5 Reasons the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens' Season Has Been a Success
It ended in disappointment, but the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens season can only be considered a good one as well as an overwhelming success.
Despite being eliminated in embarrassing fashion in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final by the New York Rangers, there were a lot of positives to be taken away from this postseason run and the regular season that preceded it.
Sure, the Habs managed just five shots on goal in the final third period of their season when they faced just a single-goal deficit heading in. And, yes, they had more trouble getting in the “o-zone” (and at times even out of their own zone) than harmful ultraviolet light (which gets absorbed by the ozone layer).
Still, one cannot ignore the fact that the Habs went further this season than in any other one since winning their last Stanley Cup back in 1993. Here are four other reasons and the top five overall why this season was a successful one:
5. The Opportunity to Re-Sign Vanek
Arguably, for the first time since Alex Kovalev played for the Montreal Canadiens, the Habs have an all-world talent up front in Thomas Vanek. Unfortunately, in the last round Vanek also played like him too…that is the Kovalev who physically showed up to games but didn’t end up playing at all.
While general manager Marc Bergevin’s trade-deadline acquisition of perhaps the most sought-after free agent come July 1 gives him first dibs at re-signing him, this slide is ranked No. 5 for two main reasons:
First, all signs point to him going to the Minnesota Wild, seeing as he went to university there, his wife is from there, he lives there during the summer and he’s friends with Jason Pominville. Secondly, even if none of those reasons will factor into his decision, the Habs simply may not want him back.
After scoring five times and adding three assists in the first 10 games of the playoffs, Vanek managed just two assists over the last seven. Admittedly, part of that had to do with him getting demoted to the fourth line.
The working theory is he was playing hurt ever since defenseman P.K. Subban hit him accidentally while lining up Boston Bruins forward Reilly Smith in Round 2. If he was, Vanek can still turn out to be a valuable top-line player for Montreal for at least the next few years.
However, the truly ironic part in all this is if Vanek’s scoring drought turns out to have been a legitimate slump, his value will have gone down so drastically this summer that Montreal would actually be able to afford him (but would not want him).
In such an instance, the team’s attention should focus on other assets, who actually proved invaluable during the unlikely playoff run. Enter goalie Dustin Tokarski.
4. The Emergence of Tokarski as an NHL Goalie
In what was at the time a minor trade, last season Bergevin traded minor-league goalie Cedrick Desjardins to the Tampa Bay Lightning for another with arguably more upside in Tokarski. One year later, Tokarski proved to be an NHL goalie instead, albeit mainly over just five games—but five third-round playoff games.
Tokarski’s postseason stat line may not seem impressive, as his .916 save percentage isn’t exactly elite-level. However, he kept the Habs alive when Carey Price went down in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. He stole Game 3 to prevent the Habs from going down 3-0 in the series, and he seemed to be the only Hab to show up in Game 6, which Montreal ultimately lost along with the series.
At 24, Tokarski is far from over the hill. In fact, he might not even be peaking yet, which bodes well for Montreal. While the Habs have their No. 1 goalie in Price, Tokarski gives them another trade asset or a great backup option once Peter Budaj’s contract runs out (if not before).
3. The Emergence of Carey Price as a Superstar NHL Goalie
Carey Price may not have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy this year, but he very well could have been.
He posted the second-best save percentage at .927 during the regular season (tied with Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov), which was a career high. He meanwhile posted a career-low 2.32 goals-against average en route to a 34-20-5 record.
While Habs fans have seen this before from Price—back in 2010-11 he went 38-28-6 with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA—there’s one key difference between that season and this one. Back in 2010-11, he failed to add to his career playoff series win total of one. This season he tripled it and proved to all his critics that he can be clutch as well as elite.
Needless to say, it was a welcome development seeing as he had posted two statistically subpar seasons immediately prior to this one, including a dismal playoff performance last year when he gave up 13 goals in four games against the Ottawa Senators.
Back in 2010-11 Price proved he could be a world-class goalie. In 2013-14 he became one, and not just because of the Olympic gold medal.
Of course, it remains to be seen if Price can post similar numbers next season, especially in light of the knee injury that kept him out of the team’s last five games. However, this season has to be seen as a success for the simple reason that it gave Habs fans little reason to worry about goaltending moving forward.
That couldn’t necessarily be said after last season.
2. Reaching Eastern Conference Final
This season has to be considered a success because of how it represented the first time Montreal made it to the Eastern Conference Final since 2009-10. A team doesn’t make it this far every season, and, in fact, this was the first time since the 1993 Stanley Cup victory that the Habs won 10 postseason games.
Seeing as no one in their right mind would consider each and every one of the 19 years in between that last Montreal Canadiens championship and this season a failure, 2013-14 is, even if purely from a logical standpoint, a success. The question now becomes: How long until they win 11 postseason games (or more)?
1. Low Expectations
The bottom line in regard to this season is that few analysts predicted the Habs would make the playoffs let alone reach the Eastern Conference Final. While getting back there next season can prove to be tricky, there is a reason to be optimistic this season wasn’t just a one-off.
For starters, as mentioned previously, the Habs did make the Eastern Conference Final in 2009-10. Reaching the third round twice in five seasons is a pretty impressive accomplishment in a league comprising 30 teams.
Admittedly, yes, they didn’t get out of the first round in the other three seasons. However, in 2010-11, they took the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins to overtime in Game 7. In 2011-12, when they finished with the third-worst record in the NHL, they actually led the league in man games lost with 439.
And in 2013, even with a 4-6 late-season collapse for the ages, the Habs still finished with the fourth-best record in the league (29-14-5) to win the Northeast Division, before injuries and a pesky Senators team derailed their Stanley Cup hopes.
While one would be hard-pressed to put Montreal in the same upper echelon of teams with the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Habs are banging at the door. They’ve got depth up front, a defense that’s poised to improve with the additions of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu and superior goaltending.
It’s hard to predict how subsequent seasons will turn out and if they’ll be considered as successful as this past one. However, it’s safe to say low expectations won’t be a factor one way or another. The bar has just been raised.
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