BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Montreal Canadiens

xx yySenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2008

Preface: Lane Kiffin just got the rawest deal of any man in any situation ever.

Al Davis doesn't want to pay the man after making him a symbol of public ridicule, and all he ever did was try to make the Oakland Raiders competitive once again.

Word is he was even locked out of his defensive meetings, so how exactly would you expect him to keep his team on the same page?

All I have to say is that at least this soap opera is over.

The Montreal Canadiens rivaled the Philadelphia Flyers as the biggest surprise last season.

Many figured that the Canadiens would be 11th in the Eastern Conference or somewhere near it. No one thought they'd be competing for their 25th Stanley Cup in their 99th year of being a franchise.

Now it's year 100 and they're out to make it memorable.

Roster Additions: Marc Denis-G (F.A.), Alex Tanguay-F (Trade), Georges Laraque-F (F.A.), Shawn Belle-D (Trade/Sign),

Roster Subtractions:
Michael Ryder-F (F.A.), Mark Streit-D (F.A.), Bryan Smolinski-F (F.A.), Corey Locke-F (Trade), Mikhail Grabovski-F (Trade)

How did 2007/08 go? 47-25-10, 104 points, first in Northeast, First in conference, lost in 2nd Round of 2008 Playoffs (Eastern Conference)

2008/09 Goal:
1st in the Conference, Reach Stanley Cup Finals

Let's break'er down...

The most legendary team in NHL history is back for their most historical season ever...or at least they hope.

The first franchise to ever score 10,000 goals, the franchise with the most Stanley Cups, and an establishment with such a rich history that they'll have to be the first team to introduce triple digits on the back of the jersey is ready and raring to go for their 100th season.

And fans of Les Habitants are expecting nothing short of success.

If I hear one more Price is Right joke, Marc Denis may join Cirque du Solei...

Carey Price is going to be an interesting player to watch this season. After thrusting himself into hockey-mad Montreal at such a young age, it’s time for Price to sink or swim.

As the Canadiens moved through the playoffs, Price started to show signs of tiring, and started to show his age more and more.

His glove hand started to get exposed in the playoffs, and so far some teams have keyed on it in the preseason.

Despite all of this though, Price was still able to win 24 games in the regular season, and post three shutouts.

If Price can improve and continue to climb the ranks of great young goalies this season, then the Habs will be fine.

If Price suffers a let-down year, then Les Habitants will be in some trouble.

Jaroslav Halak is an interesting alternative in that event though. He's looked solid the past few years he's spent in the AHL, and his NHL numbers have been fairly respectable when he's seen time. The fact he's never played more than 30 games in any season (except once in the QMJHL) brings Halak's longevity into question if he falls into a fairly consistent role with the Canadiens.

Colorado fans should be counting their lucky stars that Marc Denis was traded to Columbus instead of holding on to him in hopes he could replace Patrick Roy. Denis has gone to prove those of us who thought he was merely stuck in a bad system in Columbus wrong (namely me), bringing to light some issues with consistency at the highest level of hockey.

Perhaps his two-way contract will offer Denis a chance to build up some confidence in the event he sees time in Montreal, but aside from that, he'll mostly be a non-factor.

Feeling Plekanec in the morning is just fine for the brothers Kostitsyn...

Saku Koivu returns for another season of leading the blue, blanc, et rouge, and could really see an improvement (if ever so slight) from playing alongside Alex Tanguay as well as Alex Kovalev. Koivu has gone back and forth with regards to efficiency and consistency over the seasons, and although his health has really been one of the main reasons for that, Koivu could really level out as a 65-point guy this season, re-reaching the 20-goal plateau.

As we said, both Kovalev and the (finally) newly acquired Tanguay are going to be integral to the Canadiens' success this season. Kovalev is widely renowned by the NHL (and the YouTube audience) as one of the greatest puckhandlers in the NHL today. Since his injury-riddled and questionable 2006/07 season (just 18 goals), Kovalev stepped his production and presence up.

He scored 30 goals for the first time since 2002/03 and 80 points for the first time since 2000/01 with Pittsburgh. Kovalev seems to have rediscovered his motivation, and if he can hold onto that, then he could easily attain 30 goals once again.

Alex Tanguay has to be one of the longest-rumored Canadiens' in history. Hasn't he been on their radar since about 2005? In finally picking up Tanguay from the Calgary Flames, the Canadiens nabbed a quick winger who can get the puck to the finishers on the team. Tanguay and Kovalev could team up to form a terrific combination for the Habs, and if they stay on the same page, Tanguay could nab 60 assists in a season for the first time in his career.

Granted the Kostitsyn's aren't twins, and they don't receive the same amount of publicity as the Sedins in Vancouver, but Montreal certainly has a dynamic pair of brothers on their roster. Sergei (the young of the two) played fairly well last season splitting time in the AHL and the NHL. He showed some of the shiftiness and surprising speed he displayed in London, and he really started to look like a good playmaker at the NHL level.

Andrei produced a stellar 26-goal season after two less-than-impressive NHL tryouts (14 points in 34 games between 2005/06-2006/07). Both players are going to round into stars in this league, and like the Sedins (and the Niedermayers), an additional comfort level is brought to the table when you get to play with family.

The acquisition of Robert Lang offers up a solid shot for the Kostitsyn's to rely on, and a player who's been around for a bit to offer a brain to pick for the youngsters. Even at 37, Lang can still be a 50-point performer, and may even receive a bit of a boost from being surrounded with a tad of youthful exuberance.

Tomas Plekanec continued to improve his play, going from a 47-point season in 2006/07 to a 69-point season in 2007/08. Plekanec displayed the proficiency to score last season (29 goals), and the vision to be a quality set-up man. Add in to that his quality two-way game, and the Canadiens' have their next great centerman.

The Canadiens continued to toughen up over the offseason as well, adding Montreal-native Georges Laraque to the mix. Laraque is still the premiere heavyweight in the NHL, and adding him to the roster adds the grit to ensure their superstars won't get pushed around, while Steve Begin and Maxim Lapierre are going to be the Sean Avery-emulators for the Habs, getting under the skin of the opposition.

Guillaume Latendresse could be a factor for the Habs if he can step up his two-way play and become a 20-goal threat, while Kyle Chipchura, Chris Higgins, and Tom Kostopoulos will be battling it out to be the go-to energy guys and grinders.

A fresh sea Brisebois and a Bouillon cube, and we've got one Dandenault of a picnic...

As far as defense goes, the Habs are the precise picture of last season.

Andrei Markov is back as the leader on the back end. With 32 powerplay points and 59 points overall last season, he looks like the premier offensive threat from Montreal's defense. Markov's skating has really propelled him towards the upper-echelon of NHL rearguards, and if he can really lock it down in his own end this season, Markov is set.

One of the signings from last season that received a bit of a stranger reception was the Roman Hamrlik signing. No one thought that he would reproduce his 38-points in Calgary from 2006/07, and people wondered why. But now that Mark Streit is gone, Hamrlik will be given a bit of an expanded role, and the experience he brings is invaluable. Granted Hamrlik is a little older and may be inching towards losing a few steps, but I certainly wouldn't be against him this season.

Mike Komisarek has really started to evolve into a solid defense option on the back-end for Montreal. Although he can chip in with timely offense (19 and 17 points the past two seasons), Komisarek's defensive proficiency and his size make him one the better defensive defensemen that nobody seems to know about. Granted, not many people know many defensive defensemen.

Francis Bouillon has turned into a solid contributor over the past few years for the Habs, and if he can combined his improvements on defense from last season (+9) to some of his offensive showings from season past, the Canadiens could have a solid 20-point player with some steady showings in his own end.

Both Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois offer up some solid depth and experience for the Habs. Brisebois is just 53 games away from 1000 for his career, while Dandenault has three cup rings to his credit from his time in Detroit and has spent some time on the right wing. Rounding out the depth, Josh Gorges and Ryan O'Byrne will offer some solid options at the bottom of the rotation.

So what does it all mean?

Although Carey Price may suffer a bit of a sophomore slump, there isn't much else to doubt when it comes to the Canadiens.

The surprising squad who decided to take on all comers in their ascension of the Northeast division returns fully intact, ready for their defense, and prepared to bring the Canadiens their 25th cup in 100 years.

If it happens, that's once every four years for those who like the laws of averages.

And the Leafs haven't even made the finals since '67....makes me think the Penguins from Madagascar had it easier when they showed up in Antarctica.

"Well this sucks..."

1st in Northeast

And now, with a bit of a different perspective, Miah D. and her Community Leader View from the Pressbox:

Along with the article, here are a few things that might interest you about the Canadiens:

-After shedding some excess weight as requested by the organization, Carey Price is moving better in the crease and feels better after the games.

-Alex Tanguay IS expected to suit up alongside Saku Koivu

-Andrei Kostitsyn, Kovalev, and Plekanec should be expected to be back together. The coach said it wasn't necessary yet to break the winning line at the star of the season,
but the other possibility is to have Lang and Kovalev on the same line. They played together in Pittsburgh in 2001, and they both had their career highs playing with each other.

-Mathieu Dandenault played as a right wing most part of last season due to the traffic on the blue line; the problem for him now is that there is also traffic on the forwards sitation! The Habs said they were not going to trade him...yet...

-Both Kovalev and Koivu will be coming to the end of their contracts this year. That may create some sparkle in their performance.

Tomorrow...whoever's going to be second in the Northeast!

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. You can get in contact with Bryan through his profile, and you can also read all of his previous work in his archives.


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