2010-2011 NHL season preview: Montreal Canadiens

GYI0060552015-cammalleri-mcisaac-getty.jpgLast season: (39-33-10, 88 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference) In what was a highly frustrating regular season for fans, edging into the playoffs in the final days of the season turned into a miraculous run through the playoffs to the conference finals.

Head coach: Jacques Martin begins his second season with the Canadiens. The Habs’ miraculous playoff run may have helped him keep the wolves at bay. His curious personnel decisions as well as adherence to playing staid, boring hockey won him few friends last season. Then again, being the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens may be one of the most demanding jobs in professional sports.

Key departures: G Jaroslav Halak, F Sergei Kostitsyn, F Glen Metropolit, D Marc-Andre Bergeron, F Dominic Moore. Halak is the most noticeable guy they’ve lost. Carrying a team on your back through the playoffs makes that possible. The contributions of Metropolit as a role player will be missed, however.

Key arrivals: F Jeff Halpern, F Lars Eller, F Dustin Boyd, G Alex Auld. Halpern will fit nicely into a hybrid role to make the loss of both Metropolit and Moore go mostly unnoticed. Auld is set to be the guy who fans will yell for to start games when they get too upset with Carey Price. Their cries will be laughed at, however.

Under pressure: Without a doubt, Price is the man under the gun in Montreal. After Jaroslav Halak led the Canadiens to the playoffs and through to the Eastern Conference finals, thus securing cult hero status in Montreal, the offseason trade of Halak to St. Louis made Price’s job as the No. 1 goalie that much harder.

He’s already dealt with overzealous Montreal fans in the preseason, getting booed after a lackluster performance in his first start, so if Price thinks that poor play can fly under the radar, he’s greatly mistaken. Every start he makes for the Habs will be over-analyzed to the point of madness. Price will either succeed and stick it to his nay-sayers or he’ll crumble under the weight of great expectations. The drama will be incredible to watch play out.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for careyprice3.jpgProtecting the house: We’ve already analyzed what Price’s season is going to be like and Auld is a serviceable backup goalie just the same. That said, unless Price turns back into the guy we saw in his rookie season, the Habs goaltending is a bit weaker because they have to rely on Auld for a long stretch of time.

Defensively, Montreal could prove to be a lot of fun. Andrei Markov will return from injury soon enough and rookie P.K. Subban thrilled fans during the playoffs last season and will likely get a full year of NHL play to show what he’s capable of. There will be some hiccups since he’s still very young, but he’s going to be a joy for fans to watch. Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, and Josh Gorges have gotten it together to help make Montreal’s defensive unit veteran strong and capable of playing well. Ryan O’Byrne could be the odd-man out or the right guy to jump in the lineup if the Habs need a little more thump along the blue line.

The top line we’d like to see: A line of Mike Cammalleri-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta would be an outstanding offensive unit. Gomez and Gionta have the chemistry that goes back to their days with the Devils and Cammalleri is the hottest thing in Montreal since poutine. If Martin doesn’t get too allergic to offense, this would be a fun line.

Oh captain, my captain: The Habs still haven’t named a team captain as of yet. Expect any one of Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, or Andrei Markov to get the nod, however.

Street fighting man: The Habs really aren’t a fighting team so picking out the designated brawler is difficult. If you’re looking for a fight with Montreal, however, it can’t hurt to make a run at Travis Moen. The former Duck and Blackhawk is more than accustomed to putting on the foil. Just don’t expect it too often. If Ryan O’Byrne sticks around he also will make a solid dance partner.

Best-case scenario: For things to break perfect for the Habs, Cammalleri has to score like it was the playoffs all season long. Getting at least 40 goals would be a great target for him to hit. Another big season out of Plekanec and getting Gomez and Gionta to play like it was the early 2000s again would help. Markov comes back and plays like he hasn’t missed a day while also helping Subban’s game to blossom further. Oh yeah, and Price plays out of his mind. That would do the trick both on and off the ice.

Worst-case scenario: Cammalleri struggles while Price plays inconsistently enough to make it an end-of-the-world issue to the fans and media. The uncomfortable political angling of the decision to make American-born Gionta captain gets magnified to a degree that even ‘The Daily Show’ starts to pick on the team. Meanwhile the Habs miss the playoffs and run Price out of town while erecting gold statues to Halak and yearning for the ‘good ole’ days’ of when he played for the Habs. C’est terrible.

Keeping it real: Price will play just fine. Yes, the fans and media will get on him, but he’ll do just fine in Montreal. Put the torches down and stop preemptively burning that effigy. Provided that Martin doesn’t get too insane with his lineup juggling and allows the Habs potentially fun offense the room to be creative and work, Montreal should be a playoff team. They won’t land an impressive-looking seed, but checking in at 6th, 7th, or 8th would be acceptable.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Habs are a definitive 3. Too many things need to break right for Montreal to reach the finals and you can’t help but wonder that maybe all that magic got spent last season. They’ve got a chance to do it, but there’s a lot of questions surrounding the team to make it happen.

(Photo1: Jim McIsaac – Getty Images)

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    The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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    In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

    (Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

    Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

    Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

    Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

    This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

    In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

    Lean on workhorse goalies

    In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

    It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

    A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

    Old over new

    It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

    Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

    Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

    Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

    On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

    (Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

    If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

    Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

    Avoid the Gaboriks

    Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

    (Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

    Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

    Find some quick references

    Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

    If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

    There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

    ***

    It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

    The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

    (Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Deutschland Cup roster provides early look at U.S. men’s Olympic hopefuls

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    The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 111 days away and we got our first look at some of the names who will compete to be on the ice on the men’s side vs. Slovenia for USA Hockey’s opening game.

    There were 29 players named to the U.S. roster for next month’s Deutschland Cup where the Americans will take on Slovakia, Russia and Germany. Tony Granato will serve as head coach and Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Keith Allain will serve as assistants. Of the 29 players, 21 have played in the NHL and are names you probably recognize.

    FORWARDS
    Ryan Stoa
    Mark Arcobello
    Chad Kolarik
    Andy Miele
    Brian O’Neill
    Brian Gionta
    Jim Slater
    Dan Sexton
    Broc Little
    Sean Backman
    Drew Shore
    Ryan Malone
    Ryan Lasch
    Robbie Earl
    Garrett Roe

    DEFENSEMEN
    Chad Billins
    Bobby Sanguinetti
    Tom Gilber
    Ryan Gunderson
    Noah Welch
    Matt Gilroy
    Jonathan Blum
    Matt Donovan
    Mark Stuart
    Dylan Reese
    Mike Lundin

    GOALTENDERS
    Ryan Zapolski
    Brandon Maxwell
    David Leggio

    The biggest names on the roster are 38-year-old Gionta and 37-year-old Malone, who have 1,653 games of NHL experience between them. It’s a veteran list, with an average age of 31.

    “There’s a lot of guys here that know how to play and have been successful players and have found a niche for themselves in their career at various stages,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson told Stephen Whyno of the The Associated Press. “The Deutschland Cup for us is a little bit to find some separation of these guys, whether that’s pure pace of play or performance.”

    USA Hockey submitted a list of 81 eligible players to the IIHF and there is the possibility of seeing a handful of NCAA and AHL players not playing in the Deutschland Cup skating in Pyeongchang. A final 25-man roster is expected to be announced around Jan. 1.

    Canada previously announced two pre-Olympic rosters over the summer and participated in the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Where do LA Kings go after Jeff Carter injury?

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    The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

    During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

    Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

    With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. And you wonder if the short-term solution here is signing Brooks Laich (UPDATE: He is), who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

    Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

    UPDATE: The Kings have confirmed Carter suffered a cut from Petry’s skate.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    US women’s hockey team gets Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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    NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night at the Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

    In April, the hockey team won its fourth consecutive world title and seventh in eight tries. The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in overtime in the title game in Plymouth, Michigan. The team had threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice last spring before USA Hockey agreed to improved salary and benefits.

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 38th annual gala. Rice, a professor at Stanford and former tennis player and figure skater, was recently selected to lead an NCAA commission to study college basketball after a federal investigation uncovered bribery and fraud.

    Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer also was honored. The longtime Cardinal coach reached 1,000 NCAA career victories in 2017.

    Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore and Olympic swimming sensation Katie Ledecky were selected sportswomen of the year.