The Montreal Canadiens had a disastrous season in 2011-2012. They finished last in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs by 14 points while losing the division to the Boston Bruins by 24 points.
So that's the bad news.
The good news is that the Canadiens underachieved badly last season, and that abysmal showing earned them the right to draft Alex Galchenyuk. This team isn't nearly as weak as it appeared last season, and there is a good chance that teams in the Eastern Conference are going to sleep on them a bit.
That could be just enough to get the Canadiens into the playoffs.
Even if the postseason isn't in the cards for this squad, there is no way they perform as badly this year as they did last year. And no, that doesn't count as one of my five bold predictions.
The difference between securing a spot in the playoffs and being involved in the draft lottery can come down to overtime losses in the NHL these days. Depending on how you see the glass here, this is either a good or a bad thing for the Montreal Canadiens.
They were tied for second-most OT losses last season, which means two things. The first is that they acquired 16 of their 78 points in losing efforts, taking home a "loser point" after taking the game to overtime. If you're a glass-half-empty type of fan, then you realize that these games could have just as easily been lost in regulation, and that the Canadiens' record could have easily been worse.
Or you see that Montreal could have won more of those OT games, thus taking more points to the board. Consider this: If the Canadiens could have won just half of their 16 overtime losses, then they would have been within reach of a playoff berth.
The OT loss trend must stop for the Canadiens to get back into playoff contention. My betting is that they will be able to right this ship, and this will go a long way towards making them more competitive in the East.
The irony of three American-born players leading the Canadiens back to the promised land isn't lost on me.
Last season Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole were two of the few bright spots on this team, skating on a top line together that proved to be quite effective. So what could be better than sporting two Americanos on the first line in Montreal?
Why, sporting three of course!
It's not a sure thing that Alex Galchenyuk makes the big squad right out of the gate, but my money is that he's just too good to resist the temptation of adding him. His shot is lethal and he didn't look out of place playing against would-be NHLers during the WJC tourney.
How's this look?
Max Pacioretty had a breakout year in 2011-2012, racking up 33 goals and 32 assists in his third year of NHL action.
That goal total was good to tie for 17th in the league, putting him in the company of players such as Patrick Sharp, Joe Pavelski and Jason Spezza. Perhaps I am a bit bullish on the Connecticut native, but I believe he has another gear that he hasn't shown yet.
He shot a whopping 286 times last season, and if he can increase his shooting percentage just a few points, then Pacioretty could rocket up the goal scoring list. To have been fifth in league scoring last season, he would have needed to pot five more goals.
That isn't out of the question at all in my mind.
Signing P.K. Subban will be the first priority of business for Montreal once the new CBA is officially ratified. That is a task that so far has been easier said than done, however.
Subban has already reportedly turned down a two-year deal worth $5.5 million, and he is supposedly looking for a longer term and commitment from the Canadiens. Why Montreal would balk at locking up this rising star of a blueliner is honestly beyond my comprehension, unless he's asking for Drew Doughty or Shea Weber money already.
Still, there will be pressure to re-sign him as quickly as possible before hands are forced by another team signing him to an offer sheet. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers are notably short on the blue line, and would probably be more than happy to give Subban the term and dollars he's looking for.
Young players coming into a season after a holdout tend to under-perform because of all the added pressure. If Montreal had a full summer to talk to him then this probably wouldn't be a story any longer, but now we are maybe four days away from Subban officially entering holdout territory.
Maybe he gets his money. Maybe he doesn't. Either way, the situation will prove to be a mood-defining moment for Subban, and if things don't go perfectly, I can see it affecting his play on the ice.
I say a deal gets done, but at the cost of a small slump through a truncated NHL season.
So why now? Why not last season? What can this Montreal Canadiens team do that it couldn't last season?
I feel like it comes down to a few factors. For one, this is a young team with a bright future. None of the guys that suffered through the embarrassing 2011-2012 season are likely to forget what it feels like to be on the outside looking in a month or six weeks before the playoffs begin.
That means Montreal ends up with a youthful, energized team that goes out every night with a collectively chip on its shoulder and with a purpose. Never underestimate the power of a team gaining an identity. If it's strong enough, this one X-factor can carry a squad all the way to a Finals appearance.
I'm not saying that's in the cards this season for Montreal. What I am saying, however, is that this is a talented hockey team with something to prove. I promise you that Carey Price hasn't been sleeping very well throughout the lockout, and that the youngsters on this squad have another level to get to before things are said and done.