Going into the new season, few NHL clubs are shrouded in uncertainty more than the Montreal Canadiens. With ten players leaving the club, including long-time captain Saku Koivu, the Habs' identity has been shaken up. Their roster is filled with new faces, and questions are being asked left and right.
Here are the five biggest questions surrounding the Canadiens:
5. With all the newcomers, will chemistry be an issue?
With the arrival of so many new players, it would be easy (and is often thought) to think that it will be tough for the new players, as well as the returning players, to strike up an immediate chemistry.
While there might be some truth in this, as any hockey team that receives a large influx of new players faces that issue, it must still be noted that a large part of the Habs' roster has been homegrown in Hamilton, so it's not as if they are all strangers to each other.
After watching last night's preseason contest, it was evident that there is already chemistry forming between Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez; as the trio provided the bulk of the offense, with each player contributing at least one point.
On defense, the additions of Paul Mara, Jaroslav Spacek, and Hal Gill are improvements over last year's group. All three blueliners can be paired with players that have similar styles, so chemistry should not be an issue.
While it won't happen overnight, chemistry will not be an issue for the Canadiens this season.
4) Will secondary scoring continue to be a problem?
Past a hypothetical first line consisting of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta, there simply isn't much punch on offense.
All hinges on the play of Tomas Plekanec.
If the Czech can rebound from a dismal season (20 goals, 19 assists), there will be less pressure on the first line to carry the load, which has been one of the main problems for the past two seasons.
In 2007-2008, if the Kostitsyn-Plekanec-Kovalev line didn't score, odds are the Habs lost that game. The same can be said of 2008-2009, where scoring itself was a problem, never mind secondary scoring. And in the final stretch of the season, if the Tanguay-Koivu-Kovalev line didn't score, the chances are even higher that no one else did.
For that to not plague the Habs again this season, Plekanec will have to step it up. The guy has too much talent not to post at least 70 points a year. A one-year deal and a coaching change should light a fire under "Pleky".
The thing that no one can take away from him, however, is that unlike the Kostitsyns, he always plays with drive and intensity, even when things are at their worst, as they often were last year.
Also, if Max Pacioretty and Matt D'Agostini progress nicely, the Canadien's offense will be giving opposing goalies nightmares this season.
3) How will Jacques Martin handle his roster?
With an excess of small, skilled forwards, it will be interesting to see what style of play Martin will use. The style that he is known for is boring and trap-heavy. It must also be noted that when he had a good team in Ottawa, the Senators were constant disappointments.
However, what I remember about the Martin-led Panthers was that they always gave the Canadiens headaches. The Cats were always tough to play against, and although they could be described as boring, their style was stifling and the Habs' players often had little space to maneuver.
Also, the Panthers always seemed to score the kind of goals that hurt the other team, the kind that crushed the momentum they had been building up to that point.
The Canadiens need to become tough to play against. They need to give teams a run for their money. They can't continue to be walked on by their arch-rivals, the Boston Bruins.
Too often last year, the Habs gave away the game, or simply didn't bring the intensity and passion that is expected everytime someone dons that fabled jersey.
If Jacques Martin can instill a mentality of ''go hard or go home'', the Canadiens will gain a new respect from teams such as the Flyers or the Bruins. And it needs to start now.
2) Can Carey Price rebound from an off-year?
Carey Price's play is one of the biggest keys to a successful season in Montreal. After a sub-par year where it seemed that Price's confidence was at an all time low, the young netminder has to give the Canadiens some stellar goaltending.
Price is expected to play somewhere around 50 games, and if he can win around 35-40 games, the Canadiens should end up in the playoffs. Bob Gainey has given Price every vote of confidence imaginable, and the goaltender needs to show that Gainey is right in expressing his confidence in him.
The native of British Columbia has made it clear that he wants to put last season behind him, and that he is determined to silence the critics. Also, after gaining that experience of what it feels like to be the goat in Montreal last year, Price has every motivation to shut people up.
Add in the fact that this year's expectations have been severely lowered, and that the distractions that naturally arose when a team celebrates one hundred years of success are now gone, he will be able to focus more on hockey this year, and less about winning a 25th Stanley Cup for the centennial.
Knowing how Price can play when he is zoned in and determined, it should be no surprise if, by the end of the season, he emerges as one of the league's best goaltenders.
1) Who will be the Canadien's captain?
This is by far the biggest question that Jacques Martin and co. face.
Andrei Markov is considered one of the front-runners for the position, but after reports came out earlier in the week that he turned down Martin's proposal to wear the ''C'' (which were flat-out denied), uncertainty surrounds Markov's candidacy.
Scott Gomez's name has often been brought up on talk shows on RDS (TSN's French language channel), and Gomez has done nothing to dispel these rumors by making a point that he is learning to speak French, a perceived weakness of Saku Koivu that was fabricated by fans all over Quebec.
Another candidate, who is also my pick, would be Maxim Lapierre.
Lapierre has everything going for him. He is French Canadian, is good with the media, and is one of the hardest working players on the team. Many captains have led by example, and if Lapierre's teammates were to follow his example, they would be one of the toughest teams to play against in the Eastern Conference.
In selecting the captains, the coaching staff should simply pick them, there should be no player vote, as this team hasn't been together long enough to have a vote with legitimate results.
Beyond Gomez, Lapierre, and Markov, there are few realistic candidates.
It has been seen many times in the past where teams go into the season without a captain, but that shouldn't happen in this case. Remember, this is Montreal, home of the most storied franchise in the history of the game.
The team needs a captain, simply put. There has to be a leader, on and off the ice. The fans need someone to look up to, as they did with Saku Koivu.
While uncertainty might shroud the Montreal Canadiens, the regular season is right around the corner, and training camp is in full swing. Now is the time for players to step up.
And most importantly, questions will be answered.