Risk Factors: Montreal Canadiens edition

7 Comments

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.