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Boston Bruin Patrice Bergeron and Montreal Canadien P.K. Subban.
Projected Eastern Conference Finish: Third-best record in the Eastern Conference, behind the Boston Bruins (projected Atlantic Division winners) and Pittsburgh Penguins (projected Metropolitan Division winners).
When the 2013-14 season starts, Montreal will arguably be icing a better team than they did at the start of last year.
With time healing wounds, the Habs will also be a better team than the one that got shellacked 6-1 in their season-ending loss to the Ottawa Senators—and obviously not just because most of the bodies injured at the end of that series (Alexei Emelin, Brian Gionta, Brandon Prust, Carey Price, Lars Eller and Ryan White) should be back.
On purely a mental level, the team as a whole should be stronger by next October. If it is, look for the Habs to legitimately contend next season.
The fact of the matter is the Habs will be closer to—if not better than—the team that finished first in the Northeast Division last year than the one that finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12.
Daniel Briere, like him or hate him, adds offensive depth to a team already overflowing with it. A defense led by Norris Memorial Trophy winner P.K. Subban, playing in a contract year no less, should recapture some of the magic lost when Emelin sustained a knee injury in early April.
Finally, if Price can get his game back to the point of playing even 90 percent as well as he did in 2010-11, the Habs will be stacked from top to bottom. Really, the Habs didn’t need him to be great this past season (and he wasn’t) and they still won the division. There’s little telling how great the team can be if he steals a few games here and there.
The new seeding system works slightly differently to the old one. Division champions will still be ranked one-two. However, they will each play one of two wild-card teams in the first round. Meanwhile, teams finishing second and third in each division will play each other.
As such, look for the Habs to battle it out with the Bruins for the top spot in the conference, ultimately fall just short against the Stanley Cup runners-up and potentially end up playing the Wings in the first round.
A lot can happen to change all that this coming season, but it will definitely be one worth watching no matter what, based on the Habs’ potential alone.