The 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens season was sponsored by Murphy's law. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. This, of course, has predictably led to a very negative view on the current edition of the Habs.
With Michel Therrien still coaching, whenever a positive point or a potential signing is brought up, the immediate reaction is "Doesn't matter with this coach." Which, again, is understandable, but perhaps it's time to sprinkle some positive vibes on the suck sundae that is the current state of the team.
1. Alex Galchenyuk has arrived and the coach seems to have accepted it
It may have taken almost 300 games, but Galchenyuk has finally been placed on the first line as a centre.
The last point is important, because for the longest time Therrien perceived Galchenyuk as a defensive liability down the middle. While the stats don't support that theory, the key here is that the coach now has little to no choice to keep the Max Pacioretty - Alex Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher line together next season.
Galchenyuk finished the season with a 53.1% CF, and controlled 52.88% of the high-danger scoring chances.
After what feels like a decade or more, the Habs finally have a bonafide first line and the catalyst is using Galchenyuk as a centre.
2. Carey Price will be on a war path
The Habs received painfully bad goaltending in Price's absence, although you would be hard pressed to solely blame the goalies for the lack of defensive coverage. Yes, the goalies were bad, but the same can be said about Montreal's strategy in the defensive zone.
With Price back, and more motivated then ever, the Habs should be in a solid position to once again threaten for the division lead.
It is well known that Price masks a lot of Montreal's longstanding issues, but since none of those issues seem to be disappearing any time soon, he's definitely the right man for the job. You can't win by riding a goalie every game unless that goalie comes from Anahim Lake.
3. The core is still relatively young
Price is 28, Pacioretty is 27, P.K. Subban is 26, Gallagher is 23, and Galchenyuk is 22.
Despite this season being a throwaway in terms of capitalizing on an their statistical primes, there's no reason to fret when it comes to aging players. Montreal's core is either in, or about to hit their prime.
This is a core that contains one of the best defencemen in the league, the best goalie in the world, and three forwards that can make life hell on opposing defenders.
4. Keep an eye on Artturi Lehkonen
Our European reporter, Patrik, has done a fantastic job updating us with the encouraging progress Lehkonen seems to be enjoying over in Sweden. He's arguably Montreal's best prospect, and while there's no guarantee he will join the Canadiens next year, it has to be said that his overall skill package is exactly what the Habs need in their system.
- Lehkonen leads the SHL in playoff goals
- Lehkonen speaks about his current form
- The Finnish Habs prospect is on fire
- Interview: Lehkonen talks Habs, Frolunda, and more
5. Improved analytics
2013-14: 46.7% Corsi For, 47.4% Shots For, 49% High-danger Scoring Chance For.
2014-15: 48.5% CF, 48.8% SF, 48.6% HDSCF.
2015-16: 51.5% CF, 51.4% SF, 50.7% HDSCF.
There was a disconnect this season between how many shots they controlled and how many scoring chances they created, yet we have to admit there was a positive step taken in terms of controlling the flow of the game. The Habs, with all their injuries, controlled the majority of the shot attempts throughout the season, which bodes well when (and if) they ever manage to ice a healthy roster. They could stand to improve their offensive zone strategy and we'll delve into that on-going lack of creativity during the summer as we do system analysis.
6. Barberio and Pateryn can be a cheap, effective 3rd pairing
The Habs aren't known for trusting their younger players, but this season they had absolutely no choice due to the voodoo curse that led them to lose roughly one defenceman per game.
Fortunately, Mark Barberio finished with top-four numbers in most statistical categories and while you could argue that he faced lesser quality opponents than a player like Nathan Beaulieu, you have to keep in mind that Barberio's defensive partners weren't remotely as good as Beaulieu's. The quality of competition is more or less a wash once you factor in the quality of his teammates.
Pateryn, on the other hand, didn't manage to equal Barberio's stats; however, he did provide a stabilizing presence on the blue line during a time when the Habs were void of quality blue liners.
Pateryn's numbers tanked once he was paired with Alexei Emelin, which points to him being more comfortable facing a lower quality of competition on the third pairing. The key in the NHL is to find where players perform best, and in Pateryn's case that seems to be as a #5 or #6 defender.
7. All Daniel Carr does is score
Only one player scored more goals per 60 minutes of ice time than Carr, and that was none other than Galchenyuk.
We probably shouldn't expect the young forward to maintain his 0.97 G/60 over the course of 82 games, but there's no doubt about it, his audition earlier this season went as well as you could expect.
And this should come as no shock. He scored 78 goals in 160 NCAA games, and immediately continued his scoring prowess once he joined the professional ranks by producing 34 goals in 100 AHL games.
He's perhaps not an ideal solution to Montreal's lack of quality top-six wingers, but if Marc Bergevin can't find a winger on the open market, Carr could be destined for that spot.
8. Sven Andrighetto provides quality depth
A lot like Carr, I'm not convinced that Andrighetto is ready for top-six duties. That being said, despite some spotty deployment that involved being a healthy scratch on some nights, Andrighetto provided incredibly solid play for the Habs this season.
Not only that, he brings offensive creativity to the table, which is an area where the Habs are woefully inept.
Every single line that saw time with Andrighetto ended the season with a CorsiFor% of 50% and, in most cases, way more than that.
9. Charles Hudon continues to impress
I'm not sure why Hudon didn't receive a prolonged audition with the Habs this season, but if McCarron's usage is anything to go off, he was probably best off being left in the AHL.
He currently sits at 28 goals in 65 games. The last Habs prospect to put up 28 goals in the AHL? None other than Tomas Plekanec, who was a year older. All things considered, Hudon should still be looked upon as a potential top-six player. It just remains to be seen whether or not he receives that chance.
If the Habs ever do decide to give him a healthy dose of NHL time, they'd be best off putting him in a position to succeed, unlike what they did with McCarron.
10. It can't get much worse
The 2016-17 season will be do or die for the Habs. The team can't afford to waste another season and then use excuses to absolve all responsibility. Habs fans simply won't stand for it, especially since the clock is ticking.
Price is under contract for another two seasons and, realistically speaking, that's Montreal's best window to make a serious push in the playoffs.
Despite the incredibly frustrating season that was 2015-16, with over $9M in cap space to work with this summer and very few players needing a raise, the Habs are decent shape heading into next year.
The sky isn't falling, even though sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in.