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Are the Montreal Canadiens legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?

A roster that includes the likes of Carey Price, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty should be a contender. But that's not necessarily the case.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Quick, name the number of teams that had a player finish in the top six of the Vezina, Norris, Selke, and Maurice Richard trophy ranks for the 2014-15 season.

The answer is one: the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, this isn't a foolproof measure of success by any means and there are a lot of variables in award voting as a whole. But what this tells you is that the Canadiens have a superstar in each of the goalie, defence, and forward positions.

This doesn't even start to go into other pieces of this team like Jeff Petry, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Nor does it get into wild cards Zack Kassian and Alexander Semin, or improving young talents Lars Eller and Nathan Beaulieu.

People who look at the Canadiens and say that they are not a Stanley Cup contender because they rely too much on Carey Price have a point. Elite goaltending is definitely what places the team among the top-three in the Eastern Conference rather than somewhere near the middle of the pack.

With the elite talent and supporting cast in Montreal this season, they shouldn't need to rely on Price. The problem is that their numbers have not been as good as their roster would suggest. Possession statistics, goal-scoring, and almost every statistic other than wins puts them closer to the bottom of the league than the top, as evidenced by the list of last season's playoff teams.

Rank Team CF%
2 Chicago Blackhawks 53.6
3 Detroit Red Wings 53.5
4 Tampa Bay Lightning 53.0
5 New York Islanders 52.8
6 Nashville Predators 52.8
7 Pittsburgh Penguins 52.8
9 Winnipeg Jets 52.5
12 St.Louis Blues 51.7
13 Washington Capitals 51.4
15 Anaheim Ducks 51.2
17 Minnesota Wild 51.0
18 Ottawa Senators 50.3
19 Vancouver Canucks 49.5
20 New York Rangers 49.5
23 Montreal Canadiens 48.5
28 Calgary Flames 44.4

If you simply compared the roster to any other team in the East you would see an advantage in goal, likely an advantage in terms of mobility and puck skills on defence, and a team that has the ability to go after you with four lines.

Which makes it hard to say the Canadiens are not a legitimate contender, even ignoring the fact that any team with a great goalie can go on a lengthy post-season run. However, no team with a possession record near that of the Canadiens has gotten close to winning the Stanley Cup in this decade. The last team to sport a negative shot attempt differential in the regular season and proceed to win the Stanley Cup was the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09, but there's a significant — and very relevant — caveat.

Season
Stanley Cup Champion
CF% NHL Rank
14-15 Chicago Blackhawks 53.6 2
13-14 Los Angeles Kings 56.8 1
12-13 Chicago Blackhawks 54.1 4
11-12 Los Angeles Kings 54.8 2
10-11 Boston Bruins 50.7 14
09-10 Chicago Blackhawks 56.5 1
08-09 Pittsburgh Penguins 48.1 19*
07-08 Detroit Red Wings 58.7 1

Remember that the Penguins fired their coach in February of 2009, and that coach was Michel Therrien. Therrien led Pittsburgh to a 45.8% shot-attempts-for percentage. His mid-season replacement, Dan Bylsma, had the team playing at a 51.6% over the rest of the season. The possession statistics with Bylsma would have been ranked 10th in the NHL over a full season. And in case you were wondering about sample size, in the 2009-10 season, Pittsburgh was sixth in the NHL with a Corsi-for percentage of 52.6%.

To answer the question, the team has the roster of a legitimate Cup contender, even if Carey Price is simply really good this year rather than putting together another candidate for greatest goaltending performance in NHL history. However, if the Montreal Canadiens continue to play the style we've witnessed the past two seasons, they most assuredly are not.