Montreal Canadiens ’15-16 Outlook


The Montreal Canadiens feature two of the things you look for in a championship contender: an elite goalie (Carey Price) and an outstanding, versatile defenseman (P.K. Subban).

Management seems pretty even-keeled about the team’s flaws, especially on offense. Perhaps a division title (not to mention league-wide trends of lower scoring) can breed patience/complacency.*

To most people, P.K. Subban (26 years old) and Carey Price (28) still seem enviably fresh-faced, yet it’s important to remember that windows of greatness can close with cruel quickness in sports.

One can reasonably expect goalies to age a bit more gracefully, yet Price would need to stand on his head to top the award-hogging season he generated in 2014-15. Subban may still have some upside even considering his current level of brilliance, but for how long will either one remain elite?

Look, it’s true that the Canadiens boast a ton of players who are in or around their primes. Max Pacioretty is just 26. Alex Galchenyuk could rocket up the charts, as he’s only 21, while Brendan Gallagher could very well pester for more than a decade considering the fact that he’s merely 23. Heck, Alexander Semin isn’t even that old at 31.

Even so, there’s a cut-off point where a slow-and-steady approach risks throwing away the best years of two of the most talented players on the planet.

If the coming 2015-16 season isn’t a pivotal one for GM Marc Bergevin to decide if he has the right supporting cast around Subban and Price – coach included – then it sure should be.

* – Feel free to use whichever word you think applies to Habs’ management.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

2015 NHL Awards - Press Room

If you wanted the story of Montreal’s ’14-15 campaign, all you had to do was watch the NHL Awards.

Or more specifically, the Carey Price awards.

Price was at the microphone four times to celebrate his banner campaign: Once for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, once for the Vezina as the NHL’s top netminder, once for the Ted Lindsay award as the most outstanding player as voted by the players, and once for the William Jennings Trophy as a goalie on the team that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.

OK, he did have to share that last one with Corey Crawford. But you get the idea.

Simplistic as it sounds, Montreal’s season was mostly about Price, in that the Habs went as far as their star goalie would take them. Sure, other Canadiens played integral roles — Max Pacioretty scored 37 goals, P.K. Subban was a Norris Finalist — but for the most part, the 50 wins and 110 points and second-round playoff appearance was due to No. 31.

Which begs the question:

Can he do it again?

Off-season recap

GM Marc Bergevin’s spent most of the summer attending to in-house business. All three of his trade deadline pickups — Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Jeff Petry — were extended, with Petry scoring the biggest with a six-year, $33 million deal.

Youngsters Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Bournival, Jarred Tinordi, Christian Thomas, Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu were also given new deals, while veterans Mike Weaver, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra and P.A. Parenteau (via buyout) were sent packing.

As for new faces? Zack Kassian was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Prust, while Carolina castoff Alex Semin was signed to a one-year, $1.1M deal after the ‘Canes bought him out.

At the draft, Montreal used its first-round pick to select WHL Everett blueliner Noah Juulsen 26th overall.

All in all, it was a perfunctory offseason for the Habs. Firmly in the mix as an Eastern Conference contender, the club didn’t feel the need to make a big summer splash — in fact, based on the Flynn and Mitchell and Petry contracts, it could be argued that Bergevin’s upgrading happened on Mar. 2, not July 1.

Risk Factors: Montreal Canadiens edition

Michel Therrien

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Montreal Canadiens

1. Michel Therrien might not be the man to lead the Canadiens to the Cup.

Therrien guided Montreal to the Eastern Conference Final last season and with Carey Price in his prime and P.K. Subban entering his, now is the time for the Canadiens to take the next step. That said, Montreal is still an underdog to win the it all, despite having plenty of talent on its roster.

Part of Montreal’s underdog status comes from last year’s blemishes. The Canadiens had a 100-point campaign but struggled when it came to puck possession (based largely on the team’s Fenwick, which dropped from 53.51 in 2013 to 47.86 last year, per War On Ice.)

In other words, Montreal’s in danger of regressing at a time when it wants to be a serious contender.

How much blame Therrien deserves for Montreal’s puck possession problems is open for debate, but his teams have traditionally looked bad from an advanced statistics perspective, per Sportsnet.

Therrien’s usage of Subban has also come under question on numerous occasions. While both the coach and blueliner bristle at the notion of a frayed relationship, the numbers point to Therrien not fully trusting Subban in certain situations — specifically, late-game ones that require defensive responsibility and sound decision-making.

The 50-year-old bench boss also isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers by parking slumping players.

“If you’re hot, you’re going to play,” forward Lars Eller told NHL.com last season. “If you’re struggling, then you’re not.

“[Therrien] doesn’t care too much about the name on the back.”

That approach can cause friction. Daniel Briere, a veteran presence, was mired in the press box several times last year before getting shipped off to Denver (more on that below). Therrien took a similar approach with David Desharnais earlier in the season, making the diminutive forward a healthy scratch while he was slumping. Thomas Vanek, the club’s big trade deadline acquisition, expressed disappointment that Therrien reduced his role in the playoffs and messed with the chemistry developed on a line with Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.

All that said, it doesn’t appear as though Therrien’s going anywhere soon. Montreal committed to him in June by signing him to a four-year extension. He still remains a controversial coach, though, and one that has overseen a fair number of talented teams — but without leading any to a championship.

2. Andrei Markov isn’t getting any younger.

Subban and Price might be the leaders in Montreal, but there’s no question that Markov still plays a vital role. He averaged 25:14 minutes per game last year and was leaned on heavily both with the man advantage and while killing penalties. Markov rewarded Montreal with seven goals, 43 points, and a team-high plus-12 rating.

Problem is, Markov turns 36 in December — which comes in the first of his three-year, $17.25 million extension. The Russian rearguard has only missed one regular season game over his last two seasons, but also has a lengthy history of knee problems.

The Canadiens probably appreciate those risks, but they re-signed Markov anyways for a very simple reason: They couldn’t afford not to. They relied so heavily on Markov last season that replacing him internally was out of the question. Saying that, if Markov were to get hurt or significantly decline this year, the Canadiens would have a very difficult time finding a capable fill-in.

If the goal is for Montreal to compete for the Stanley Cup now, then its chances will be far bleaker if Markov isn’t able to do his part.

3. P.A. Parenteau might not have a bounce back season in him.

Parenteau had 18 goals and 43 points in 48 games with the Colorado Avalanche during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, but fell out of Patrick Roy’s favor last year. Parenteau felt he was never part of the rookie coach’s plans and, subsequently, was limited to 14 goals and 33 points in 55 contests last season.

Montreal looked to have taken advantage of the situation by acquiring Parenteau and a 2015 fifth round pick in exchange for Daniel Briere — but the trade might not be the victory the Canadiens are hoping for.

Parenteau, who was born in Hull, Quebec, will be under far more pressure now than he has been at any other point in his career. The 31-year-old was a late bloomer as he didn’t firmly establish himself until the 2010-11 campaign with the Islanders. Starting with that season, he only played for teams that failed to make the postseason until the 2013-14 Avalanche and has never played in anything close to a market like Montreal. Briere’s homecoming was a bust — will Parenteau’s be the same?

To that end, the Canadiens hoping he’ll stay healthy after he battled knee problems last season. But that’s not off to a great start; Parenteau recently sustained a lower-body injury and while it’s not believed to be serious, it might be an early warning of things to come.