The Montreal Canadiens endured one of their worst seasons in recent memory this year, with dismal play on the ice accompanied by bizarre changes to the coaching staff and terrible decisions by the management team.
The historic hockey club finished the season in the basement of the Eastern Conference, producing the third-worst record in the NHL while missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The Habs will now go into the offseason without a general manager after the firing of Pierre Gauthier, and with a coach who is certain to be let go after a tumultuous time in La Belle Province.
Whoever the new general manager is, he will have his work cut out for him in rebuilding a team that is being hampered by unproductive contracts, while also lacking elite prospects in the farm system.
There is some good news for Canadiens fans, though.
The most obvious of which is simple: The new GM simply can’t do a worse job than Gauthier, so things are already looking up.
In actuality, the team has a star goaltender in Carey Price to build around, assuming they do what’s expected and sign the restricted free agent to a long-term contract. There is a strong core of defensemen in place, led by Andrei Markov and 22-year-old P.K. Subban. The forward group also has some solid pieces, despite lacking a little bit of depth.
The Canadiens were also hammered by the injury bug this season, losing over 400 man-games, the highest total in the league. In all likelihood, that won’t happen again next year.
So take a deep breath Montreal fans, because there are reasons to be optimistic for the start of the 2012-2013 campaign.
But not all of the players on the current roster will get the chance to help turn things around.
Here are eight players who won’t be wearing the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge next season.
What do you think? Who won't be around in Montreal next season? Have your say in the comment section below.
It's not a player, I know, but to overlook Randy Cunneyworth here would be criminal.
The head coach is the most obvious candidate to be leaving Montreal this offseason, as he is almost certain to be replaced once a new general manager is named.
The relationship between Cunneyworth and the Canadiens has been an interesting one, to say the least. When he was hired to replace Jacques Martin in December, the move came as a surprise to many.
Since that time, the Etobicoke, Ont., native has essentially been a dead man walking. After the announcement of the hiring, Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson released a statement that killed off any hope of Cunneyworth staying behind the Habs bench beyond the season.
Read part of the statement:
… it is obvious that the ability for the head coach to express himself in both French and English will be a very important factor in the selection of the permanent head coach.
Basically, winning hockey games wasn’t enough for the unilingual coach.
The situation was complicated when former general manager Pierre Gauthier—the man who hired Cunneyworth—openly apologized to fans who were upset that the interim coach did not speak French.
It made an awkward situation worse, and effectively threw Cunneyworth under the bus. From that moment on, it has been obvious that he wasn’t going to return.
The former New Jersey Devil has become the elephant in the room for the Canadiens. His $7.3 million annual salary has become a point of major distraction, both for him and the team, as Gomez has not come anywhere close to justifying that amount.
The 5’11” center only produced 11 points in 38 games this past season. That comes on the back of another poor year in 2010-2011, when the 32-year-old put up 38 points in 80 games.
And then there was the year-long goal drought, which inspired the creation of this website.
With declining point totals and his age catching up to him, there is no doubt that the new management team will be desperate to ship him out of town. In an ideal world, the Habs would love to trade him and get something in return.
But this is far from an ideal world.
Gomez’s massive cap hit is not something other teams will be willing to take on, which means the Canadiens will likely be left with two options—the first of which would be to bite the bullet and buy out his contract.
The other option is similar to the situation with $6.5 million defenseman Wade Redden and the New York Rangers. That would see Gomez and his albatross contract buried in the minors.
Either way, it would be a huge surprise to see him on the Canadiens roster next season.
Chris Campoli will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it seems unlikely that the Canadiens will re-sign the 27-year-old blueliner.
Coming off a one-year contract which paid him $1.75 million with the Habs this season, Campoli will most likely be looking for a long-term deal in free agency. That's something Montreal probably won’t be ready to offer him, especially considering the former Chicago Blackhawk was surpassed on the depth chart by the likes of Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz this year.
The return of Andrei Markov to the lineup makes Campoli expendable as well, as the Russian has now recovered from his series of knee operations.
Tomas Kaberle was acquired by Gauthier from the Carolina Hurricanes midway through the season, and put up 22 points in 43 games in Montreal.
That’s not a bad total, but you will be hard pressed to find fans in Montreal who wouldn’t be happy to see the former Toronto Maple Leaf wearing a different jersey next year.
At 34 years old, the former All-Star is a shadow of his former self, falling off the radar since his trade from Toronto to Boston last year. While never known for being a defensive stalwart, Kaberle endured a rough season in his own zone, finishing with a plus/minus rating of minus-18. That tied him for the second-worst total on the Habs' roster.
Moving the Czech blueliner will be a big test for the new general manager, whoever it is. Kaberle's ridiculous $4.25 million contract makes him almost impossible to trade, but his liability as a defenseman makes him nearly impossible to keep.
Another player who will be testing free agency this summer, Moen earned $1.5 million with the Canadiens this season.
The 6’2” winger was having a strong campaign until he sustained an upper body injury that forced him to miss the final 27 games of the season.
A solid veteran with Stanley Cup experience from his days in Anaheim, Moen will certainly attract interest around the league thanks to his hard-working, physical style of play, as well as his penalty-killing ability.
In the wake of his injury, Montreal was forced to give opportunities to some of its younger players within the system. For half the price of Moen, it’s possible that they could opt for one of those players long-term.
Whether or not they can contribute in the same manner over an entire season remains to be seen.
The 35-year-old winger will hit the open market this summer, and despite bringing some size and versatility to the lineup, it looks like he won’t be coming back to Montreal next season.
Darche's situation is compounded by the fact that he missed the final 21 games of the year after complaining of dizziness. After being treated for an inner-ear infection, the symptom persisted, leading team doctors to treat the ailment as a concussion.
With the uncertainty of a possible concussion lingering over him, it seems likely that the Habs will allow him to sign elsewhere, and they'll replace his 12-point output with a young player from within the organization.
The Finnish center will likely be a victim of the numbers game this coming offseason, when he will be one of 11 restricted free agents on the Canadiens roster.
While other RFA's like Lars Eller, Ryan White and Blake Geoffrion seem like certainties to be re-signed, Nokelainen has fallen behind the pack on the depth chart. All of the aforementioned players saw more ice time on average than the former first-round draft pick.
Nokelainen is a serviceable NHL center, but in a crowded group of bottom-six forwards in Montreal, he may be the odd man out.
The 2012 NHL Draft Lottery is scheduled for Tuesday night, and with the Canadiens guaranteed at least a top-four selection, they will certainly be getting a very exciting prospect.
If they get lucky and land the first overall selection, it seems like a foregone conclusion that they will take electrifying Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov. The 18-year-old Russian is the consensus No. 1 pick amongst NHL analysts, sitting atop NHL Central Scouting’s overall rankings.
But if things go as expected, Yakupov will go to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have the best chance of winning the lottery thanks to a terrible 29-46-7 record this season. The Canadiens, meanwhile, are projected to draft third overall.
If the Habs do indeed end up with the third selection, things still look very promising.
The Edmonton Oilers—who are projected to pick just above the Canadiens— are in desperate need of a quality defenseman to complement their incredibly talented core of forwards, thus making Ryan Murray the name most commonly attached to the team.
That leaves Montreal with a plethora of options up front. Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg could all be available when the team’s representative—whoever it turns out to be—steps up to the podium.
Should the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge go with either of the two centers on the list—Grigorenko or Galchenyuk— that could make Tomas Plekanec expendable.
His $5 million salary, combined with the fact that David Desharnais took over the role as the team’s No. 1 center, could facilitate a trade.
Before you all get up in arms, I know Plekanec is a very good hockey player.
He was an essential piece on Montreal’s penalty-killing unit, which was the second best in the league. He was also the best Canadien in the faceoff circle, finishing the season with 824 faceoff wins, good enough for fifth in the NHL.
Regardless, it is not inconceivable to think he could be traded should Montreal draft a stud centerman who will be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.
Already 29 years old, Plekanec is on the books at $5 million until the end of the 2015-2016 season. He’s been unable to replicate his 70-point season from two years ago, and it may be in Montreal’s best interest to try and deal him now, while his value is still high.
In the NHL's salary cap era, having a third-line center making $5 million dollars is simply not practical. If Plekanec stays in Montreal for the foreseeable future, that seems like the likely outcome.
If the selection is Forsberg (or Yakupov), that could be the end of Rene Bourque's time in Quebec. Bourque arrived midway through the season in the deal that saw Mike Cammalleri traded back to the Calgary Flames.
But the powerful winger was less than impressive during his time with the Canadiens, recording only eight points in 38 games.
Both of these scenarios are highly unlikely, but either one would definitely be a bold move by the new general manager.
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