It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Montreal Canadiens
How they did last season: 38-38-6 (82 points), 6th in the Atlantic, 13th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: G Al Montoya, RW Alexander Radulov, D Shea Weber, F Andrew Shaw
Notable departures: D Tom Gilbert, C Lars Eller, D P.K. Subban
When they will play the Caps: Dec. 17 in Washington; Jan. 9 in Montreal; Feb. 4 in Montreal
Analysis: The 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens proved a cautionary tale for teams that build almost exclusively around a single player. When that player goes down, you’re in trouble.
Montreal finished with the second best record in the NHL in 2014-15, but did not make the playoffs the following year as an MCL injury limited star netminder Carey Price to just 12 starts. He was 10-2 in those games. Without him, the Canadiens were 28-36-6.
So what was general manager Marc Bergevin’s solution this summer? To fix the locker room by trading away P.K. Subban for Shea Weber.
I wrote about this in the season preview for the Nashville Predators, but the trade was a bad one for Montreal. Even if you’re not a Subban fan or think both he and the Canadiens are better off turning the page, Montreal didn’t get close to equal value by trading away a superstar in his prime for a 30-year-old with 10 years remaining on his contract. Plus, all that talk about fixing the locker room rings hollow when you turn around and sign a player like Alexander Radulov, a player who causes headaches wherever he goes.
That’s not to say signing Radulov won’t work out — the Canadiens are in desperate need of a pure goalscorer — but the timing of it all seemed curious.
In addition to Subban, the Canadiens also traded away Lars Eller, a very talented player who was horribly mismanaged by head coach Michel Therrien. Considering all the times Therrien has been critical of Subban in the past, trading away Subban and Eller may have more to do with the head coach than it does with either player.
Season prediction: The acquisitions of Radulov and Andrew Shaw should bolster what has been an inconsistent offense for Montreal, but it’s hard to know exactly what the effect of losing a player like Subban will be to the offense. Plus, Radulov has the potential to be a total flop. The Canadiens tried a similar move when they signed Alexander Semin last year and he managed only four points in 15 games before the team finally pulled the plug.
Weber still has a few good years left in him and should be a good fit for Therrien’s system but everything still revolves around Price. As he goes, so goes Montreal.
Is the team in front of Price better? Considering Radulov and the loss of Subban will be such wild cards, it’s too soon to tell. Even if it is, however, it won’t be enough to take the weight off of Price’s shoulders.
If Price is healthy again, Montreal is easily a playoff team, but still likely too one-dimensional to challenge for the Stanley Cup. If not, Therrien lacks the flexibility and creativity to adjust his roster and the Canadiens will most likely miss out on the postseason again.
It all depends on Price.
016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
— Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)