1) Can P.K. Subban work well with Alexei Emelin?
Conversations I’ve had over the summer with various people (both media and team personnel) indicate that Emelin may well take over Josh Gorges’ role on the main shutdown defensive unit alongside Subban. As we have seen in the past 4 years, Subban can drive possession in pretty much any situation, and with any partner, so there are reasons to believe that the pairing could play for close to 50% Corsi even against top-line competition and with a large dose of defensive zone starts. In addition, Emelin will be able to skate on his natural left side consistently for the first time in 3 seasons in Montreal, which should give his game another boost.
My main concern with the pairing is that both blueliners are among the least disciplined players on the team in terms of taking minor penalties. Considering that just 1 or 2 penalty-prone players can cost a team upwards of 10 net goals per season, the biggest challenge for Subban and Emelin is to play a faster and cleaner brand of hockey than in years past while pitted against ever-tougher competition.
2) How will Andrighetto, Thomas and Sekac fare against NHL-caliber opposition?
By digging into Hamilton Bulldog player statistics for the past decade, I found that Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas’ NHL potentials most closely mirror those of Andrei Kostitsyn and Matt D’Agostini, respectively. I believe that both players could be above-replacement level NHL players in 2014-15 if they are put in situations which allow them to use their offensive skills. As in, taking a ton of offensive-zone faceoffs with David Desharnais or Lars Eller, rather than grinding it out in the Montreal zone with Manny Malhotra or Brandon Prust as their centerman.
In the case of Jiri Sekac, KHL statskeeping do not lend itself well to the type of shot-based analysis I was doing with AHL players. In addition, he is a late bloomer with unremarkable numbers as a junior, and little professional track record until his great 2013-14 KHL season. If he is able to make a good showing at training camp and stick with the Habs into the first game of the season, it would be in the best interest for the coaching staff to "create sample sizes" for his NHL performance over the course of 10 to 20 games in both sheltered and more challenging deployments before pigeonholing him into a specific role.
3) What to do with Bourque, Prust and Moen?
The three veterans combined for 17 goals in bottom-six roles during the 2013-14 while accounting for about $7.5 million in cap space. This is not optimal.
All three contracts will be hard to move, but all three players can also be useful to the Habs in specific roles. Bourque, when healthy and motivated, can be a dangerous high-volume shooter. Prust is a do-it-all player who can play all three forward positions. Moen is a rugged and disciplined penalty killer who possesses a robust north-south style. Their price tags are inflated, but I think there’s a way to make it all work.
The key to success when managing these three players is getting them to play a reduced schedule. No more back-to-back games; no more 5-games-in-8-days runs. By compressing their usual minutes into just 1 roster spot instead of 3, you can get these over-thirty forwards to suit up 30 times at the top of their physical and mental condition, rather than 80 times while trying to compose with the effects of fatigue or nagging injuries. Treat and train these guys more like NFLers, who only play once a week, rather than their twenty-something teammates, and they might be able to give you something extra.
4) What can we expect from Carey Price?
In short, it would be more realistic to expect Price to put up a roughly league-average 0.915 save percentage rather than the elite 0.927 SV% he had in 2013-14.
It’s not that Price isn’t a great goalie – he’s one of the best in the business. But like gravity, regression to the mean is an irresistible force when we’re talking about NHL goalies. It would be far more reasonable to expect the 18 skaters in front of Carey Price to do better than last season than to expect Price to match what he has accomplished in the past 12 months.
5) How good will the Habs need to be in 2014-15?
Over the next 82 regular season games, the magic number for the Montreal Canadiens will be 20.
In order to make the playoff comfortably and be a contender to move beyond the first round, the team will need to out-score its opposition by roughly 20 goals over the course of the 2014-15 regular season. The Habs went +8 in the 2013-14 regular season and made several solid moves in the off-season to improve their roster, so with an uptick in their 5vs5 possession metrics, a better shooting powerplay and fewer minor penalties against, the objective is well within reach.
One more goal for than against every 4 games is not a huge ask. Incidentally, the 2013-14 New York Rangers was barely better than that. Despite a slow first half of the season, the fundamentally solid Alain Vigneault-coached squad finished the year +25 and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.