Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the Montreal Canadiens are up next. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Canadiens!
2009-10: 39-33-10 (8th in East, Eliminated in Conference Final by Flyers)
General Manager: Pierre Gauthier (2nd Season)
Head Coach: Jacques Martin (2nd Season)
What they did in the off-season:
The Habs stunned the hockey world in June when they shipped playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. General manager Pierre Gauthier remained busy, sending the rights of disgruntled forward Sergei Kostitsyn to the Predators for the rights to forward Dustin Boyd and goalie Dan Ellis. The Canadiens did get Boyd's name on a contract, however Ellis eventually signed with the Lightning. Montreal took care of some more housekeeping by re-signing Tomas Plekanec, Mathieu Darche, Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Maxim Lapierre.
The Habs took a dip in the free agent pool, picking up netminders Curtis Sanford and Alex Auld. When it took longer than expected to sign newly anointed starter Carey Price, the Canadiens added some more depth in net by acquiring Karri Ramo in a trade with the Lightning. The Habs rounded out their summer by adding utility man Jeff Halpern into the mix at forward.
Biggest issue facing the team:
Expectations in La Belle Province were extremely high entering the off-season following a shocking Eastern Conference final run by ‘Les Glorieux.' Those expectations came crashing down when Halak was dealt to St. Louis. Even if the trade made sense from a financial perspective, it has been extremely difficult for Habs' brass to sell the notion that the team remains a Stanley Cup contender despite the jettisoning of their playoff hero. Not helping matters is the fact that Halak remains revered in Montreal as thousands turned out for a charity autograph session earlier in the month to say their goodbyes. What made matters worse was the team's inability to come to terms with the anointed number one, Carey Price for the majority of the summer. Fortunately for Habs fans the two-sides set aside their differences and were able to get the deal done early in September. The signing saved a massive headache for Gauthier as the team faced the very real prospect of opening training camp with Alex Auld and Curtis Sanford splitting duties between the pipes. That would have been an underwhelming prospect considering that goaltending was considered one of Montreal's biggest strengths last season.
On the positive side of the ledger, All-Star defenceman Andrei Markov should be healthy enough to start the season with the team and barring disaster, rookie phenom P.K. Subban should break camp with the team, meaning that the team's blueline will be as strong as it has been in recent memory. That being said, the Canadiens did not address one of their most glaring weaknesses as they are still extremely small down the middle. In addition the departure of unsung heroes Glen Metropolit and Dominic Moore, leaves them short a pair of checking line forwards. While the late signing of Halpern will help, at age 34 his best days are in the rear-view mirror. It appears as though the Habs will be hard pressed to repeat last season's success. Should they get off to a slow start there will be calls for the heads of both Gauthier and coach Jacques Martin. However both men undoubtedly understand that comes with the territory in Montreal.
Player to watch:
The upcoming campaign may well be the defining season of Carey Price's young career. The Habs handed him the keys to the car following the Halak deal in the hopes that boost of confidence would allow him to re-discover his form from the 2007-08 season after a pair of down years. While it took longer than expected to get his name on a new contract, the Canadiens have to be happy that they have been able to lock up Price for the next two years and have him in training camp as soon as it opens. Canadiens management obviously realized that they could not afford to fall behind early in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and play themselves out of the contention before they even hit the starting blocks. Now the pressure falls squarely on Price's shoulders to live up to the massive expectations that have been placed upon him.