There is no denying that the Montreal Canadiens are struggling this year, buried in the basement of the Eastern Conference and the league. They finished last season miraculously in sixth place and managed to play a well-fought series with Boston before exiting after game seven in the first round.
They limped into this season having made minor changes since the end of last season, and were unable to right themselves by the time December came around. It was at that time that the changes in the organization started this season. One of the first major moves made by the Canadiens, signalling the team was in trouble, was made on December 17, when it was announced that coach Jacques Martin had been let go.
Going back to last February, however, the first major front office changes began when Bob Gainey resigned, passing the GM torch to Pierre Gauthier. Gainey remains with the Canadiens as a consultant to owner Geoff Molson.
With Martin gone, a hole behind the bench needed to be filled and Gauthier named Randy Cunneyworth interim coach for the remainder of the season. Cunneyworth has failed to lift the Habs into the playoff picture, and as it stands there is no guarantee that he will return next season. This means he could be replaced after this season, a move which could benefit the Canadiens.
December also started the beginning of a trade boom in Montreal, seeing some of the bigger names and contracts shipped out of Montreal. Jaroslav Spacek was traded to Carolina in exchange for veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle to aid the young PK Subban in maturing his game. This trade occurred a few days before coach Martin was let go.
Mike Cammalleri was next, when he was sent to Calgary in a trade that also sent Kari Ramo to the Flames and brought Rene Bourque and Patrick Holland to Montreal. The next major trade occurred 10 days before the trade deadline, sending Hal Gill to Nashville in exchange for Robert Slaney and Blake Geoffrion.
The last trade happened at the deadline sending Andrei Kostitsyn to join Gill in Nashville. The players that were acquired by Montreal have yet to make a major impact this season. By the time training camp arrives next September, they will be more familiar with each other and can start the season with the chemistry they have built on for the remainder of this season.
The trades mentioned also garnered Montreal a number of draft picks for 2012 and 2013 which, combined with their own draft picks, could help bolster their AHL team. The fact that the Canadiens are currently third to last in the league at this point in the season can enable them to obtain a high number in this year's draft. With Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Filip Forsberg topping the prospects class, it is not out of the question for Montreal to obtain any of these young potential stars.
The offseason should also see a couple of trades and free-agent signings as Montreal has a number of players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents this summer. Two of the bigger names that Montreal will most likely re-sign are PK Subban and Carey Price.
Some of the unrestricted free agents that Montreal may look at include their former, and much beloved, captain Saku Koivu. Zach Parise is another, as the financial woes that the New Jersey Devils have been battling is well documented. The speculation that they may not be able to afford Parise next year has led to many rumours as to where he may end up in the upcoming season. These may be speculations, but either player added to the team could help the ailing Canadiens.
This season the Candiens have been plagued with injuries. As of March 12 they have five players on the injured list, including the likes of Travis Moen, Brian Gionta and Mathieu Darche.
The worst is the injury that sidelined Markov in November 2010 and has caused him to miss 140 games. It was reported by TSN on March 3 that Markov had been cleared for contact, and he has since made his return on March 10 against Vancouver.
The injuries this season started early and happened often, starting with Mike Cammalleri in October. Should they be able to stay healthy next season, and finally have Markov back in the lineup, the Canadiens have a chance for a better showing next year.
This season may already be over for Montreal, save for the final placement. Although it is hard to believe they will rise much higher in the standings, this will give them good placement for the draft which, mixed with their new acquisitions, could help rejuvenate the team next season.
A new coach behind the bench, whether it be Cunneyworth or someone else, and the possibility of a new GM should help the Habs, while remaining healthy is another key to their success for next season. Already they have won three of their last six games and sit only a few points behind the struggling Maple Leafs.