Montreal Canadiens: Off-Season Preview

Jason HackettAnalyst IMay 17, 2008

In a season that brought just about every hockey fan in Quebec to the edge of their seats, the Habs fell short of every fan's wish. They did however, show up every single 2007-2008 season preview prediction for the team.

In what was another crazy season for the Montreal Canadiens, the Habs came out on top. No matter what anyone says, the Canadiens did wonders for the organization. The fans haven't been this excited about their team in years! Which has obviously brought in much needed money into the organization, and seemingly righted the uneasy boat in Montreal.

For what was supposed to be a season of disappointment (according to every single season prediction I read or saw), the Canadiens should have finished in the bottom of the North East division and hovering around the bottom of the league. Battling for the right to Stamkos (aka the 1st overall pick), but the Canadiens had one thing going for them from day one. That was team enthusiasm, team bonding, team speed and Carey Price. One thing that no one else seemed to realize is that the number one reason for the Canadiens success, was the rest of their division struggled.

I know what your saying! I am downplaying the great season that the Canadiens have. I would agree, I am downplaying it a bit. To agree with me, you only have to look at the numbers. Within their division the Canadiens had 42 out of 64 points, second only to Colorado's 43 points. You look at Ottawa's collapse this season, Toronto playing as good as Toronto can (dead last in division), Buffalo's inability to replace Drury or Briere, and Boston still trying to put together a strong team, you have a recipe for 1st in your division. Throw in 2nd best road record, number one power play and a dynamic trio in net (Huet, Price and Halak) they had the right mix for a great season.

Back to the topic at hand, the Canadiens offseason is a rather easy one for their GM. The only unrestricted free agents they have are Michael Ryder, Bryan Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois and Mark Streit. With Ryder being public enemy number one (other then Koivu's lack of French speaking capabilities) and Smolinski an easy re-sign or easy to replace the Canadiens can concentrate on re-signing Andrei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre and Jaroslav Halak to new contracts.

The Canadiens have been searching for one thing for many years, and that is a power forward. They have been trying to sign one in the off-season for as long as I can remember, but with no luck. Will this off-season be the one? I have my doubts, but after their current run last season, it maybe a lot easier to cox someone into signing the dotted line! There is a lot of talent out there that can hit, score and grind out the opposition. What I would like to see is Montreal finally signing that big name talent to make the fans go nuts!

I will go out on a limb and throw out a couple names that I could see go to Montreal this offseason:

1. Jaromir Jagr. Why? He is still capable of putting the puck in the net as we did see in the post-season, with Jagr leading the pack at the end of round two. Although really hard to gauge whether or not he would move north of the border, it is simple to say that Montreal can fork out the money and he does have former chum Kovalev who just revitalized his career.

2. Markus Naslund. Why? I believe that if you put him into the right situation he can still put in 30-40 goals. It is a bit of a stretch, but he needs to get out of Vancouver to help his career. Naslund, Koivu, Kovalev has a nice ring to it!

3. Kristian Huselius. Why? His puck handling skills and speed could fit well with the team.

4. Mats Sundin. Why? I doubt this would ever happen as he is a bleed blue and white type of player. On the other hand, nothing would increase the Leafs/Habs rivalry like the Habs signing the buds Franchise player!  Plus it would also give the Habs a big centreman with great hands, something they have been missing for a long time.

One area that people are seemingly forgetting about is in net. Price is a great goalie, Halak seems to have the stuff to become a great goalie, but neither has a vast amount of NHL experience. With two young goalies like Price and Halak you need that mentor to give them advise down the stretch. When you head into the playoffs and you head is rattled you need someone to straighten you out. I would like to see Halak get shipped to a team that can develop him properly, to see what he does have to offer. Then bring in a vet to guide Price along, give him that much needed advice. I know that I am amongst very few who think the same way but as the saying goes in Montreal "If the Price is right"!