Canadiens: Five Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The Montreal Canadiens enter the lockout-shortened season with a new GM and a new head coach, which usually means something bad must have happened the year before.
Well, that would be one way to put it.
The Canadiens placed last in the Eastern Conference in a season loaded with drama and upheaval, centering mostly around the firing of an assistant coach, then the firing of the head coach, and finally the firing of the GM.
It was, by all accounts, an embarrassing year in hockey's mecca.
But the winds of change have brought in first-time GM Marc Bergevin, an excellent hiring if you ask me. After polishing his education in the Chicago Blackhawks' front office in several different roles, Bergevin was ready to take on a GM job, although he does it in perhaps the most pressure-packed market in the league.
His first key move was hiring Michel Therrien as head coach, a no-nonsense man who returns for his second tour of duty with the Habs.
Fact is, I believe this team underperformed last season. With Carey Price in goal, a decent blue line and just enough (but not a lot) scoring up front, this could easily be a playoff team this season as a No. 8 or No. 7 seed.
1. The Tougher Habs
It tells you what Bergevin thought of the Canadiens from his perch in Chicago when he spent his first July 1 free-agency day as the new GM in Montreal signing the likes of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong. Add in the fact he also re-signed unrestricted-free agent Travis Moen, and what we have here is a tougher Montreal Canadiens team, one that has routinely been pushed around by the Boston Bruins over the past few years. I'm not a big fan of fighting in the NHL anymore, but I do believe you still need a certain level of sandpaper in this league in order for your skilled players to feel comfortable doing their thing. Prust, in particular, is willing to take on any combatants and protect his teammates.
2. Bounce-Back Year From Carey Price
He certainly wasn't bad by any measure last season, but star goalie Carey Price wasn't quite the same netminder of the year before when he put up career numbers. Some of that was the struggling team in front of him last year, for sure, but there's a bit more there from Price. And I suspect you will see it this season. He's in the mix for an Olympic invite if he plays the way he can. I'm betting the Price is right in the lockout-shortened season, which will go a long way in helping Montreal get back into the playoffs.
3. Therrien's Second Chance
It's not every day you get to go back and coach the Montreal Canadiens for a second time in your career, but that's just the incredible chance that awaits Therrien. Having made his NHL coaching start in Montreal more than a decade ago, he returns a man with more poise, maturity and knowledge, having coached the Pittsburgh Penguins to two wins shy of a Stanley Cup in 2008. Don't forget the work he did in Pittsburgh, taking over a young and disorganized squad -- a terrible defensive team -- and making them embrace two-way hockey en route to becoming perennial contenders. He doesn't have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Montreal, but Therrien will demand the kind kind of accountability with the Habs that will have an impact.
4. Small at center
Some things don't change, right? Nothing against David Desharnais, in fact he's one of my favorite players for the way that he wills his 5-foot-7 body to deliver the absolute most he can. His work ethic is second to none. But he's not a No. 1 center. Neither is the talented and consistent Tomas Plekanec, all of 5-foot-11, who by all accounts played well during the lockout on a line with Jaromir Jagr in his native Czech Republic. But for now, the Canadiens don't have an answer. Talented, 6-foot-4 centers don't grow on trees. Montreal's lack of size down the middle will continue to be an issue this season.
5. The health of Andrei Markov
It's been four years since Montreal's top blueliner played more than 50 regular-season games in a season, as he was limited to 45 games in 2009-10, seven games in 2010-11 and 13 games last season. How his twice-reconstructed right knee holds up has a sizeable impact on Montreal's fortunes. Key to the transition game with his top-notch passing abilities and, of course, a huge power-play contributor, Markov is needed by the Habs. His presence in the lineup would also take some heat off the talented but inconsistent P.K. Subban, whose struggles at times last season could be perceived as a man who was just trying to do too much, wanting to shoulder too big of a load with Markov out. If Markov is healthy enough and returns to form and the deeply skilled Subban stays within himself, Montreal's blue line is in great shape.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering seventh NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
Infirmary: Tomas Plekanec
The injury isn't serious, but an upper-body ailment couldn't come at a worse time for Plekanec. For the first time in a few seasons, Plekanec doesn't enter training camp as the Habs' No. 1 center. Missing part of an abbreviated camp won't help him in his quest to win back the top-pivot role from David Desharnais or fend off a challenge from rookie Alex Galchenyuk. -- Sean Allen
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Canadiens:
• May 2: Named Marc Bergevin general manager.
• June 5: Named Michel Therrien head coach.
• June 15: Named Gerard Gallant and Clement Jodoin assistant coaches.
• June 26: Re-signed C Ryan White.
• June 29: Named Jean-Jacques Daigneault assistant coach.
• June 29: Re-signed RW Travis Moen, C Petteri Nokelainen and D Brendon Nash.
• June 30: Re-signed D Alexei Emelin.
• July 1: Signed LW Brandon Prust.
• July 1: Re-signed RW Michael Blunden.
• July 2: Signed RW Colby Armstrong and D Francis Bouillon.
• July 2: Re-signed G Carey Price.
• July 6: Re-signed C Lars Eller.
• July 12: Re-signed RW Aaron Palushaj.
• July 13: Re-signed D Raphael Diaz.
• July 16: Re-signed C Blake Geoffrion.
• Aug. 13: Re-signed LW Max Pacioretty.
• RW Brad Staubitz (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim)
• C Andreas Engqvist (restricted free agent, skating for KHL club Atlant)
• D Chris Campoli (unrestricted free agent)
• LW Mathieu Darche (unrestricted free agent)