Montreal Canadiens' 2009-10 Season Preview

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Montreal Canadiens' 2009-10 Season Preview
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign. 

Let's get a move on with the Montreal Canadiens, which play in the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference.

For the first time in the 100 year history of the Montreal Canadiens organization, they have gone through an entire decade without a Stanley Cup Championship.  It was the miracle spring of 1993 when Patrick Roy last led the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup championship.  The Canadiens rank second, behind the New York Yankees (26 World Series) for the most championships among any of the Major North American Professional Sports franchises.

General Manager Bob Gainey is an icon in the province of Quebec.  He played on five Stanley Cup champions in Montreal and has since added a sixth, as the G.M. of the Dallas Stars (1999).  As a player, Gainey won Frank J. Selke Trophy, the first four times it was ever presented (1978-81) and he captained the Canadiens for seven seasons (1981-1989).

During this past off-season, Gainey knew he was going to have to blow up his beloved Canadiens.  After finishing atop the Eastern Conference during the 2007-08 season expectations were high heading into their 100th season. 

The Canadiens got off to a great start again, 9-1-1 for 19 out of a possible 22 points, during the month of October but something happened on the way to the anniversary party.  By March 9th, Gainey had fired his head coach and long-time friend Guy Carbonneau. 

Gainey positioned the franchise to be successful in its centennial season but their status would be up in the air after that.  They went into the off season with the knowledge that they had 11 UFA’s to try and re-sign but he also positioned the organization with, according to hockeysfuture.com, the second best collection of talented prospects in the NHL.

New head coach Jacques Martin comes over from Florida, after leaving his position as the Panthers’ General Manager.  His defensive coaching style is well known to the Northeast division as he served as the Ottawa Senators’ head coach for seven seasons (1996-2004).  His new club will have a lot of new faces in Montreal and their success this season will depend on how quickly the new team mates can come together and if goaltender Carey Price can return to his rookie season form that seen him help lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Regular Season Championship in ’07-‘08.

Let’s take a look at the 2009-10 version of the Montreal Canadiens;

Significant Additions

The unrestricted free agents that were signed to join the Canadiens this campaign are as follows: Mike Cammalleri (Calgary), Hal Gill (Pittsburgh), Brian Gionta (New Jersey), Paul Mara (N.Y. Rangers), Travis Moen (San Jose), Curtis Sanford (Vancouver) and Jaroslav Spacek (Buffalo).

On June 30, right before the free agent period started, Montreal completed a huge trade with the New York Rangers.  Montreal acquired Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto from the Rangers for Chris Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko.

Significant Deletions

The unrestricted free agents that have moved on from Montreal are: Saku Koivu (Anaheim), Mike Komisarek (Toronto), Tom Kostopoulos (Carolina) and Alex Kovalev (Ottawa).

There are five former Canadiens players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise.  They are Francis Bouillon, Marc Denis, Patrice Brisebois, Robert Lang and Mathieu Dandenault.

2009–10 Montreal Canadiens roster.

The Canadiens currently have 19 players under one-way contracts; 11 forwards, seven defensemen, and one goaltenders.  The four players that are most likely to fill out the roster, that are on two-way contracts are as follows; 

Carey Price will have the weight of Canadiens’ nation on his shoulders again this season.  The weight appeared to be too much for Price last season.  He did his best Patrick Roy impression at one point when the fans at the Bell Centre showed their displeasure with the collapse of the franchise during the second half of the season.  So far he has 47 wins in his 93 NHL appearances.  He will be looking to make a big impression this season.  He is entering the final year of his entry level contract.

Sergei Kostitsyn is the younger brother of fellow Canadiens’ forward, Andrei Kostitsyn.  During the past two seasons, he has split time between the NHL and the AHL.  He has played in 108 games, scoring 17 goals and adding 33 assists.  He will be looking to stay full-time with the Canadiens this season and make a big impression.  He is entering the final year of his entry level contract.

Matt D’Agostini played in 53 games last season with the Canadiens; he tallied 12 goals and added nine assists.  He will have to work on his defensive play however if he is going to stick around with the big club this season, he finished last year with a -17.

Gregory Stewart has appeared in 21 games thus far in his NHL career.  He got his first NHL point last season, an assist against the Ottawa Senators.

With these 23 players, the Canadiens’ Salary Cap would sit at $56.1 million. 

Here is a look at some of the Canadiens’ top prospects that will be looking to impress G.M. Gainey and Head Coach Martin. 

 

Max Pacioretty

Montreal's first round pick (22nd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft has split last season between the Canadiens and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.  He played 34 games with Montreal last season, scoring 3 goals and adding 8 assists.

According to hockeysfuture.com, he is a good power forward with an above averages skill set. He's a good skater with quick feet. He handles the puck very well, has a good shot and has a quick release. Has the size and tenacity to be a force on the ice, just needs to learn when and where to apply it with consistency.

The young forward should be one of the club's first call-ups to the NHL ranks, and could very quickly find himself on the Canadiens' roster.

 

Ben Maxwell

The Canadiens’ second round pick (49th Overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft, spent the last campaign mainly with the Hamilton Bulldogs but he did play 7 games with the Canadiens from December 13 – 30. 

According to hockeysfuture.com, Ben is a guy who will make things difficult for opponents. He generally responds quite well in the physical department.  The Canadiens look at him as a potential top-six forward down the road. His offensive skills are already well defined and his mental makeup lends itself well to the NHL.

P.K. Subban

The Canadiens’ second round pick (43rd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has spent the last four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Belleville Bulls. 

According to hockeysfuture.com, the young blueliner's offensive abilities are well documented, but to progress within the organization's ranks he needs to continue to refine his play within his own end. Last season he showed a willingness to improve in that regard and he has all the tools to be a solid contributor to the club's organization.  

Subban's overall game remains raw and he will have a few years ahead of him to continue to improve that aspect of his game. With a solid roster of blueliners in the organization ahead of him on the depth chart, Subban will have a few years to work on developing an all-around game that matches with his solid offensive play (and premium media talents).

 

Yannick Weber

Montreal’s third round pick (73rd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, spent last season mainly with the Hamilton Bulldogs but he was a late season call-up after the injury to Andrei Markov.  He appeared in 3 games and recorded his first NHL point, an assist against the Boston Bruins on April 9th

According to hockeysfuture.com, In addition to displaying solid defensive responsibility, Weber displayed a nose for the net and value on the power play unit. Weber very quickly has established himself as a solid, bordering on elite, blueline prospect. From keying a strong Kitchener Rangers' attack to leading an undermanned Swiss club at the WJC, Weber has shown he has both the mental and physical abilities to play a key role on the Canadiens' blueline for years to come.   

Although he just completed his first season at the professional level, Weber could be among the club's first call-ups should injuries play a role this season on the blueline. His ability to quarterback the power play, while still focusing on his defensive responsibilities will let him fit in on the blueline almost immediately in the NHL.

 

Louis Leblanc

Montreal’s first round pick (18th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, spent last season with Omaha in the USHL.  He has already signed a letter of intent to play at Harvard for next season. 

According to NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee,

“The most impressive things about Louis Leblanc are his hands and his evasiveness with the puck; that separates him from other players on the ice right away. He needs to fill out a little bit yet, but he has the frame to be a big center. The other part of LeBlanc’s game that I noticed was his vision; his ability to see and dissect a play and to make the right play. He’s also very competitive and he gets involved in the play.”

The fact that he is also a French-Canadian is an asset for the Pointe-Claire, Quebec native, once he gets to the NHL level.

 

Recap of 2008-09

The Canadiens finished second in the Northeast Division and finished  tied for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference with a record of 41-30-11, good for 93 points. They finished tied with the Florida Panthers  ,but advanced into the playoffs having won the season series against the Panthers.

When the 100th season of the Canadiens started, it looked like they were going to repeat as the Eastern Conference Champions.  They started the season with a record of 9 wins, 1 loss and 1 overtime loss during the month of October but were only 3 games above .500 for the rest of the season.

The Canadiens' offense was lead by Alex Kovalev (26 goals and 65 points), despite the fact he was sent home for a pair of games during the season by Bob Gainey to “Find his game again”.  It was widely speculated that was going to be traded at the NHL trade deadline and was also the reason for the dismissal of Head Coach Guy Carbonneau.  Gainey held on to him for the remainder of the season, once he went behind the bench but Kovalev moved onto Ottawa as an UFA in July.

The Canadiens had three players break the 20-goal plateau and 11 players finished with double digit goals.

The Canadiens offense was 13th in the NHL with 242 goals for. Defensively, the Canadiens were 21st in the NHL giving up only 240 goals.

The Canadiens powerplay, that was so dominant in 2007-08 (24.1 percent) fell to 13th in the NHL last season, clocking in at 19.2 percent and were eleventh in killing penalties (82.4 percent).

 

Outlook for 2009-10

The Canadiens enter their 101st season with a completely revamped top line.  After trading for slick playmaking center, Scott Gomez and signing unrestricted free agents, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.  Gomez, Gionta along with Patrik Elias, formed what was affectionately known as the E.G.G. line, during the 2003 Stanley Cup Championship season for the New Jersey Devils.

Adding Cammalleri’s 118 goals during his first four full seasons in the NHL, and the Canadiens will be looking for the same success that was displayed in New Jersey.

Defensively, the Canadiens added Hal Gill, Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek to bolster the defense after they lost Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault and Mathieu Schneider to unrestricted free agency.  Along with the returning Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik and Josh Gorges, the defense will be a bigger group but not as mobile as they were in  years past.

If Carey Price can return to the form he showed after leading the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup, three years ago and the form he showed during his rookie campaign with the Canadiens, the club should be more consistent than they were a year ago. 

With all these changes, I foresee the Canadiens finishing a close third behind the Bruins and Sabres in the Northeast division.  It should also be good enough for an eighth and final playoff spot.  Bob Gainey has built a team very similar to the one that won the Stanley Cup in 1999, in Dallas.  He has a similar head coach and defense core.  His top line has the potential to be one of the best in NHL.  The main question mark is in goal.  If Price and Halak play like they did last season, this prediction is the worst case scenario.

On Sept 2nd, I will be reviewing Nashville Predators as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.

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