Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
Yes, Price did suffer through a mediocre 26-28-11 season (2.43 goals-against average, .916 save percentage), but at least he is capable of being better. He is the goalie with which the Habs will live and die.
Needless to say—love him or hate him—Montreal’s goaltending is solidified for the next six years at least with the signing of his latest contract.
To those that hate him, look on the bright side: Montreal is far from being Tampa Bay (both in terms of distance and the Lightning’s goaltending situation), Toronto (just in terms of the Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation), or the Islanders (in regard to how far gone New York owner Charles Wang is).
Admittedly, when there are generally three areas one can address (goaltending, scoring and defense), one out of three is not necessarily all that bad. I mean, how many teams, really, can’t use a little touch-up here and there?
Undeniably, though, Montreal did finish third to last in the entire league and, an extreme makeover from the net out is perhaps a more-apt description of what is required.
Additional areas such as coaching, depth, grit and size start to creep up, and one begins to realize that Montreal is currently in bad shape. Sure, prospects that will begin to change the team’s long-term fortunes are on their way.
In the here and now, though, Habs fans had better brace for another rocky road (including all the nuttiness).
No, I don’t believe Michel Therrien is the answer behind the bench. He has proven himself to be overly emotional (to his credit, that’s in sharp contrast to Jacques Martin) and incapable of winning it all with a team built to win. But even I have to admit that he is an upgrade over Randy Cunneyworth.
That isn’t to say Cunneyworth is incompetent. He just wasn’t equipped to deal with the rigors of life as an NHL head coach, and the lack of confidence in him displayed by former general manager Pierre Gauthier sure as hell didn’t help.
New GM Marc Bergevin already has him beat there, having handpicked the man in question and barring an unforeseen third-act reveal that Bergevin is actually Vlad Tepes in disguise, the overall management of the team is in people-friendlier and better hands.
However, Bergevin still has a lot to prove as a rookie GM, and it won’t be easy as he tries to address Montreal’s glaring problem with depth, mainly because it’s a complicated one.
One misconception is that the Habs lack it. That’s untrue.
Montreal has plenty of depth, to the point that the team boasts eight defensemen with legitimate NHL experience and at least nine forwards capable of playing a top-six role. The aforementioned problem is no matter what line combinations Therrien ultimately chooses, they will be weak top sixes up front and on the back end.
Assuming Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta are on Montreal's second line next year, who will complete the trio?
P.K. Subban is not ready to be a number-one defenseman, but with Andrei Markov down to his third leg (which most likely can’t be fitted for a skate), he’ll be thrust into that role once he gets resigned.
Similarly, David Desharnais is not a top-line forward, but last year, he at least played better than a number-two center, which is admirable, impressive, and not all that confidence-inspiring all at the same time—which brings us to the issues of grit and size.
Desharnais no doubt plays bigger than his 5’7” frame would suggest, but the Habs need to get bigger, mostly because their biggest forward is Rene Bourque (6’2”, 211). Not only did he not pull his weight last year, but he also at times helped drag the team down.
The additions of Colby Armstrong, Brandon Prust and Francis Bouillon help in the toughness department, but, truth be told, the three signings made the Habs even smaller. They went from an average weight of 201.1 to 200.3 pounds and a height of six feet and a half inches to six feet and a third inches.
Currently, Price is Montreal’s tallest player (6’3”), and, while that would in theory make it easier for him to see incoming pucks, in practice Montreal is still poised to be pushed around by the bigger teams in the league, potentially leading to a forest in front of the Habs’ most valuable asset. Seeing the forest for those trees leads to the very real conclusion that Montreal won’t make the playoffs again.
Any picture can tell a thousand words.
The one at the top mainly speaks of hope for the future; for the Habs' chances this year—that Price will be able to rebound and that the team as a whole will be better.
They will be.
By how much is up for debate, much like every other question surrounding the team. That there are so many does not bode well for the not-too-distant future, which may or may not include a lockout, a fact that should put this all in the proper perspective.
Bad hockey is better than no hockey. If Habs fans are still able to discuss the team’s countless problems come April, the season will have been a successful one.