Well it’s my very first article here at bleacherrport.com so will start with something simple... now down to business.
For the first time since 1992-1993 season (the last time the Habs or any over Canadian team won the Cup) the Canadiens went above 100 points to place first in the Eastern Conference and third in the entire league, despite being expected to rank in the leagues basement by so-called critics and uninspired fans. GM Bob Gainey proved that patience and careful drafting and grooming of young players can get you results, and bench boss Guy Carbonneau proved he can coach at the NHL level after an mediocre first season in the 2006-2007 season.
The Canadiens made it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004 but said farewell after losing to the physical Flyers in five games. Now the Canadiens must look to add to their surprising season and arsenal of weapons.
The Canadiens led the league in goals after piling 262 of them, but they'll still be looking to add an elite scorer. Here's a look at the Canadiens returning forwards.
Alex Kovalev - What a season for Alex Kovalev, and it wasn't even a contract year! "Kovy" notched 84 points to lead all Canadiens, and even took on a large leader ship role as he wore the "C" when Saku Koivu was out injured and never missed a game.
Tomas Plekanec - For a third straight year Plekanecimproved on his production. This year he was a trio with Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, and racked up 29 goals and 69 points.
Saku Koivu - The Captains production may have dropped but he still managed to score 56 points despite being bumped around with different line mates, and typically took a back seat on the second scoring unit.
Chris Higgins - The New York Isle native had a career high in points with 52 points but still has room to improve, many believe (including Higgins himself) he can notch 40 goals in a season. Higgins is also known for his two way game.
Sergei Kostitsyn - The younger Kostitsyn brother was only called up in time to play 52 games but he did score 27 points and was even more effective during the playoffs when he had 8 points in 12 games. Watch for him to improve next season.
Guillaume Latendresse - The big 6'2" 220 pound forward did little improving offensively but there was a big increase in his defensive game, his plus-minus proves it, he went from a -20 in 06-07 to a -2 in 07-08. Latendresse needs to work at his skating if he expects to crack bigger numbers. He has 32 goals in 153 career NHL games.
Maxim Lapierre - Lapierre the Canadiens "Sean Avery" continues to agitate opponent's, but don't expect big numbers from this fourth liner.
Tom Kostopoulos - Tom Kostopoulos did exactly as we expected; he got under opponent's skin. The gritty winger led the team in number of fights and was very effective and chipped in nicely offensively during the postseason.
Steve Begin - Begin is some what of a question mark...he hasn't been very healthy since the lock out and is some time questioned of his actions especially during important moments. But he still has the ability to get under opponent's skin.
Mathieu Dandendault - Dandendault played all of the year up at forward instead of defence, that is when he wasn't spending time in the press box.
Here's a look at forwards requiring new contracts.
Andrei Kostitsyn - Kostitsynfinally broke in too the Canadiens roster at the beginning of the season. He scored 26 goals and 53 points playing with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanecand was constantly found on the highlight reel with some very spectacular goals.
Bryan Smolinski - Smolinskiis most likely a 50/50 chance of being back with the Canadiens next season. It all depends on if Kyle Chipchura is ready to handle full time NHL duties. Smolinski was injured for most of the 07-08 campaign, but filled in nicely for Radek Bonk on the checking line.
Michael Ryder – One of Montreal’s biggest surprises was also one of its biggest disappointments. Two time 30 goal scorer Michael Ryder only had 14 goals and found himself in the press box for parts of the season. He is expected to move on this off-season.
The Canadiens showed they could live without Sheldon Souray on their blue line and the power play is most likely saying “Sheldon who?” They also played with more grit and better defensively this season.
Andrei Markov – The Russian defender had another great offensive season with16 goals and 58 points. He showed fans he was worth the 5.75 million Bob Gainey dished out last summer to keep his all-star defensemen.
Mike Komisarek – Despite not having an extremely physical group they do have one the most physical players you can pick up. Komisarek lead the league in blocked shots and also placed second in hits only behind LA’s Dustin Brown. He wasn’t amazing offensively but did manage to pick up 17 points.
Roman Hamrlik – Hamrlik had big shoes to fill coming in to Montreal especially with his big contract. But Mark Streit took that pressure away from him and Hamrlik was part of the Canadiens big three on defence.
Francis Bouillon – Bouillon may only be 5’8” but he will run you down like a tractor trailer, along with his physical presence he is also a speed demon but is better kept at a defensive role.
Here’s a look at defensemen whose contracts expire.
Mark Streit – He had a huge break out season scoring 13 goals and 62 points. He spent most of the year on the blue line but can also play the wing if he desires making him the Canadiens most versatile player (move over Mathieu Dandenault). Despite putting up all those points he isn’t a very physical player and sported a -6 rating. Bob Gainey says Streit is his top priority this summer but if Streit’s asking price is too much he’ll be packing his bags and the Canadiens will be looking at a new power play quarter back.
Patrice Brisebois – Brisebois made a return to Montreal after a 2 year stint in Colorado, and was a nice reserve defenseman. He played full time in the playoffs and led all defence for the Habs in points.
Josh Gorges – Gorges played a regular role on the Canadiens blue line after struggling to make the starting roster at the beginning of the year. His hard work paid off and he was a very effective defensive defensemen. He even played time on the top pairing with Markov while Komisarek was out.
Ryan O’Byrne – The big physical defensemen cracked the roster midway through the season and cracked the headlines for all the wrong reasons as well. There’s a lot of promise in O’Byrne’s game and he looks to battle for a permanent spot on the roster next season.
Montreal has a handful of young goaltenders…and that may be exactly their problem.
Carey Price – He eventually battled off Cristobal Huet for the number one net minder job, but faltered toward the end of the playoffs, which is understandable for a 20 year old. He gained plenty of experience and looks to keep pushing into next season.
Jaroslav Halak – Halak saw limited NHL action last season and is expected to move on next season for a team that will allow him more playing time. His contract expires and he isn’t expected to return. He may even return to Europe.
The Canadiens needs really depend on who they bring back next season. Assuming Streit and Kostitsyn resign the Canadiens won’t be looking for much to add during the free agent period. Most likely they’ll target a high scoring forward and/or a big right handed center. But if Streit doesn’t return they’ll also be in the market for a power play quarter back.
Free Agent Possibilities and Rumored Players
Marian Hossa’s name has surfaced in trade rumors and speculation since the trade deadline. But now that Pittsburgh is unlikely to resign him he will most likely be available on July 1st, although there will be heavy competition for his services. Mats Sundin’s name has even been rumored to be coming to Montreal. His agent doubts he will return to the Leafs and at this day and age he’ll want to join a club with a good chance at winning the cup. Saku Koivu has also been trying to tempt Finnish team and line mate Teemu Selanne. Ducks GM Brian Burke has placed June 20thas the date he wants Teemu to notify him if he is ready to return to the Ducks. If the response is negative he will either hit the open market or retire. Also there has been speculation that Jaroslav Halak will head in a different direction. In that case the Canadiens will look for an experienced goalie to back Price up. i believe they'll look into the services of Olaf Kolzig. Apparentlyprice trained with him before he hit the NHL over in Western Canada. If this is true Olaf would make a great mentor for Price. But Kolzig has made it clear he still believes he can be a dominant number one starter despite being 38 years old. It looks as if the Canadiens will have plenty of options ahead of them this coming off-season, and with July 1st right around the corner most of our question looked to be answered.
Thanks for reading