The Montreal Canadiens officially launched their 2016-17 season with the annual golf tournament at Laval-Sur-Le-Lac, where players and coaches made their first media appearances to answer questions about their thoughts on the off-season, and the season that is coming up. Some players were obviously missing due to their participation in the World Cup of Hockey. The Canadiens have six players in this best-on-best tournament.
This off-season began in April with the end of the regular season, as the Montreal Canadiens did not qualify for the playoffs. Since then there have been many notable events that changed and shaped the organization for this upcoming season, and the foreseeable future.
Season ending press conference
The post-mortem press conference focused on several points, but two reoccurring topics were the health of Carey Price and if there were any coaching changes to be expected. Needing a strong performance during the press conference, the trio of Michel Therrien, Marc Bergevin, and Geoff Molson instead preached a status quo, sending many fans into a pessimistic tailspin about the future of the organization.
However soon after came a major announcement: Kirk Muller was hired as an associate coach. Muller was beloved in his time in Montreal, both as team captain and as assistant coach. He pursued his ambition of becoming a head coach in the League and left the organization in 2011. Returning now, it was said that he will be responsible for turning around the team’s atrocious power play.
Many fans were excited that the known-communicator would be joining the ranks of the coaching staff to help bridge the gap between the players and Head Coach Michel Therrien, especially when it came to superstar defenceman P.K. Subban who was singled out numerous times by the coach for plays that the coach called selfish.
The Professional Scouting Department underwent a bit of an overhaul, as the Director of Pro Scouting Vaughn Karpan left to join the new Las Vegas team after only one year in the role, and was replaced by Eric Crawford.
Meanwhile pro scout Frank Jay also left the Canadiens organization and Sean Burke was hired as a replacement. He brings with him plenty of hockey front office experience.
It’s also worth noting that marketing guru Kevin Gilmore left the team this summer.
June 24th- NHL Entry Draft
The Canadiens picked 9th overall is this year’s draft, which they used on the very talented Mikhail Sergachev, a player sure to be a key cog on their blue line for many seasons to come. He quickly signed an entry level contract.
By the end of the draft, the Canadiens acquired five impressive new talents via the draft, including Will Bitten, a player who lived firsthand the mess caused by the owner of the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League, and demanded a trade out of the team.
However that wasn’t the biggest news to come out of the day. Prior to the event General Manager Marc Bergevin was seen to be very active, clearly trying to make moves. Rumours circled that included P.K. Subban being shopped, as ludicrous as that seemed to observers. Finally the hammer dropped, when it was announced that the Canadiens traded Lars Eller to Washington for two second-round draft picks. Almost instantaneously it was announced that the Canadiens traded their own second-round picks to Chicago for forward Andrew Shaw.
Shaw was the first indicator of the style of play that the team will be trying achieve, and Marc Bergevin vehemently denied any serious talks of trading Subban, who he said would be “a Montreal Canadien for a very long time.”
June 29th- Subban Traded
Perhaps there is no better summary of the craziest half hour in hockey reporting in recent memory than this article by Eliotte Freidman. He recounts minute-by-minute detail of Steven Stamkos signing an extension with Tampa Bay, the Oilers trading Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Laarson, and the biggest shocker of all Montreal trading Subban to Nashville for their captain Shea Weber, all within 30 minutes of each other.
In a hockey landscape where trades have become rare, one-on-one trades rarer, and one-on-one trades of superstars rarest, the trades caught everyone completely off-guard.
The initial reactions to the Subban trade easily gave Nashville the clear victory in the trade. As time wore on, fans continued to struggle accepting this trade, despite some valiant attempts to the contrary.
As you would expect, Subban has left many indelible memories with the fans.
During Bergevin’s press conference a few days later, reporters were not interested in the least in talking about Weber, and instead focused all questions on Subban to the growing frustration of the Montreal general manager.
Shakeup in Analytics
Internally it was not a unanimous choice to trade Subban for Weber, and at least one dissenting opinion was that of Matt Pfeffer, an analytics consultant who had been with the team for one season. His opposition to the trade likely cost him a contract extension, and he was discarded at the end of his contract. Pfeffer defended his opinion regarding the Subban trade.
Many were left wondering if the Canadiens had abandoned the analytics model entirely as a result, preferring an old school approach to management. However in September it was mentioned that the Canadiens have indeed hired someone to replace Pfeffer in the role, although the actual identity is not public information at this time.
July 1st – Free Agency
The Canadiens made several major changes on July 1st that shaped their team.
First the Canadiens allowed a long list of players to go free agency. The list included John Scott, Tom Gilbert, Ben Scrivens, Mike Brown, Lucas Lessio, Morgan Ellis, Victor Bartley, Darren Dietz, Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, Mac Bennett, and Bud Holloway in a major clean-up of their lower-tier players. Many of these players were restricted free agents who did not get qualifying offers. In exchange they signed Zach Redmond, Phillip Samuelsson, Chris Terry, Al Montoya, and Bobby Farnham.
The Canadiens also made one of the biggest splashes of the first day of free agency by signing Alex Radulov, the Russian winger who made a return to the League after several seasons spent in the Kontinental Hockey League.
David Perron came close to signing with the Canadiens, but in end chose money over the team that he grew up admiring. The same could be said for Milan Lucic, who was pursued heavily by Bergevin. Bergevin admitted many UFAs flat out refused to play in Montreal.
Besides some free agent signing, Marc Bergevin handed out several new contracts to existing players, including Phillip Danault who signed for two years, as did Daniel Carr, Sven Andrighetto, Marc Barberio, and newcomer Andrew Shaw.
In addition, the Canadiens re-signed two important draft picks, notably Artturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway. Two forwards of immense offensive talent, their signing injected some immediate depth to Montreal’s forwards.
Lehkonen is fresh off of his SHL Championship victory with Frolunda, that saw him break the playoff point record held by Daniel Alfredsson.
One much anticipated European who did not cross over is Vadim Shipachyov, the talented KHL forward who was tied to the Canadiens for months. Almost daily there were rumours of negotiations and contracts but ultimately an existing contract with the SKA St. Petersburgh forced Shipachyov to remain in the KHL.
One Farm Team Moves, Another Stays
In what was possibly the worst guarded secret ever, the Montreal Canadiens officially announced that their AHL farm team was moving from St. John’s to Laval, to play at the brand new Place Bell. After the announcement was made, the organization launched an online competition to help name this new farm team, and the winner for team name ended up being Le Rocket de Laval.
In the meantime, after the completion of the inaugural season of their partnership, the Canadiens renewed their affiliation with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL for another two seasons.
Prospects on Display
The second prospect camp, and the final event of the off-season was the rookie tournament held in London in which 27 prospects took part, including four first-round draft picks and the highly anticipated debut of Lehkonen. The Canadiens rookies played three games over the tournament.
Martin Reway, was also scheduled to take part, but had to back-out of the tournament due to being treated in a Slovakian hospital. Although the nature of the illness is unknown, the severity of it was such that he was moved to the intensive care unit.