After an offseason that led to the departure of their captain and assistant captain and a scarier-than-necessary negotiation with their star defenceman, the Montreal Canadiens came out of it better than they have been in years. And it could stay that way for a while.
Marc Bergevin worked for the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that Canadiens fans look at and wish they could mimic their success. Two Stanley Cups. Superstar players. No signs of slowing down.
Bergevin overreacted to a playoff loss the wrong way. It was his first moment of panic as the general manager of the Canadiens. He thought they were too weak.
After a season where they were up and down, the Canadiens still finished with 100 points. They were just behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and looking up at the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division.
Then, in the playoffs, they changed. Their style was more conducive to keeping the puck, or “possession-hockey.” They won easily against the Lightning, sweeping them. That set up an epic battle against the Bruins where P.K. Subban refused to let his team lose. Then, a tough loss against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final without their star goaltender, Carey Price.
Just like that, the Canadiens over achieved, some people thought. Others thought they finally found themselves. Either way, it was going to be an interesting off-season for Bergevin. How would he respond?
Gone were Thomas Vanek, Parros and Murray. Not to return. Briere was shipped to Colorado for P.A. Parenteau. At the draft, the team was rumoured to be shopping Josh Gorges. By July 1 he was traded to Buffalo. The team added Manny Malhotra, Tom Gilbert and re-signed Mike Weaver. Brian Gionta was not brought back.
The team locked up Lars Eller, and Subban.
The Canadiens now have Price, Subban and Max Pacioretty locked up for at least the next five seasons. Their contracts are reasonable, and in the case of Pacioretty, the envy of the league. They have two young talented players in Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. They have exciting young players in the system to fill in when others leave.
Don’t get me wrong – they aren’t perfect. They have more questionable contracts then most teams around them, from Alexei Emelin to David Desharnais to Brandon Prust. Not to mention Rene Bourque and Travis Moen and, well, you get the idea.
By 2016-17, however, things get interesting. The team will still have the key parts – Price, Subban, Pacioretty, Eller, likely Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu, Gallagher and Jarred Tinordi locked up. But they will lose most of their bad contracts by then. Bourque, Parenteau, Prust, Moen will be off the books. They will be young, talented, and have money to play with.
You talk about a team with those key players locked up and improving, and I will take my chances.
There is some danger in looking ahead like this. Back in 2007-08, people said similar things. The Canadiens had won the Eastern Conference regular season title.
They had Carey Price just finishing his first year. They had Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu leading younger players like Chris Higgins, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn. They had Mike Komisarek and Markov on defence. They were young and talented and supposed to get even better.
Only they didn’t. The prospects never improved to the point people they thought they would. The supporting cast and locker room issues caused the team to be broken up within two years. Only Markov and Price remain from that team seven years later. Young stars-to-be Komisarek, Latendresse, Higgins and Kostitsyn are either out of the league or depth players.
That’s one part of the risk. The other part is that Bergevin can’t just rest on his laurels. As fast as you can say Pittsburgh Penguins, a young talented roster can get passed quickly no matter what talent you have. That’s what made the re-tooling this off-season so encouraging. He could have easily looked at the playoff results and only made minor tweaks. He didn’t.
When you look at the combination of talent, cap hits and length of salaries, you can’t help but feel that Montreal is placed to be one of the better teams in the league for the foreseeable future and may already be the division favourites.
But that also doesn’t mean it’s set in stone to happen. In a game where you can only put your cards on the table, Montreal’s odds of success are better than most.