The Montreal Canadiens of 2010-11 were not far off the mark in terms of being competitive, winning games and staying in the hunt all season and playoffs, until they were eliminated last week.
However, many journalists and fans of the Canadiens point to multiple factors as the reasons the Canadiens continue to seek a 25th Stanley Cup almost 20 years after their last championship.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, the team lacked size, depth through inconsistent or bad drafting and consistent goaltending.
Let's take a look at how the team fared this season.
The Canadiens do need size with Brian Gionta (5'7"), Michael Cammalleri (5'9"), Scott Gomez (5'11"), and Tomas Plekanec (5'11") leading the scoring charge.
But the Canadiens are closer than ever to filling roster spots with players who have the size the team so desperately needs.
2007 Draft pick Max Pacioretty (6'2") showed tremendous promise this season after spending time with the Hamilton Bulldogs at the start of the season, until his unfortunate season-ending injury in February. If it wasn't for Pacioretty's absence against the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, the Canadiens may have looked bigger and stronger, especially on the wings, where they seemed to be noticeably smaller against the Bruins' big defense.
Before his injury, Pacioretty netted 14 goals and added ten assists in 37 games. Seven of his goals game on the power play and two were game winners. His recovery will be complete come training camp and he will be looking for a full-time position on the top two lines, giving the Canadiens the size up front.
On the back end, draft picks PK Subban (6'0"), Jarred Tinordi (6'5") and Brendon Nash (6'3") look to be factors for years to come.
Subban's rookie campaign was a roaring success. Not only did Subban manage to get under the skin of many NHL veterans, he played with a fire and tenacity that many rookies fail to have until a year or two into their careers.
Subban notched 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) along with 124 penalty minutes, nine power play goals, and three game-winning goals. With the abscence of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, Subban stepped up in a big way and with the return of Markov (if signed) and Gorges next season, the Canadiens defense will be one of the best in the NHL.
Tinordi, though still developing, seems to be on the path to a better skating Hal Gill-type of player. Maybe more along the lines of a Zdeno Chara. Nash, who spent a few games with the Canadiens this season, has an offensive upside too, scoring 30 points (5 goals, 25 assists) in 75 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Other draft picks, such as big star Louis Leblanc (6'0"), Marc MacMillan (6'0"), Dustin Walsh (6'2"), Morgan Ellis (6'1") and Mathieu Carle (6'0") are all developing into the big players that can help the Canadiens with their size problems.
2. Inconsistent Drafting
Gone are the days of the Canadiens selecting draft busts like Terry Ryan or Alexander Buturlin. The Canadiens inconsistent drafting of the mid-to-late 1990's and early 2000's hurt the Canadiens ability to build from the inside.
However, the team has turned the corner in recent years, starting with Carey Price in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft as the fifth overall pick. He has become their star player and their highest pick since Mike Komisarek was taken seventh overall in 2001 and their first top five draft pick since Petr Svoboda in 1984.
That same draft year, the Canadiens selected Guillame Latendresse (45th overall), Matt D'Agostini (190th overall), and Sergei Kostitsyn (200th overall). Though none arewith the team anymore, they have all become 20-goal scorers in the NHL.
The Canadiens have also drafted players such as Ryan White (2006, 66th overall), Ryan McDonagh (2007, 12th overall), Max Pacioretty (2007, 22nd overall), PK Subban (2007, 43rd overall), Yannick Weber (2007, 73rd overall, and other top future prospects, such as Danny Kristo (2008, 56th overall), Louis Leblanc (2009, 18th overall), and Jarred Tinordi (2010, 22nd overall).
Since drafting Price, the Canadiens have revitalized their prospect system.
Taking a look at their previous draft record in the decade preceding the 2005 Entry Draft, the Canadiens record doesn't look good.
From 2004 to 1994, the Canadiens top picks included Brad Brown (18th overall, 330 games), Terry Ryan (eighth overall, 8 games), Matt Higgins (18th overall, 57 games), Jason Ward (11th overall, 336 games), Eric Chouinard (16th overall, 90 games), Alexander Buturlin (39th overall, 0 games), Ron Hainsey (13th overall, 488 games), Mike Komisarek (seventh overall, 470 games), Chris Higgins (14th overall, 411 games), Andrei Kostitsyn (10th overall, 326 games), and Kyle Chipchura (18th overall, 163 games).
Of the above list, only five have had full-time employment in the NHL and the majority have been with other NHL teams.
But let's focus on the inconsistency of the Canadiens drafting from 1994-2004.
In 1994, the Canadiens had 13 draft picks. Only five players ever played in the NHL. Their top pick was Brad Brown, but there were diamonds in the rough, including Jose Theodore (44th overall) and Tomas Vokoun (226th overall). As for those top players, Theodore played 353 in Montreal, while Vokoun only played a period. Brown played 13 games and the 54th overall pick, Chris Murray, played 107 games.
So the impact was great in Theodore's case, since he went on to win the Hart and Vezina, but not great in the other respects.
Other years, such as the 1996 and 1998 Entry Drafts, the Canadiens had good picks, but those prospects ended up playing on different teams through trades. In 1996, the Canadiens selected Mathieu Garon (44th overall) Arron Asham (71st overall) and Brett Clark (154th overall). All three have played less than 100 games together for the Canadiens. In 1998, selections Mike Ribeiro (45th overall), Francois Beauchemin (75th overall) and Michael Ryder (216th overall)all found success on other teams, while Andrei Markov (162th overall) stayed put.
Then comes the bad draft years of 1997, where only two picks out of eleven played in the NHL or the 1999 Entry Draft, where Matt Carkner (58th overall) was the only pick to play in the NHL.
The 2005 Entry Draft has signaled a turn for the better for Canadiens' scouting, for the future of the franchise and its promising return to the top.
3. Consistent Goaltending
Not since Patrick Roy have the Canadiens had a franchise goaltender. Now they do.
Carey Price emerged from a dreadful 13-20-5, 2.77 goals against average and .912 save percentage during the 2009-10 season, in which he lost the starting job to Jaroslav Halak, to a spectacular 38-28-6 season combined with a 2.35 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
Price has become the franchise goalie the fans have been waiting to see. Not only did Price help the Canadiens to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, he set a Montreal Canadiens record for games played in a season by a goalie with 72.
In 2010-11, Price started 79 season and playoff games, only having ten nights off from October to April.
Price has also shown he is a big time goalie, helping the Canadiens reach Game 7 against a feisty Boston Bruins squad.
Since Roy, the Canadiens have endured the inconsistent goaltending of Joceyln Thibault, Jeff Hackett, Jose Theodore and Cristobal Huet.
With Halak's departure, it was only a matter of time before Price took hold of the top job and made it his.
The future is bright for the Canadiens in net and it will be interesting to watch the scouting now, because Montreal scouts will not have to focus on goaltending as much in their drafting. Now they can focus on getting size up front, another need the Canadiens apparently still are looking to fill.
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