Last season was forgettable for Montreal Canadiens fans. After having the best start to a season in franchise history, goaltender Carey Price went down with injury, and the team tumbled hard out of the playoffs. How they will do this year is anyone’s guess. To end off the Atlantic Division, here’s three questions with managing editor Marc Dumont of HEOTP.
1. The Habs have had probably the most eventful off-season of any team. If Carey Price is healthy for the full season, where do you see the Habs finishing in the standings?
With a healthy Carey Price in tow, I have a hard time projecting the Habs missing the playoffs again. In fact, I would go as far as saying they -should- breeze to a playoff spot, especially in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. Anywhere in the 4-8 range seems feasible. Despite some clear strategy issues, the Canadiens still improved their possession numbers by a significant margin last season, and it seems unfathomable that they would fall victim to another perfect storm as they did in 2015-16 (injuries, low SH%, and terrible luck)
2. How short of a leash does Michel Therrien have? If the Canadiens miss the playoffs after the P.K. Subban trade, do you think Marc Bergevin could be fired too?
As it stands, Geoff Molson has stated he's 100% behind both Therrien and Bergevin. I genuinely don't believe either are on a short leash. In fact, when you look at it, Bergevin just traded the face of the franchise as to accommodate his head coach, so you would assume he'll be given another couple years to see if he can turn the roster into a winner. This team is now tailor-made for Therrien, which is a terrifying thought for many Habs fans. I wouldn't be surprised if Therrien is the head coach throughout the remainder of his contract (3 years). Kirk Muller was also brought in to help when it comes to strategy. Some see him as the heir apparent, but there's always the possibility that he could become management's scapegoat. Playoffs or not, I expect Therrien to be behind the bench in 2017-18.
3. Do you think Alex Galchenyuk will ever be given a real chance to be the top-line centre?
For the last 16 games of the season Galchenyuk was used as the team's #1 centre, and he absolutely flourished. Seeing as David Desharnais clearly isn't capable of performing as a #1 C, there aren't many options left for the top spot. Tomas Plekanec could see some time there, but since Lars Eller was sent packing to Washington, odds are we'll see Plekanec taking the bulk of the defensive responsibilities.
It took 4 seasons, and a rash of injuries, but I believe Therrien has finally understood that if he wants Galchenyuk to become a #1 centre, he has no choice but to try him there. He has chemistry with Pacioretty, has the ability to drive the play up the ice, and scored 30 goals despite seeing limited time on the first line last season. It's his time to shine. Therrien has no choice but to trust Galchenyuk at this point.