The 5 Most Promising Signs for Montreal Canadiens' Future

Brandon DuBreuil@@brandondubreuilContributor IIIMarch 18, 2014

The 5 Most Promising Signs for Montreal Canadiens' Future

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    The Montreal Canadiens are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and there a number of ways in which the 2013-14 season could play out. Yet no matter how this year ends, the future is promising for the Habs.

    The current Montreal roster is a true mix of young and old, ranging from 20-year-old Alex Galchenyuk to 38-year-old Francis Bouillon. Its average age of 28.3 ranks it as the fifth-oldest team in the league, according to NHL Numbers.

    This could be alarming to some, but it's important to remember that Montreal's most talented players are still very young. Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher and Galchenyuk are all still under the age of 27. That's a pretty solid core to move forward with. 

    Aside from the players, there are a few other reasons, such as cap space and the prospect pool, that make Montreal's future bright. 

    Here are the five most promising signs for the Montreal Canadiens' future. 

5. $22-25 Million in Cap Space for 2014-15

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    The Montreal Canadiens will have anywhere from $22-25 million in cap space heading into next season, according to CapGeek

    The reason for the range is because of the uncertainty behind next year's cap. 

    Back in December 2013, reported that the cap was set to rise to $71.1 million for the 2014-15 season. However, recent fluctuations with the Canadian dollar, along with other factors, could drop the cap to around $68 million, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post

    Regardless, Montreal currently has just $46.6 million in committed money for next season, meaning they'll have a lot of cash to work with this offseason. 

    The Habs do have a long list of players set to become unrestricted and restricted free agents this summer:

    • Francis Bouillon
    • Lars Eller
    • Brian Gionta
    • Andrei Markov
    • Douglas Murray
    • George Parros
    • P.K. Subban
    • Thomas Vanek
    • Mike Weaver
    • Dale Weise 
    • Ryan White

    But the good news is that the Canadiens will have the financial flexibility to re-sign whom they please while also exploring the free-agent market. 

    Financial flexibility is always a positive in salary-capped sports, and the Canadiens have lots of it heading into next season. 

4. The Prospect Pool

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    The Montreal Canadiens have the 11th-best prospect pool, at least according to HockeysFuture's fall 2013 rankings.

    This list has not been updated since the Canadiens traded Sebastien Collberg to the New York Islanders as part of the Vanek trade. Yet it's also important to keep in mind that both Alex Galchenyuk (20 years old) and Brendan Gallagher (21 years old) had graduated from the prospect rankings due to the fact that they were both already NHL regulars.

    Montreal has key prospects at each position that are all expected to be a big piece of the future. 

    In goal, Zachary Fucale is one of the top prospects at his position. The Canadiens selected him with the 36th overall pick in the 2013 draft, and he's currently one of the best goaltenders in the entire CHL. 

    Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi anchor the defensive prospects and could make for an exciting defensive pair, as their styles of play compliment each other. Beaulieu is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, while Tinordi is more of a shutdown, stay-at-home defender who likes to use his body. 

    Jacob de la Rose is the club's top prospect at center, and he could be making his North American debut in the near future. Andrew Berkshire of Habs Eyes on the Prize reports that de la Rose's Swedish contract expires in April and that he could look to continue his development in either the OHL or AHL. 

    At right wing, the Canadiens' top options include Mike McCarron and Christian Thomas. McCarron was the club's 2013 first-round selection, while Thomas was acquired in a trade last summer. 

    The talent level on the opposite wing is high, where Charles Hudon and Artturi Lehkonen are both gifted players. Hudon has 76 points in 57 QMJHL games this season. Lehkonen is a young sniper who can also kill penalties. 

    The Canadiens have done a great job in finding talent through the draft in recent years, and it shows with the depth of their prospect pool. There are a lot of young players to be excited about in Montreal. 

3. Max Pacioretty and His Contract

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    Back in August 2012, then-rookie general manager Marc Bergevin made a somewhat risky move. He decided to sign Max Pacioretty, who was often injured yet coming off his best season as a pro, to a contract extension. 

    The deal didn't take effect until the next season and was to the tune of six years and $27 million. Pacioretty had agreed to be a Hab through the 2018-19 season. 

    Fast forward 19 months, and Pacioretty's $4.5 million cap hit is one of the best bargains in the NHL. 

    The 25-year-old has led the Canadiens in scoring each of the past two seasons. He has taken another step forward this season and has truly become an elite goal scorer. 

    Pacioretty has 30 goals in 60 games this season, meaning he's scoring at an average of 0.5 goals per game. Of those who have played in more than 30 games, only Alex Ovechkin (0.69), Corey Perry (0.53) and Alexander Steen (0.53) are scoring at a better rate. 

    If you take ice time into consideration, Pacioretty's stats look even better. He is second in the entire NHL when it comes to all-situations goals per 60 minutes with 1.63. Ovechkin leads the league with 2.0 goals per 60 minutes, according to Extra Skater.  

    Pacioretty has truly developed into an elite NHL goal scorer. He is an absolute steal at $4.5 million per season for the next five years.

    Bergevin's little gamble two years ago paid off, and it's another reason why the future is bright for the Canadiens. 

2. P.K. Subban

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    Having cap room, prospects and a good contract or two mean that a team's future could be good. Add to that two already-established NHL stars who are both under the age of 27, and the future could be great. 

    That's why simply having P.K. Subban (and the next guy on this list) means that Habs fans should be optimistic. 

    Subban is still just 24 years old and has already won the Norris Trophy. He currently leads his entire team in scoring as a defenseman. He possesses a skill set that few at his position have, and there's still room to improve.

    He is set to become a restricted free agent at season's end and will command a lofty contract. That shouldn't matter to Bergevin.

    Montreal's GM played hardball in January 2013 and forced Subban to prove himself with a two-year "bridge" contract. Subban delivered, and now it's Bergevin's turn to reward him. Not locking up Subban to a multiyear contract would be a mistake that would set the organization back years. 

    Subban is the kind of defenseman that comes around once in a generation. He's only now entering his prime and is already an NHL superstar. It's exciting to think that he'll be anchoring the Canadiens defense for years to come. 

1. Carey Price

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    When the Montreal Canadiens drafted Carey Price with the fifth overall selection back in 2005, they envisioned him becoming the next great goaltender in the long and storied history of the franchise. 

    Well, after a few inconsistent years in which he endured questions as to whether he was truly a world-class goalie, he has finally proven himself. 

    Price is, of course, having a career season. He has a 27-17-5 record with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. 

    He stole the goaltending spotlight last month at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he led Team Canada to gold while being named the tournament's top netminder. 

    He will surely be in consideration for the Vezina Trophy at season's end, although his recent eight-game absence due to injury could hurt his chances. 

    The 26-year-old's contract will keep him in Montreal through the 2017-18 season at an affordable $6.5 million per year, according to CapGeek. You can bet the Canadiens will look to keep him around even past that if his career continues to trend in the same direction. 

    Price has proven that he has what it takes to carry a team. He is the kind of player you build a franchise around, and the Canadiens are in the process of doing just that. Having a star goaltender is always a promising sign for the future.