Montreal Canadiens Season Preview

The Good

GM Marc Bergevin was able to add to his roster by bringing in forwards Manny Malhotra and P.A. Parenteau (though trade) along with defenseman Tom Gilbert.  Parenteau will be counted on to provide offense in their top six, whereas, Malhotra will be utilized as a faceoff specialist, thus taking pressure off of Plekanec and allowing him to focus more on his offensive game.  In my opinion, Tom Gilbert was the smartest signing that the Habs made this off-season (aside from extending Subban of course) because the Habs now have 3 right handed shooting defensemen and 3 left handed shooting defensemen thus giving their defense much more flexability.

The Question Mark?

With Brian Gionta (free agent) and Josh Gorges (trade) now in Buffalo, the question in Montreal is who will emerge as the leader(s) in the locker room.  Many people have pointed to the likes of Markov, Plekanec, Pacioretty, and Subban as possible choices.  The question still remains, with the loss of a lot of leadership, will the Habs have enough voices in the locker room to help them though the tough times that come with an 82 game schedule and the grind of the playoffs?

The X-Factor

CAREY PRICE.  We have seen it over the last two seasons in Montreal.  Two years back during the lockout shortened season, Price was having a fantastic year and after the Habs clinched a playoffs spot, it seamed like the team, and Price in particular, had taken their foot off the gas.  That trend continued into the post season as the Habs were tossed aside in 5 games by the Ottawa Senators.  This past season, Price had a Vezina worthy season, won Olympic gold and carried that momentum into the post season.  He led Montreal to the conference finals.  If Price can emulate his season from a year ago, the Habs have a great chance of duplicating or even making it further this coming season.

Prediction

3rd place in Atlantic Division; 2nd round loss in playoffs to Tampa Bay Lighting

Metro Teams Preview- Isles, Rangers, Caps, Devils

New York Islanders 

The Islanders finished the 2013-14 season with a total 79 points and a  record of 37-37-11, good for 13th out of 14th in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the Metropolitan Division.  It was a season of little highs but mostly lows for the Islanders who were coming off of a playoff berth in the season prior.  While the season left much to be desired, the Islanders had one of if not the best off seasons this summer.  In the draft they took Michael Dal Colle with the fifth overall pick and later in the first round took Josh Ho Sang with a picked acquired from Tampa Bay.  Later round picks saw the drafting of goalie Illya Sorokin, who was taken with an eye towards the future allowing him to continue his development in the KHL before coming to North America.  Free agency was the cherry on top for the team who looked to address certain areas, in particular the situation in goal.  The first move was accomplished early on with the acquiring of the rights to Jaroslav Halak from St. Louis, later signed to a four year deal and then the signing of former Bruins back up goalie Chad Johnson to a two year deal.  Finally creating a solid tandem in net.  The splash move though was the acquisition of Mikhail Grabovski from the Capitals and Nikolai Kulemin from Toronto, bringing their pairing back together.  In all the Islanders made the moves necessary to be competitive this season, they just now have to put it altogether on the ice.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll be in the playoffs this season, especially as John Tavares will be back and this year will more prospect development as well.

 

Washington Capitals

This season will mark the beginning of the Barry Trotz era in Washington, as the Caps fired Adam Oates two weeks after the end of the regular season.  General Manager George McPhee was also let go as his contract was not renewed with the club.  With changes at the top, it begins a new era in Washington.  Last season the Capitals can up short as they missed out on the second wild spot by just three points and third place in the Metropolitan Division by four points.  For a good portion of the season, they had a playoff spot, but the collapse looked ever looming in the rear view mirror for the team, especially as the Flyers came surging up the standings following their dismal start to the season.  What killed the Caps were a number things, from a flawed defense to an offensive attack that lacked bite.  They were more or less listless for the second half of the season.  Some of the moves that the team made in the off season was the interesting signing of Brooks Orpik to a five year contract and Matt Niskanen to a seven year contract to solve the defensive woes.  How Trotz handles this season will be interesting as he’ll have to start where Oates left off.

 

New York Rangers

Coming into this season, the Rangers are reigning champs of the Eastern Conference and looking to get back to the Finals, this time for a much different result.  This off season among the things that the Rangers needed to address are the power play, but also to prove that last season’s run was not just a right place in the right time run, but there’s more gusto as well.  In the off season, the team was extremely active on the first day of free agency.  Joining into the frenzy along with the rest of the league.  They lost Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle to Tampa Bay, and were able to move on from Brad Richards as well.  On the other side, they brought on Dan Boyle from the San Jose after the Islanders failed to sign him on even though they owned his rights.  The other signing of note was Tanner Glass from Pittsburgh, who was signed to a three year contract.  It should be interesting in the second year of the Vignault era, especially after last season’s run.

 

New Jersey Devils

Much like Washington, the Devils came up short last season as they fell short of the second wild card spot by a difference five points behind the Detroit Red Wings.  They also finished six points behind the Flyers who took home third in the Metropolitan Division.  The biggest issue for the Devils last season was staying healthy, and with the moves made this off season along with the continued development of the younger players.  If they can have a healthy Elias back, that will be an added boost for a team that came close last season, but were missing a few major pieces.  In the off season, Anton Volchenkov was bought out by the team.  The additions that were made, was Mike Cammaleri from Calgary and Martin Havlat from San Jose.  It should be interesting to see what New Jersey can put together this season.

The Montreal Canadiens Preview

The Montreal Canadiens had an interesting season last year. Being the only Canadian team in the playoffs and to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s safe to say that they had a successful season last year. But there is always room for improvement, they barely escaped the clutches of the Bruins and when they did they were quickly ousted by King Henrik and the Rangers in six games. But that is all in the past, now let’s preview of the 2014-2015 Montreal Canadiens.

Off Season Changes

Top 3 Subtractions

The Montreal Canadiens did a few interesting things during the offseason. They lost a lot of key pieces and didn’t get any big acquisitions to really fill in the holes. They lost top six forward Thomas Vanek, captain Brian Gionta and traded top four defenseman Josh Georges. Here is an in depth analysis for all three in particular order.

Thomas Vanek

Let’s start with Thomas Vanek had 15 points in 18 games in the regular season, which is great! In the post season he had ten points in total which is a great contribution. During the trade deadline the Habs desperately needed more offense. Also they needed some size and they got it. Vanek provided them a good amount of offense and provided more of a bigger presence. He got in front of the net and helped out here and there in the dirty areas. But the truth is: Vanek isn’t that sort of player. He uses his hands more than he uses his size in those situation. The Habs were looking for a bigger Brendan Gallagher and didn’t get it. Montreal did lose a top six forward but it wasn’t a huge lost, sure they might’ve lost some production but it just wasn’t the right fit. Vanek didn’t fit in the role they were hoping for.

Brian Gionta

Now to talk about what most people say is the biggest lost this season for the Canadiens: Brian Gionta. This year Gionta produced 18 goals and 22 assists which gives him 40 points in 81 games. Gionta has been producing around that many points for a while now (excluding his past two injury riddled seasons.) Gionta wasn’t ever the one to really be known for his scoring touch. He was captain for his leadership qualities and his role on this team was a defensive player who help mentor the younger players. Gionta lost his grip on the offensive role when younger guys began to step in (Gallagher, Eller, Galchenyuk and as of recent Bournival.) Gionta’s time in Montreal really ran out, management didn’t think of him as a vital piece to resign at a hefty price (three-year, $12.75.) Letting go of Gionta ultimately gave them more money to give to Subban in the monster contract. Looking at this now I think it’s best for the franchise, the fans and Gionta especially to move on.

Josh Georges

Now onto the move that confused me the most out of all of them, the Josh Georges trade to Buffalo . This was a result of a leak of information about a rare trade with rivals Toronto that included Georges. The deal was in place and all that needed was for Georges to wave his no trade clause. But he didn’t. This causes a bit of stir which resulted him getting traded to Buffalo instead for a second round draft pick. This move confused me for the most part, first of all why would they want to trade such a solid defensive defenseman and secondly why Buffalo of all places Josh?

Montreal is losing one of their best defenseman who really was the anchor for P.K Subban. While Subban was making plays and over extending to try and get a goal Georges was there to make sure that if Subban were to fail that at least someone would be able to keep things at bay. Georges was the main reason that Subban could do his highlight reel goals and take such high risks. Now who do you play with Subban? Do you split up Emelin and Markov?( Who were a great student-mentor pairing.) Or do you trust Tom Gilbert, Mike Weaver or one of the young guns enough to pair with Subban?

Overall I think this move forces Subban in awkward place. He knows have to really prove that he can play both sides of the game. He’s going to have to take less risks and really make sure to make the most of his situation. In the end the Habs need to work with what they got and they still have a really good core without him!

 

Top 3 Additions

There isn’t much to choose from, the Habs didn’t pick up many pieces. They many did house cleaning so they could sign P.K Subban. Here are the top three additions that the Canadiens made this offseason.

Manny Malhotra

            I really like this pickup for Montreal! In opinion probably their best one! Personally I loved Malhotra in Vancouver. He was a key penalty killer and was an ace in the faceoff dot. He was one of the best defensive center men in the league! Then came the devastating eye injury that sidelined him pretty much the entire year. Almost all the experts doubted that he could make it back into the NHL. Everyone thought that his career was over. He made his recovery but he was far from a hundred percent. After a few more seasons in Vancouver GM Mike Gillis forced him out of the lineup. The following season after that (which happens to be this last season) he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes on a tryout contract. After he officially signed and he played in his known role. He killed off penalties and took defensive zone face-offs. This is a great addition after the departure of captain Gionta. Malhotra also brings great leadership and inspiration to the younger guys. He is going to be a great example for other players to follow not only on ice but off it too. I can’t express how much I love this pick up. I see him in a fourth line center role and on the penalty kill. I really hope he works out well in Montreal.

P.A Parenteau

            I don’t know much about Parenteau. Last year he had 33 points in 54 games. Most people suggest that he is here to replace Vanek as a top six forward. Which is very concerning. But Vanek did play on the first line most of the time in where ever he was. Meanwhile Parenteau played on a defensive third line with Jamie McGinn and John Mitchell who aren’t known for their scoring touch. Maybe he’ll excel playing alongside Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk. In past season when he played for the Islanders his production has been much better. So we’ll see, he’ll be an interesting fit on that projected line.

Tom Gilbert  

            Tom Gilbert has recently became a country man ever since he left Edmonton back in 2012. He wasn’t a fit in Minnesota after two seasons there and he left the rebuild that was happening in Florida. After all of this he has ended up in Montreal. The only fit I see Gilbert in is a cheaper Josh Georges. Which amazes me since how do you replace a defensive defenseman like Georges with another offensive defenseman. It’s not like I hate Gilbert but I don’t think it’s a fair trade off. But the biggest delima here is where do you really put Gilbert? Do you trust him with a younger guy? Do you split up Markov and Emelin and put Gilbert with Markov? Or do you put him with Subban? Like I said earlier P.K’s partner needs to be extra cautious just in case Subban get’s punished for over extending. I do expect Gilbert to put up numbers but replacing Georges with him leaves a defensive void there. I expect the defensive core to step up as a committee to fill that gap.

Final Thoughts

In all honesty the Habs took the safe route. They locked up Subban for long term and for a lot of cash. That had to have been their biggest move of the off season. They also replaced some players that had to leave (either because they wanted to move to a different team or that Montreal moved them to get more money to sign Subban.) I like having Malhotra instead of Gionta (even though many will disagree with me) Parenteau will be an interesting fit in my opinion and I’ll be looking forward to see how that works out. Even though I don’t agree with subbing Georges out for Gilbert I guess I’ll have to live with it. Overall I’m just happy that the Habs didn’t make any drastic and stupid moves. The only move that might cost them down the line is Subban’s contract but I rather think of happier thoughts. Thank you for reading and we’ll see how the season turns out for the Canadiens.

Chicago Blackhawks Preview!

One season removed from their second Stanley Cup Championship in five years, the Blackhawks are still one of the best teams in all of hockey. The Hawks made one notable move on the first day of unrestricted free agency, inking center Brad Richards for a one year deal at $2 million. The Hawks may have finally acquired a solid second line center in Richards, who was bought out by the Rangers, three years into his massive nine-year deal. Despite a solid performance in the 2014 Rangers Cup Final run, he had relatively disappointing point totals during the regular seasons in New York. Chicago would be ecstatic if Richards can regain the 90 point form he had playing for the Dallas Stars, but he is more likely to chip in with around 60 points with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on his wings. Young star Teuvo Teravainen may have to continue waiting for his chance to showcase his elite skillset in a top-six role with the team, as general manager Stan Bowman further improves on a potent offensive core. With the re-signing of Kane and Toews to decade-long contracts, and the deep defensive group led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook behind them, the Hawks will continue to be a Cup contender for years to come.

Pittsburgh Preview

The biggest fish that the Penguins caught on the free-agent market was defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. The German born 30-year-old brings a whole pack of skills to the team. His finest quality might be the quarterback-like play he demonstrates from the blue line on the man advantage. Ehrhoff gives the Penguins the chance to line up with two defensemen on the first power play unit, which could avoid some unnecessary scoring for the opposite team (something that has been an issue with the usual four-forward formation). Moreover, Ehrhoff brings leadership to a group of young defensemen, can log big minutes, and cover the shutdown-role vacancy left by Brooks Orpik.

Another big move the Penguins made during the off-season was the trade that sent James Neal to Nashville in exchange for wingers Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The trade followed the team’s new approach set out by co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle this July, adding more grit and character to the lineup. Is also followed the new model of using analytics to help determine which players that are the best fit for the club. The Penguins badly needed to add some post-season scoring and net-front scoring, something Hornqvist and Spaling are meant to bring to the table.

Come May-July, Penguins’ fans will give their final verdict of how the new leadership with Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston steered the team.

Anaheim Ducks Preview

Additions: Ryan Kesler, Dany Heatley, Clayton Stoner, Jason LaBarbera
The Ducks made some really positive changes this year in the looks of staying on top in the Western Conference. They pretty much needed two players to fill in the void in the second line for Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, and they did just that. Not only did they replace them, but they improved over them. The Ducks just got younger up front and now they have an excellent 1-2 punch with their top two centers in Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. The Dany Heatley signing was an outstanding move as well because he is a great player with a proven track record of putting up All Star numbers. He may be on the decline, but that doesn’t worry Anaheim because they only gave up 1 million for him, which is as much as your average fourth liner, except he brings more to the table than any random depth player. He still has it in him to put up some good offensive numbers, and if it doesn’t work out, it is only a one year deal so Anaheim has nothing to lose. Picking up Clayton Stoner was also a great move because now they have that much needed defensive depth after losing veteran Stephane Robidas. Jason LaBarbera is also a solid move because he is an experienced NHL level backup goalie who will most likely play in the AHL next year to mentor some of the younger guys, or if John Gibson needs to spend another year in the minors, LaBarbera can do his job backing up Frederik Andersen.

St. Louis Blues Preview

Editor’s note: Today’s focus is on the St. Louis Blues. This was written by a very talented up and coming writer named Andrew Allsman. He currently attends university at Southern Illinois University. Make sure to check out more of his work here: http://www.kmov.com/sports/hockey

Last year, Blues fans watched in frustration as their team was linked to some of the top free agent centers on the market, yet failed in their pursuit of ‘the big names’. This year, on what was one of the more active openings to free agency, the Blues made perhaps the biggest splash.
St. Louis, a team that has been looking to add a top center for some time now, opened free agency announcing that they had signed unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal.
The St. Louis native has been impressive throughout his NHL career, putting together four 60-plus point seasons in eight years with Colorado. During his time with the Avalanche, Stastny participated in the playoffs at the end of just three seasons, one of which was the most recent. The 28-year old center was one of Colorado’s better players in their seven-game series with Minnesota in last year’s postseason, posting five goals, ten assists.
However, Stastny wasn’t the only big addition for the Blues this offseason.
The club also reached a deal with Finnish center Jori Lehtera, who has spent the last four seasons in the KHL. Lehtera, 26, decided during the Olympic break that he wanted to join the Blues, and he made that known to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. Lehtera was able to get out of the KHL contract he signed last season with Sibir and reached an agreement with the NHL club that drafted him six years ago.
Lehtera has tallied 118 points since 2011, making him one of the KHL’s top producers the past few seasons. His quick hands and excellent vision have led to 79 assists in the past three seasons. His addition is one the Blues banked on last season, but after another first-round exit, they’ll gladly welcome him into their lineup.
The Blues’ two additions at center give the Blues and head coach Ken Hitchcock a multitude of lineup options on any given night, which includes moving some of the team’s current centers, such as David Backes to the wing to add size to the sides if necessary. The Blues also believe that their additions down the middle will lead to a better scoring touch throughout their top lines.
If there’s one thing the Blues have been missing over the past few seasons, it is a top center. The club believes what they have done to address that issue this offseason will lead to a better chance at success throughout the regular season and into the postseason.