The 2015-16 hockey season was a rough one. For management, for the players, and also for the fans. Aside from watching a team that had an incredible start spiral into one of the worst teams of the season, the injuries and secrets fueled the fire and frustration.
Let's travel way back to the offseason when the first jolt of panic came (and a little foreshadowing of the season to come). While training in July, Max Pacioretty sustained an off-ice knee injury. An injury that expected to have him laid up for 12 weeks, missing all or most of training camp and possibly the pre-season. Thankfully he didn't require surgery, and recovered in time to show off the brand spanking new letter on his jersey for the preseason. We had ourselves a full, healthy team. Let the season begin!
And what a start it was. Nine straight wins right out of the gate. The Habs were on fire! A new captain, a new alternate with Brendan Gallagher joining the leadership team, and the best goalie in the world backing them. We picked up right where we left off.
But the hockey gods had different plans for what would become of the season, and the worst of nightmares came true. Carey Price went down and was out of commission for eight games with a lower-body injury. But, as it turns out, we were going to be just fine. Mike Condon, the rookie goaltender who beat out Dustin Tokarski for the backup position during training camp, stepped up and held down the fort while their star goalie was healing. He helped bring home a win for half of the games played while Price was gone. Not too shabby.
Price returned on November 20, and the excitement made it feel like the start of the season all over again. A fresh start. Four wins in a row!
However, before we could get too comfortable, we saw Gallagher block a shot on November 22. Two broken fingers were the result of that blocked shot, and it took him out of the game for six weeks. That was a close one. Thank goodness this didn't happen while Price was out.
Oh, how the hockey gods laughed at that one. Just one game later, Price was injured again with an estimated recovery time of six weeks. The fans and the team had to deal with the loss of their star netminder and spunky goal-scorer. It wasn't pretty.
After a long and arduous December, Gallagher made his dramatic return on New Year's Day, just in time for the 2016 Winter Classic. He went on to prove why he was sorely missed by scoring a goal and helping his team annihilate the Boston Bruins in a 5-1 victory. Welcome back Gally. A new year. A fresh start.
But the fun didn't last long, as the Habs quickly started to slide into another brutal losing streak.
In the midst of that streak came a bizarre three-team trade. The Nashville Predators traded defenseman Victor Bartley to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Stefan Elliott. From there, the Coyotes packaged Bartley together with forward John Scott to acquire Jarred Tinordi and Stefan Fournier from the Canadiens. The trade itself had people scratching their heads, but the mystery remains as to what the factors were that went into the trade, and why it was a trade that GM Marc Bergevin "had to make."
It was all becoming too much. The Habs had dropped 17 of their last 20 games. The fans were getting extremely discouraged, and were begging for something to change. Anything. Michel Therrien's head on a platter. Scrap the whole team - even Price (whoa there fella!)
Then finally, on January 21, Bergevin took to the podium to declare what he will not do. He will not panic. He will not fire the coach. He will not threaten his players. He took full blame for the Canadiens struggles, saying "It's me only."
The fans felt a little better. The players felt a lot better. Their first game after that press conference, the Habs suited up for a classic Saturday night matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to the game, Pacioretty smiled (something that was missing for months) and said that they're not going to talk about the past any more, that they're looking forward, and that it's a fresh start. They went on to win that game. Then lose the next four.
Habs Nation turned into Tank Nation. The question of to tank or not to tank was a heated debate. Of course, no professional team would intentionally tank. It's wrong, and just not in their competitive nature. But the possibility of getting their mitts on Auston Matthews when the 2016 NHL Draft rolls around in June prompted some to wish for just a few more losses rather than wins. I couldn't fathom rooting for my team to lose for just the possibility of adding Matthews to the roster next season.
So I held on. With every fight, check, and blocked shot I feared another player was going to be bitten by the venomous injury bug. No player was safe. It felt like a player could have been taken out by a hard sneeze.
Holding on to hope was becoming harder and harder as the season started to come to a close. Players were dropping like flies with only four who managed to play all 82 games.
In March, it was Alex Galchenyuk who made us sit up straight and have something to cheer for again. He was red-hot, scoring nine goals in seven games. The most in the NHL in that two-week span. A fresh start. But it wasn't enough to get the Canadiens to the playoffs.
There were many ups and downs from October to April, but the worst part for most was constantly being teased with the probability of Price's return. It was enough to make you pull your hair out. Or pour another drink. Putting aside the general depression of losing Price, it was the whole secrecy surrounding his injury that was getting to people: The second opinion. The timeline that was forever being extended. The actual injury itself was even shady.
Then, when we finally accepted that he wouldn't be back, he flew with the team to Florida in April, and there was a small glimmer of hope that we'd see him take his rightful place once more before the season ended. But, with just two games left in the season, they announced that Price and P.K. Subban, who had sustained a scary neck injury on March 10, would be shut down for the season.
Through all of that, the season managed to end on a positive note. During the last two games we saw our latest young goaltender, Charlie Lindgren, get a win in his NHL debut fresh out of the NCAA. Galchenyuk and Pacioretty both reached the 30 goal mark when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 in the final game of the season.
It's been one wild ride. Cheers to those of us who stuck it out. I for one will wear my "I survived the Habs 2015-16 season" button with pride, put this season behind me, and look forward to the 2016-17 season. A fresh start.