second bite at the apple with the Canadiens. Replacing Gauthier is former Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who was also a long-time scout for Chicago and regarded as a candidate to become a good general manager.
The Canadiens were nothing short of a debacle last season so they needed some changes, but oddly enough the roster remains pretty much the same even though the front office has transformed. Although it will be a similar team, a healthier Habs club could sneak up on some teams as long as Carey Price is healthy and on his game. I see Montreal finishing 9th or 10th in the East with a shot at the playoffs unlikely, but not totally out of the question.