NHL: Why the Lockout Could End Up Helping the Montreal Canadiens

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

The Canadiens may be in a position to bounce back from their last-place finish in 2011-12.
The Canadiens may be in a position to bounce back from their last-place finish in 2011-12.Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens are the most storied franchise in the NHL, and the lockout may gnaw at the team's passionate fans more than it does in most cities.

Hockey, of course, is not a mere sport in Montreal. It is akin to religion. If there is any exaggeration there, it is only slight.

So no matter who is at fault and no matter who is causing the lockout to go on and on, Montreal hockey fans will return to the Bell Centre when Les Glorieux return to the ice. There is little chance that fans will actually turn their back on their beloved team.

Owners in other cities—Dallas, Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Miami come quickly to mind—may not have it so lucky. It will take a lot more to get those fans back to their arenas than merely the end of the work stoppage.

The Canadiens may also have an advantage if regular season games start getting canceled and the season resumes in December or January.

They might be able to take advantage of a hot start combined with a shorter season and make a return to the playoffs.

While the Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, they have fallen on hard times. They have not won a league championship since 1993.

The 2011-12 season was simply disastrous for the Canadiens. They finished 15th and dead last in the Eastern Conference. They went through two head coaches, and when the season ended, they brought in new general manager Marc Bergevin to give the team a new direction. Bergevin hired Michel Therien as the team's head coach.

In the language of professional sports, the Canadiens are "rebuilding" for the future.

Rebuilding means they are not going to be competing for the Stanley Cup. They simply don't have the kind of talent on the roster that will likely allow them to compete with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference.

However, a further look at the Canadiens reveals that all hope is not lost. While last year was a disaster, the year before was not.

In 2010-11, the Canadiens were a playoff team, and they pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to seven games. In that seventh game, Montreal scored a late power-play goal to push it to overtime.

Their dreams ended when Nathan Horton's slap shot made it through the Montreal defense and got by Carey Price for the series-winning goal.

Who knows how far the Canadiens would have gotten had they ended up scoring the overtime goal and advancing in the playoffs?

While the Canadiens don't have a boatload of talent, they do have the gifted Price in net, high-scoring forwards Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole along with Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta.

On the defensive end, enigmatic P.K. Subban will likely be back even though he was a restricted free agent at the start of the lockout. Andrei Markov should be back after missing most of the last two seasons following a knee injury. The Canadiens had the best goals-against average—2.61—of all non-playoff teams (source: Yahoo.com).

During the offseason, Bergevin added gritty forward Brandon Prust (from the New York Rangers) and tough defenseman Francis Bouillon (from the Nashville Predators) to give the team more nastiness.

So, a shortened season might not be the worst thing for the Canadiens. They have some talent and a hot streak at the beginning just might allow them to have a greater impact on the 2012-13 than many experts believe they can.