Bergevin looking for even greater gains in Canadiens overhaul
Daniel Briere, Douglas Murray, George Parros, Nick Tarnasky.
Tomas Kaberle, Petteri Nokelainen, Michael Ryder.
Last year: In just one short season, Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien brought respectability back to the Canadiens.
Anyone who watched the 24CH series last season saw that with the new regime came new traditions, new rules and new expectations.
The team logo was placed on the dressing room rug - don't you dare step on it, Dr. Mulder. There was better communication between management, the players and the coaching staff. And hey, Carey and PK - no more triple-low fives. No changes were too big or too small - it was all done to remind everyone that above all things, the team always came first. And just about every player on the roster bought in.
PK Subban has his best year yet, leading all NHL blueliners in scoring and capturing the Norris Trophy. Lars Eller had a breakout season, while Brandon Prust became an instant fan favourite with his hard work and tenacity. Andrei Markov played a full season and resuscitated their power play. And rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk made their mark as cornerstone players in Montreal's high-speed, up-tempo offence.
But of course, the most noticeable change was in the standings - as the Canadiens went from last place in the East all the way up to second in the conference to go with the Northeast Division crown.
The playoffs were a different story, though. Losing Eller to an Eric Gryba hit in Game 1 certainly took its toll, but the Canadiens were soundly beaten in every category (including the post-game podium) in a five-game series loss to Ottawa.
Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day. But for Cup-starved fans in Montreal, championship-winning teams shouldn't take 20 years to put together either.
From The Insider
Check out TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie's take on the Montreal Canadiens.
This Year: Year One for the Bergevin regime was about assessment - simply seeing what he had to work with. That said, he wasn't going to make big changes to a lineup that saw so much improvement from the previous year and chose not to break the bank for top-tier free agents.
Michael Ryder - acquired during the season for Erik Cole - was let go, leaving the Habs in search of another top-six forward. So seven years after losing out on his services to the Philadelphia Flyers, the club finally landed Daniel Briere to fill that role for the next two seasons.
The Canadiens also needed some muscle to take the workload off Prust, so they acquired big bruiser George Parros from Florida. If Ryan White can learn to keep his game and emotions in check, the three of them should make it very difficult for opposing agitators to mess around with their teammates.
With Alexei Emelin sidelined until late November/early December, Bergevin signed veteran Douglas Murray for some added depth on the blueline. Murray, a defensive defenceman, brings lots of size and is a good hitter and shot blocker.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Canadiens' performance after a shortened season?
Would the Canadiens have maintained their winning ways if the season went beyond 48 games last year?
That's a tough one to answer, seeing as they took a bit of a slide through the final stretch of the regular season.
Eighty-two games will certainly be more of a challenge for Galchenyuk and Gallagher. Galchenyuk played a half season with Sarnia of the OHL before locking up a full-time spot with Montreal, while Gallagher developed for a few months in Hamilton prior to the end of the lockout.
They'll be playing a higher tempo, harder-hitting game for a longer period now and they won't go unnoticed - teams will see them coming and will be ready.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Canadiens make to get themselves back in cap shape?
With Scott Gomez long gone, the Habs used their second and final compliance buyout on underachieving veteran blueliner Tomas Kaberle. The move took $4.25 million off this season's cap and gave Bergevin the extra room needed to sign Briere along with some wiggle room under the cap ceiling.
But the real money watch for Montreal will be next summer. The ceiling should go up and with two $5 million-plus hits (Gionta and Markov) off the books, Bergevin will need every penny to re-sign Subban. With his bridge contract expiring and a Norris Trophy on his resume, his market value could be a seven or eight-year deal worth with an average annual salary of at least $6.5 to $7 million.
Eller's bridge contract is also expiring next summer. With Tomas Plekanec getting more defensive assignments, David Desharnais looking to improve on last season's struggles and Galchenyuk expected to play the wing a while longer, Eller could potentially challenge this season as the Canadiens' No. 1 centre. He too, will be seeking a bigger multi-year deal.
Emelin and Raphael Diaz, two of Montreal's mainstays on the blueline, will become unrestricted free agents next July.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Canadiens after realignment.
The Habs are now in the Atlantic Division, where their hated rivals the Boston Bruins are considered by many to take the top spot.
That leaves two more postseason berths (by division) up for grabs and Montreal will be battling hard with the Maple Leafs and Senators for them. And let's not forget that Detroit is in the mix as well. So even with 'wild card' spots in play, the road to the postseason is going to be hard.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Alex Galchenyuk, LW - The Canadiens kept a tight leash on Galchenyuk as a rookie, playing him a little more than 12 minutes per game, yet he was productive, scoring nine goals and 27 points in 48 games, tantalizing fans with what he might be able to do in a more significant role. His 26 even-strength points tied with the likes of Claude Giroux, Anze Kopitar and Thomas Vanek, all of whom played signficantly more minutes.
Going into his second season, with higher expectations, Galchenyuk will still be battling for ice time, but should be expected to get more responsibility and if he gets more ice time, including time on the power play, then the third overall pick from the 2012 Draft could be in line for a nice bump in production in Year Two.
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Pressing Question: Can the Canadiens find that blend of size and skill in their top six?
While Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, George Parros and Rene Bourque certainly bring size and toughness, the Canadiens are once again lacking in that department through their top two scoring lines.
Briere's arrival will certainly help in the scoring department, but having him along with Gallagher, David Desharnais and Brian Gionta up front leaves Canadiens fans craving a top-six power forward to lend them a hand.
For Bergevin, that's easier said than done.
"It's really hard to get size," he said in July. "Teams who have players who are skilled with size, they don't just give them away. That's a fact. If we had one, I'm sure we wouldn't be shopping him around. If you think you can go to the market to get one, you'll probably have to trade half your team, and I'm not willing to do that. So we have to be patient, draft well and bring these guys along."
That said - should a lack of size on their scoring lines be a concern for the Canadiens?
- Montreal Canadiens Preview by Kelvin Chow, TSN.ca