Over the next month, we at NHLnumbers are going to be taking a look
at where each team in the league currently stands based on what we
learned from them last season, and where they realistically can and
should go this summer with the resources and cap space they have.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
One year ago, the Montreal Canadiens were a Cup contender on the backs of an MVP performance from goaltender Carey Price. Despite any flaws the team may have had (and there were many), Price covered just about all of it, until they faced a superior Tampa Bay Lightning team in the second round.
But, they regressed very, very hard this season. After a 9-0 start, Price once again showed his value to the team…in the sense that the team fell apart when he got hurt. The backups couldn’t properly take his place, and even when they did, the team couldn’t score. It’s not even that they were that bad (they were 11th in Score Adjusted CF% this season), but the season just fell from their grasps.
If there’s one thing the Habs have that most other teams don’t (aside from an elite goaltender), it’s good center depth. While it’s rare to see all three play down the middle at the same time, the 1-2-3 punch of Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Lars Eller is nothing to scoff at. All three are effective defensively, with all three posting positive Score Adjusted Corsi Relative scores, on a team that only had six forwards with at least 300 minutes do so. Not only that, but both Galchenyuk and Plekanec had excellent offensive seasons as well, with Galchenyuk putting up a career high 56 points, while Plekanec had his sixth 50+ point season.
After those three, though, there isn’t much to work with. David Desharnais is an adequate center if put in a suitable role with the right people (no Therrien, not the first line), and Torrey Mitchell isn’t a terrible option for a fourth line, garbage minutes center.
However, the weakness in Montreal’s forward group is the wing. After Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, who are both really good at playing a two way game, they don’t have many options. They tried to shore that up with signing Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann last offseason, but now they have neither. They are starting to build a young core there with Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Lucas Lessio, and Stefan Matteau, as well as a very good group of prospects on the wing, but if the team is looking to contend next season (which they very well could), they might want to address their depth.
Their defensive core is also very solid. The blue line starts with PK Subban, one of the league’s best defenseman. Despite an early end to the season, Subban still finished fourth on the team in points, with 51 points in 68 games. However, his defensive game had some question marks this season, as he was a mere +0.08 in terms of Corsi Rel, but it was an outlier compared to the rest of his career, so we’ll see if this is a continuous trend.
After that, there’s the longtime veteran Andrei Markov, who still seems to be going strong. He managed to produce 44 points as a 36 year old, although his defensive game has certainly fallen off. Jeff Petry and Mark Barberio proved to be very good defensively when they were in the lineup, while Alexei Markov had a surprisingly alright season, with a +1.06% Corsi Rel. Nathan Beaulieu had a solid offensive season, with 19 points in 64 games, but his defense had much to be desired, a trait that is unlike him in the average season. Finally, Tom Gilbert proved yet again that he was a beneficiary of Brian Campbell’s excellent play in Florida than actually being a top end defenseman.
As for the net, there isn’t much to discuss. It’s Carey Price, and whoever they have as a backup that season. However, there is some concern for Price, because you never know if the Habs will get the same goalie back, considering the severity of his injury. Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens weren’t terrible this season, but they weren’t good enough to cover the team’s flaws like Price did, to no one’s surprise.
There isn’t much of a “situation” with Montreal’s cap, as all of their core players are already locked up for next season. Their only UFAs consist of Mike Brown, Victor Bartley, Tom Gilbert, Ben Scrivens, Gabriel Dumont, George Holloway, and John Scott, and it would surprise me if they re-signed a single one of them, except possibly Dumont.
Even in the RFA department, it only consists of Philip Danault, Daniel Carr, Lucas Lessio, Sven Andrighetto, Joel Hanley, Darren Dietz, and Mark Barberio, all players that wouldn’t cost much to resign (the only players that I could see making more than $1 million is Andrighetto, Barberio, and possibly Danault).
Basically, the Habs have about $10 million in cap space this offseason, and very little to spend it on from within. If they try and offload one of their overpriced contracts, like Markov, Emelin, or Desharnais, they have even more to work with.
There are four things that I think the Habs should do this offseason to make significant improvements to the team.
1. Fire Therrien. This SHOULD be the easiest step, and the most obvious one as well, but we all know that Montreal won’t do it, even if it would do wonders for them.
2. Offload a bad contract. Something I mentioned in the previous section, they could look to get rid of one of their overpaid players, whether it be Markov, Desharnais, and Emelin. However, Markov has been with the Habs for too long to be traded, and Therrien seems to like both Desharnais and Emelin, so odds are they won’t trade any of them.
3. Add a couple wingers. The Habs have obvious issues on the wing, and while filling it with youth is certainly a good idea, it wouldn’t hurt to add one or two more experienced wingers. And by experienced winger, I don’t mean ANOTHER grinder, but someone who can actually put the puck in the net on a consistent basis. Whether they want to pursue a more pricey option in Kyle Okposo, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, or David Perron, or try to go for a couple more cheap options, like Teddy Purcell, Kris Versteeg, or (*chuckles*) PA Parenteau, there are certainly options. Heck, the RFA market is strong as well, whether you want Chris Kreider, Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, or Johnny Gaudreau.
4. Address the backup goalie situation. While Condon is signed for next season, it’s no guarantee that he’ll be backing up Price next season, considering that Price’s injury concern may mean that they want to find a reliable backup that can take over as a starter if needed. One option that I would consider is Chad Johnson, who was very good in Buffalo last season when Robin Lehner was hurt, and showed that he could handle the consistent starts, and he probably won’t ask for much money. Other options would include Jhonas Enroth, and, as long as it is cheap, James Reimer.
It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to start looking ahead to next offseason, and start negotiating contracts with Galchenyuk and Beaulieu.
After what might have been an ideal season for Montreal, in the sense that it helped reveal their flaws, and show the team the improvements that need to be made to become a Cup contender, the Canadiens sit in a spot where they are in the drivers seat to make the changes necessary.
They could have started by firing Therrien, whose bad system was exposed this season, but by the sounds of it, they’re keeping him, so already there are questions as to whether Montreal knows that they need to make changes.
Maybe Price comes back in 2014-15 condition, carries the team to playoffs again, and maybe this time to the Cup. But this season proved how much the team relies on him, which isn’t a good thing if the team wants to compete for a Cup, something that is certainly in their grasp.