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Montreal Canadiens 2015-16 Season Preview

For some, October means pumpkin spice lattes are finally back at Starbucks, for others it’s the colors of fall that really get them going. For a select few however, October means one thing. Hockey. The glorious 82-game season is back for yet another year and if last year was a sign for what’s to come, this year should be as competitive as ever. There are many interesting questions around the bleu-blanc-rouge this season, and although were going to get into the line up soon enough, there are other things to discuss as well.

The Canadiens are looking good yet again in the pre-season, and they are generally one of the league’s top teams, but there are a few questions surrounding them offensively, defensively, and around their goaltending. With a few changes to their roster in the offseason and a training camp that has now come to a close, let’s look at some of these issue more in depth.

Coaching:

Although most may think that Therrien has this job for at least the next two years, think again. With the successes of the Habs in the past two seasons, expectations in this city have drastically risen in the past few years. People finally think that we have all the necessary ingredients, led by Hart Trophy winner Carey Price, to bring home the Cup. The problem is that the time is NOW, not in five years, and I firmly believe that if Therrien fails to get the Habs to the Stanley Cup finals this year, anything else simply wouldn’t cut it and the Canadiens would turn to someone else in 2016.

They made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 only to be ousted by the Rangers. They made it to the 2nd round last year only to get beaten by the Lightning. There’s no doubt that these two teams in question are phenomenal Cup contenders themselves, but there’s simply no reason the Habs can’t take the next step, and they need the coaching staff to step up and lead the way.

Zack Kassian:

Every organization prides itself on being a classy organization, but none really do it like the Montreal Canadiens. They pride themselves on their class, the class of their image and the class of their players. That’s why Zack Kassian getting into car accident just a few days before the season, and checking in to a rehab centre afterwards, is maybe not the best way to start the season for the Habitants. The NHL suspended him without pay, and he suffered a broken nose and foot in the process.

This isn’t really the Kassian the Habs expected when they traded Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks. Although Kassian did have a reputation for questionable behaviour in the past, Bergevin firmly believed that the young forward would be able to put all of that behind him and start fresh in Montreal. Now it looks like may never actually start a game. For the Habs, they need to focus on their season and not let the crashing a car into a tree at 6:30am incident become a distraction.

Offensively:

Despite finishing as one of the league’s top teams, the Canadiens were the lowest scoring team to reach the post season last year, scoring a meagre 2.61 goals a game. That points to a strong defence and even better goaltending, but it also sheds light on a faltering offence. And when push came to shove in the post season, it was one of their biggest issues. So, what changes have the Canadiens made to address this issue? A little help, albeit not much, may come from off-season signings, but one big factor for the Habs this year will be the growth of one of their top prospects from previous years: Alex Galchenyuk. The fourth-year forward is primed to have a breakout season and prove that he has the calibre and the talent to be a force in this league. He’ll finally be starting the season at centre, a move Habs fans have desperately been waiting for, after having spent most of the three previous seasons on the left wing.

There is also the big question mark of Alexander Semin. At $1.1 million for the season, Semin may end up benefiting the Canadiens hugely at a very low cost. Semin has shown in the past that he has the talent to a top forward in the league, but has slipped in the past few years, leading to his worst season to date last year in Carolina. If Semin is ready to get down and dirty and put in the work for Therrien, this addition may end up being a game changer.

Finally, Tomas Fleischmann came to the Canadiens for a professional tryout and ended up leaving his mark, The Habs signed the veteran to a one year/$750,000 contract. Credit must be given here to Bergevin, who proves once again that, sometimes, you can add quality at a low price.

Defensively:

The Canadiens have spent a total of 29.5 million dollars on their blue line, and their worth has shown in previous years. Despite this amount, Bergevin has done a good job this offseason of adding talent for cheap (Semin, Fleischmann) despite having his hands a little tied by his blue-line. The Habs will be starting the season with eight defensemen this year, with Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn both making the cut on the end of preseason, and Bergevin locking up Tinordi a one-year, two-way deal.

Although everything does look fine, there a few important things to note. For Tinordi, who was selected 22nd overall in 2010, the time is now to show that he can be the player that the Canadiens envisioned when they picked him in the first round. He’s had plenty of opportunities in the previous four years, and has shown a lack of consistency at times. The 6’6” forward needs to show that he is capable of being a shutdown guy and a wall at the blue line. Although it is known that defensemen do take longer to develop than  players and Tinordi has also had his share of injuries in the past, the time to shine is now – or it may be with another team next season.

Finally, Andrei Markov deserves to be on the top offensive pairing, there’s no doubt about that. Well, maybe the second one if Jeff Petry steps up and plays great hockey all year. Since 2000-2001, there have only been 14 instances when a player has logged over 2000 minutes in a season at over 35 years old. Two of those times, the player was Markov. Truth is, Markov is getting older, and we saw the strain in the playoffs last year. That being said, Markov can still be a force, but it’s up to the Habs to ease his ice-time in the next season so that he can be geared up for the post-season. Candidates like Beaulieu, Petry, Tinordi, and Pateryn can make up his ice-time.

Goaltending:

Sure, there may be a serious lack of scoring for the Canadiens, but when you have Carey Price, you can still finish first in your division. That is the value of the Canadiens goaltender. He played 66 games last season and still managed to put up the best numbers in the league. If there’s one thing you can hold against Price, it’s that his performance in the playoffs was not as good, but then again neither was the entire team’s. Still, there really isn’t much of a question concerning the Canadiens first goalie. Their back up is where it gets interesting.

The back up last year, Dustin Tokarski, got his start after taking two games against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers last season. He was chosen over then backup Peter Budaj, and his incredible performance earned his a spot on the roster the following year. However, after failing to impress in the small amount of games he played last year and dropping the ball in the preseason, Tokarski was placed on waivers and Mike Condon was chosen as Carey Price’s backup.

If the Habs want to see better results in the playoffs, they need a better Price in the playoffs. And to get a better Price, you need a better rested Price. Although it is difficult, Condon needs to try and be as good as he can be the small amount of games he does get. He needs to ensure that he can compete and win when the big man needs a rest. What last season taught us is that every point counts, and if Condon can prove that he can take on the responsibility of a few more games, the break may be huge for Price and the Canadiens.

George Menexis

George Menexis

Montrealer born and raised. Sports are my passion, hockey my one true love. Top shelf is my favorite kind of shelf. My perfect day starts and ends with lacing up my skates and hitting the ice. There’s something thrilling about the wind hitting your hair as you glide across a mediocre patch of ice in your local neighborhood. It’s where hockey was born, where it continues to live and grow. A Concordia journalism graduate, I make up for my lack of skill on the ice by writing about it. I have a keen interest in spirit of competition, and need to control my sheer excitement before a big game. Love hockey as well? Get in touch!
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