No one really expected to see the Canadiens make a lot of drastic changes going into the 2014-15 NHL season, yet here we are just a few days into free agency and a previously thought of as untradeable player is gone in Daniel Briere, as is a large component of the team's leadership group and defensive core in Josh Gorges.
To replace those two players, the Canadiens got P.A. Parenteau in return for Briere, and signed Tom Gilbert out of Florida to take over Gorges' role in the top-four on defense. There has been near universal praise for these moves, though the usual suspects will be out to criticize the loss of leadership with Gorges gone, as well as the clutchiness of Briere, but for the most part fans, media, and analysts approve of the moves.
There is a temptation to compare the roster to the one that finished last season, but it's July, not April. It makes far more sense to compare this roster to last year's opening day depth chart.
There will be some consternation over the Canadiens not replacing Thomas Vanek, but Vanek was a late season addition, and is unlikely to be replaced until possibly the deadline of this coming season. Comparing opening day rosters, a lot is going to depend on who the Canadiens slot into that second line right wing spot, but unless it's someone who is actively bad, it's hard to argue that they're not a much better team overall.
Running some broad numbers, I found that if Tom Gilbert, Nathan Beaulieu, and Mike Weaver were to replace Josh Gorges, Douglas Murray, and Francis Bouillon's exact minutes, the team should see a +3.28 percentage point bump in their five-on-five Corsi for percentage, bringing them from a dismal 46.7% Corsi in 2013-14 to 50.0% without even accounting for P.A. Parenteau and Manny Malhotra being significant upgrades on Daniel Briere and Ryan White. Not to mention that it's very unlikely that Therrien runs the same dismal breakout as last season, which led to so much of the Habs' problems.
The defense is obviously improved, but until that last right wing spot is filled, there are questions remaining up front. Offensively this group looks to be improved simply by not having Briere and Rene Bourque in the top-six, along with the continued developement of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, and Brendan Gallagher. Parenteau is also a huge upgrade on Briere based on the last three seasons of data.
For all the talk of Briere being a powerplay weapon, over the last three seasons, he's produced at the same rate on the powerplay as one Scott Gomez. No seriously, I'm not kidding about that:
Parenteau is so obviously an upgrade on Briere, it's actually difficult to understand how that trade was even possible. But let's not bother looking into that because it happened and we should all be really happy about it.
The trouble up front is in the lack of two-way wingers. Though many Habs fans fail to understand his value, losing Brian Gionta is a real problem for the Canadiens moving forward. Parenteau and Gionta's replacement, whoever that may be, should replace the offense and maybe even add some extra, but Gionta's defensive value hasn't been replaced.
It's possible that the re-jigging of the fourth line can help balance that out, with Malhotra serving as the key cog to a sacrificial defensive line eating up 10 or so minutes a night. That will help, undoubtedly, but they need whoever fits in on that second line with Plekanec to have some defensive value. Either that, or the younger forwards have to step up big time.
It's going to be an interesting season for the Canadiens, one where they may not fill their last hole before the season begins. Marc Bergevin mentioned that he is willing to see the team take a step back in order for youngsters to grow, and that could mean more responsibility for Gallagher and Galchenyuk defensively, as well as perhaps a player like Jiri Sekac. No matter what Bergevin decides, his team is in a great position.