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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    Caps re-sign Copley, who could be Holtby’s future backup

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    Pheonix Copley, who returned to Washington this season as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with St. Louis, has signed a two-year extension worth $1.3 million, the Caps announced on Wednesday.

    The key wrinkle in the deal is that year one is of the two-way variety, while year two is of the one-way.

    It’s worth mentioning because Philipp Grubauer — Washington’s current backup to starter Braden Holtby — is currently a restricted free agent, and believed to be have No. 1 potential.

    The 25-year-old has capably served under Holtby for the last two years. He’s coming off an excellent campaign — 13-6-2, .926 save percentage, 2.05 GAA — and sounds like he’s ready to make the next step in his career.

    “I would like to stay here; Washington is awesome and the whole organization’s been awesome the last couple of years,” Grubauer said, per the Post. “But I’m ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be a starting goalie somewhere.”

    Grubauer was made available to Vegas at the expansion draft, but Golden Knights GM George McPhee opted to take blueliner Nate Schmidt instead. There are still rumblings that Washington might dangle Grubauer in trade talks.

    Copley has a very small NHL resume — just two games, both with St. Louis — but fared very well with AHL Hershey last year. In 16 regular-season games he went 11-5-0 with a .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA and, in the playoffs, went 5-4 with a .933 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.

    Report: Ryan Miller may land in Anaheim

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    The Anaheim Ducks might be getting a former Vezina Trophy winner as their backup.

    According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, “there is a lot of expectation of Ryan Miller to Anaheim for approximately $1 million, although I’m not sure if bonuses will be added to that.”

    Miller, an unrestricted free agent, has spent the last three years in Vancouver. The Canucks would like to keep him; however, his wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so Southern California has always been a potential landing spot.

    Also, let’s face it, Miller would have a much better shot at winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks, and that’s something the 36-year-old has never done.

    As for the Ducks’ motivations, signing Miller would give them a viable starting option should John Gibson struggle or get hurt again. Recall that Anaheim’s last backup, Jonathan Bernier, had a tough time after he was forced into action in the Western Conference Final.

    Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

    Jets have contacted Mason about goalie gig

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    Though most signs point to Brian Elliott in goal for Winnipeg next season — see here and here — there are other options out there.

    Per the Winnipeg Sun, the Jets have reached out to ex-Flyers netminder Steve Mason during the free agent interview window.

    Mason, 29, just wrapped the last of a three-year, $12.3 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. He’s spent the last four-plus seasons with the Flyers but, over the last two, had been part of a platoon with Michal Neuvirth.

    Mason played 58 games to Neuvirth’s 28 this year, but didn’t fare especially well, finishing with a .908 save percentage.

    We bring this up because whoever signs in Winnipeg will likely have to concede some starts to Connor Hellebuyck, the one-time goalie of the future that struggled mightily through ’16-17. Hellebuyck is still only 24 and the hope is that last year can be spun as a positive learning experience.

    “We went through a growing period and the goaltenders were exactly like that,” head coach Paul Maurice said of Hellebuyck’s campaign, per the Free Press. “Put them back in the net after a tough night, yanked [Hellebuyck] early a bunch of times.”

    The Sun reports that Winnipeg was “one of several teams that inquired about Mason,” which isn’t surprising. He’d make for a high-caliber backup and a likely upgrade in a number of markets.

     

    Bruins re-sign Acciari — two years, $1.45 million

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    Looks like Noel Acciari will be around Boston for the foreseeable future.

    Acciari, who has spent most of his career shuttling between AHL Providence and the NHL, has signed a two-year, one-way deal worth $725,000, the B’s announced on Wednesday.

    Acciari’s contract comes after he appeared in 29 games for the Bruins last year, scoring five points. He also appeared in four of the club’s opening-round playoff games against Ottawa, scoring once.

    The former Providence standout, who went undrafted, caught on with Boston in ’15-16 and quickly worked his way into the mix at the NHL level.

    There’s a pretty decent chance he’ll eclipse the 29 games played last year, especially if the club doesn’t return veteran forwards Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford, both of whom become unrestricted free agents on Saturday.