Few can argue the 2011-12 NHL season was one of the worst in Montreal Canadiens history both on and off the ice. In addition to the team finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they managed to pull off a trade when Mike Cammalleri was shipped to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rene Bourque. Although the trade itself was not much of a surprise, it was rather strange that it happened in the middle of a game. The unusual timing for this move epitomized how far the Habs stock had fallen last season.
In their first press conference since the tentative deal to end the lockout, owner Geoff Molson, new General Manager Eric Bergevin and new Head Coach Michel Therrien addressed the media. Considering the unusual situation with an abbreviated season of forty-eight games on the horizon, they were understandably not able to shed much light on what will transpire with the team.
With regards to personnel, the Habs stated they will start the process of signing Defenseman P.K. Subban as quickly as possible, before camp starts. Therrien is excited at the prospect of having Defenseman Andre Markov healthy from the beginning of the season and believes that him playing in Russia during the lockout was a plus.
According to the team, beleaguered Center Scott Gomez and his hefty salary will be at camp (not that they have much of a choice in the matter). First round draft pick Center Alex Galchenyuk will also be at camp and evaluated on a day to day basis with no guarantees of him being on the roster. They will then decide what is best for him and the team. The only Habs player who will not be at camp is Center Petteri Nokelainen, who has a back injury.
Therrien states that the performance of the players will dictate the ice time. He does not believe that the shortened training camp will be detrimental toward implementing a new system for the team. Therrien wants to put an up-tempo system in place which will not only be successful, but also fun for the players. With the short camp and season, emphasis will be placed on the players’ timing and conditioning.
When Molson was asked about salary cap issues, he stated he cannot comment because the new agreement has yet to be ratified and has not seen the details of it. Molson also stated Commissioner Gary Bettman did the best job he could to represent thirty teams (actually it is twenty-nine teams, since the bleeding Phoenix Coyotes are owned by the NHL).
With regards to winning back a possibly disgruntled fan base, Molson stated that plans are in development for offering the fans something of value and they will continue to look for ways to connect with the fans. He does not know if the league once again plans to insult the fans by putting a cheesy “Thank You Fans” note on the ice, as they did after the last lockout.
Molson responded to the inquiry of whether or not he was satisfied with the new collective bargaining agreement by stating he is satisfied that they are playing hockey. However, it remains to be seen how many used and abused fans will be satisfied enough to pay big bucks to watch an abridged hockey season, which could have many teams out of the playoff hunt after only twenty or twenty-five games.