A jaw-dropping playoff run last spring sets the bar higher in Montreal this season and with 17 players returning from the squad that made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, Pierre Gauthier believes his Canadiens have what it takes to be competitive again.
The club's general manager talked to reporters in person for the first time since the start of the summer on Monday as they kicked off their rookie camp in Brossard. While last summer was all about overhauling the roster with players like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri and Hal Gill, Gauthier spent the last couple of months making relatively minor tweaks to his lineup.
"Last year's process developed an identity for our club," he told reporters. "We felt stability was going to be important. We wanted to solidify and keep our core of players. We have a better knowledge of who we are and what we can accomplish."
The most noticeable change will be in goal, with Carey Price established as the No. 1 netminder after the club traded Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues. Price then signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal as a restricted free agent earlier this month, compared to a four-year $15 million contract Halak landed with his new club. That being said, Gauthier maintained that the decision to move Halak was not about money.
"This was a difficult decision and we did the best for both young goalies," he explained. "Never at any time was it a matter of contract. You could predict (their money) based on comparables and salary. It was a matter of who it was going to be going forward."
Gauthier also confirmed that the team will have a new captain in place, the first since the club parted ways with Saku Koivu last July.
"There will be a captain before the season starts," he said. "There has been a process developing an identity for the club last season and the further we advanced (in the playoffs), the more people stepped in - it wasn't just a select group of players. We're going to get the end of the process before the start of the first (regular season) game."
One of those players considered will be defenceman Andrei Markov. The club's longest-serving player - who is still recovering from off-season knee surgery - is in the final year of his contract and Gauthier said he would like to have him back with the club after this season.
"We like Andrei Markov," he said. "There were preliminary discussions last year with Bob Gainey and (agent) Don Meehan. There are no rules on those types of things (contract talks)."
Where the club's prospects are concerned, Gauthier said that he was happy that heralded blue-chipper Louis Leblanc decided to make the move to junior. Leblanc, who has five points in his first two games with the Montreal Juniors, will take a short break from his QMJHL stint to take part in the Habs' rookie camp.
"He's a good young player and we're very happy he's positioned himself closer to the National Hockey League," he said. "He needs to get stronger and build his confidence on who he is as a player. We didn't really ask him (to go to junior). It was his decision. Our thought was, 'go where you think you can have the most success.'"