Last season, the Montreal Canadians went on an improbable postseason run in which they knocked off the top seeded Capitals and stunned the defending champion Penguins in a seven-game series. But the fairy tale ended when Montreal was ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals by a much more physical Philadelphia Flyers team.
Montreal's general manager, Pierre Gauthier, wasted no time shaking up his roster in an effort to end a franchise-long, 16-year championship drought. Playoff savior Jaroslav Halak was abruptly shipped to the St.Louis Blues for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. The move clears the way for Carey Price to assert himself between the pipes after losing the starting job to Halak during last year's stretch run. The signing of free-agent Alex Auld will ensure competition in goal, while adding more intrigue to Price's underwhelming career for the Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge.
Offensively, the Canadiens got the bulk of their production from Brian Gionta, Thomas Plekanec, and Michael Cammalleri, with Scott Gomez dishing out 47 assists. To fill out the front, Gauthier swapped winger Sergei Kostitsyn for Nashville forward Dustin Boyd, filling the void left by Dominic Moore's departure to Tampa Bay and Glen Metropolit's defection to Swiss squad EV Zug in the NLA. Above all, the Habs' glaring weakness in the playoffs was their defense and size, which the Flyers brutally exploited en route to a Stanley Cup appearance. As a result, Gauthier grabbed free-agent Alexandre Picard to bolster the blue line, and likely replace Paul Mara and Mark-Andre Bergeron. The real question mark for this season is whether Price and the defense can do enough to give the Habs talented but undersized offense a chance in the playoffs.
THE BIG GUNS:
Michael Cammalleri (C): Cammalleri had a disappointing season last year, playing in 65 games after damaging his MCL in late January. He was fortunate the injury happened right around the same time as the Olympic break, otherwise, he would have missed nearly two months of the regular season. His overall numbers for the season were decent considering the number of games he played, and for dealing with lingering pain in the knee once he returned. For the season, Cammalleri had 26 goals and 24 assists, both well below his anticipated season outlook of 37 goals and 42 assists. However, Cammy is one of the main men in a lineup that surprised last season, and if he can stay healthy, he should put up the most points on the team as a first-line wing.
Tomas Plekanec (C): Plekanec had a team-best 70 points last year, finishing with 25 goals and 45 assists. He'll probably be paired on the first line with Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn, so look for him to have another outstanding season, with roughly the same production and a few added points to boot. Entering the prime of his career, Plekanec just re-signed a nice six-year deal to remain a Canadien until 2016.
Scott Gomez (C): Gomez had a very similar campaign in 2009-10 compared to the previous five seasons. He finished up last year with 12 goals and 47 assists, good enough for a very consistent and mediocre 59 points. Gomez seems to always finish in the mid- to upper-50's in points. It's a pretty safe bet to expect the same from Gomez this season as the assists will still come, but the goals will be few and far between.
Brian Gionta (RW): Gionta had 28 goals, but was disappointing overall, with 46 points in 61 games last season. After proving to be very durable the previous few seasons, Gionta missed 21 games with a broken bone in his foot. With Scott Gomez centering his line and feeding him the puck, look for Gionta to have more luck scoring goals, and if he remains healthy he could end up with 30-plus tallies.
ON THE RISE - THE HABS
P.K. Subban (D): Subban is looking to continue where he left off last year in the playoffs, when he recorded eight points in 14 playoff games. He recently was the recipient of the AHL's President's Award following last season. The brilliantly talented defenseman was a first-team AHL All-Star and was elected to the league's All-Rookie team. He's coming off an AHL season where he registered 18 goals, 35 assists, and had a mind-boggling plus-46 rating in 77 games. The Habs might strike gold if Subban can reproduce those numbers despite stiffer competition in the NHL.
Benoit Pouliot (C): Pouliot recorded 24 points in 39 games with the Canadiens last season after coming over in a trade from the Wild. He is a bit of a wild card, however. Despite possessing an excellent skill set, Pouliot is plagued by whispers of a hot temper, and a poor attitude and work ethic. This season, he'll have a shot at earning a more prominent role during training camp. If he can get a grasp on the mental piece of the game, he could in line for a breakout season.
TWO TO AVOID – “THE HAB NOTS”
Hal Gill (D): Injuries to Andrei Markov bumped up Gill’s playoff ice time, but there is plenty of reason to think that trend will not continue into 2010-11. Gill is on the wrong side of 35 and hasn’t tallied a 20 point season since ‘07-08. In “real life,” his size and experience make him a valuable defensive piece on a winning club. However, in fantasy circles he is somebody to avoid.
Travis Moen (LW): Last season, Moen notched his best point total since ‘06-07, scoring eight goals to go with eleven assists. Based on his AHL numbers, those totals look to be near his ceiling which lends him minimal fantasy value. But hey, he received 50 stitches in his face after being cut with a skate last year. That has to be worth something.
Lars Ellis (LW): The centerpiece of the Halak deal, Ellis is a great skater with sound technical skills. He scored 20 goals in 77 games between Peoria and St. Louis last year, and made the AHL All-Rookie Team. While he has shown the ability to light the lamp, it’s his playmaking skills and maturity with the puck that stand out the most. He has the potential to be a very high-scoring defenseman in Montreal and will be given every opportunity to make the squad this year.
Danny Kristo (RW): A tad small at 5-foot-11, Kristo makes up for it with excellent speed and puck control. He put on a clinic at the University of North Dakota last year, being named the WHCA Rookie of the Year while leading all freshman in points (36), points per game (0.88), goals (15), and power play points (20). Kristo figures to remain at the college level at least one more year but is still a long term prospect held in high regard by the Habs. If the Minnesota native can bulk up from his current 188-pound frame, he has the ability to be a serious offensive threat at the NHL level.