(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.
Better or Worse: Maybe slightly worse, but largely the same.
Montreal brought in Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid while letting Antti Niemi and Jordie Benn walk. They also traded away Andrew Shaw.
Aside from a Sebastian Aho offer sheet that had little chance of succeeding, it was a very quiet offseason for Marc Bergevin.
Strengths: Depth, five-on-five play, and possibly strong starting goaltending if Carey Price continues getting back on track.
Claude Julien really had this group firing on all cylinders last season, which had to make missing the playoffs extra-painful. Still, it’s generally easier to reproduce even-strength success than it is to shoot or stop pucks at a high level, so that’s nice. This team can send wave after wave of forwards at you, and their top four of Shea Weber, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete, and Jeff Petry is better than a lot of people realize.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Canadiens had to be dominant at even-strength last season because their power play was so putrid.
You might be able to chalk it up to the larger feeling that the Canadiens have some very nice forwards, especially Brendan Gallagher, but seem to lack that super-duper-star. The power play might be better in 2019-20 by sheer luck, but personnel-wise, they didn’t really address the problem during the offseason.
It sure looks like Montreal will need to lean heavily on Price, as Kinkaid doesn’t strike me as that much of an upgrade over Niemi, if he even is an upgrade.
(Nice use of emojis, though.)
[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Canadiens front office members (especially Bergevin, but also Julien) have weathered some of the bigger storms, as while Montreal missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they generally exceeded expectations in 2018-19. Even so Montreal’s missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and hasn’t won a series since 2014-15. Julien is an excellent coach, but professional sports aren’t always fair to coaches, and things could really heat up if a lot of Canadiens follow career years by plummeting back to their lesser, past selves. A rating of 7 feels about right.
Three Most Fascinating Players: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, and Carey Price.
If Kotkaniemi ends up not being worthy of the third overall pick of 2018, it looks like that will only come down to people merely having a preference, for say, fourth pick Brady Tkachuk — and so on. The point is that Kotkaniemi was brilliant as a rookie, and considering limited usage, could be capable of even more than an already-solid 34 points in 79 games. Honestly, Julien owes it to this team to experiment with just how quickly Kotkaniemi can grow. He aced his first test in the NHL.
Entering 2019-20, a big question is: will the Max Domi we see look more like the 2018-19 sensation, or the 2017-18 Coyotes forward who needed four empty-netters to reach nine goals? Domi’s entering a contract year, so if he can show last season wasn’t a fluke, he can go from a healthy raise from his $3.15M AAV to a huge jump.
Price is basically always fascinating in Montreal: the franchise, $10.5M goalie in a city that’s watched some of the best netminders to ever play the game. Can Price be dominant at 32? The Habs are counting on it.
Playoffs or Lottery: Montreal was unlucky that the East was pretty stout at the playoff-level in 2018-19, and figure to face big obstacles again this coming season. Not only will the Atlantic’s top three figure to be tough (Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs), but the Panthers made investments to be hugely improved, too. For all we know, it may all come down to the Panthers vs. the Canadiens, especially if the Metropolitan Division isn’t a total flop in providing wild-card competition.
There’s quite a bit to like with this team, so playoffs seem more likely than the lottery — although we also know that this tough market can also turn the volume up on any slump.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.