A new NHL season is upon us, and a few questions surround the Montreal Canadiens after an off-season of change. We attempted to answer some of those questions.
How will the Canadiens fare this season?
David St-Louis: I worry about Carey Price. I don’t know if he will have a true bounce-back performance, and with him not playing to a Vezina standard, the playoffs are in all likelihood out of the picture for the Habs. Still, I expect a better season out of Montreal in 2018-19. And another top-10 pick in June could give the Habs a chance at a strong defenceman for their prospect pool like Tobias Björnfot, Matthew Robinson, Bowen Byram, or Philip Broberg.
Oli Fisher: I think everyone is expecting the Habs to be worse than they will actually be. Obviously they should absolutely beat last season’s terrible 71-point effort, but considering the strength of division, I’m going to predict 82 points and around about 38 wins.
Cara: I don't think they will win a lot, but that they will play in a lot of close games and be fun to watch. Their defence is not deep enough to win them tough games, but they have a good coach and an interesting forward group.
Shayna: Montreal won’t make the playoffs. They will be fun to watch with exciting offensive play but probably be sloppy defensively. There will be a lot of growing pains, but hockey Gods willing, the kids will show a lot of promise and improvement.
Aruny: The Canadiens probably won’t do as poorly as everyone expects. If Shea Weber returns to the lineup and Carey Price is Carey Price in net, the team has a good shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
Marc-Antoine Levis: I’m not the pessimist type to think they’ll be dead last. Does that mean I believe they’ll be good? No. I believe they will fall between 78-82 points. They’ll be somewhat ‘fun’ to watch because of all the young players on the roster getting more chances to develop. I don’t believe they’ll be a high-scoring team and most likely be in the bottom tier of goal-scoring clubs.
Nathan: The Habs can be quite good, very bad, and anything in between. The only prediction I feel safe in making is that the team will be more exciting to watch this season.
Scott Matla: Personally, I think the Canadiens will be a much more competitive team overall this season, even with the changes they made this off-season. The lineup in the pre-season played with pace and skill, making them much more enjoyable to watch compared to last year. I don’t think they’ll be a contender this year, but they’re going to put a shock into a lot of people, especially if players have rebound years. When their prospects at centre and on defence come to roost in the next few years, the Canadiens will likely take their place back atop the Atlantic.
Kyle Medeiros: The Canadiens will be out of the playoff race by March. They will be a team that looks great on some nights because they have a lot of skill but end up losing more than they win. They seem like a team that will go on a losing streak and fold under that pressure.
Jared Book: The Canadiens will be fifth in the Atlantic Division and will be closer to the Wild Card than they will be to the bottom of the conference. They aren’t a playoff team, but they will be respectable. And perhaps most importantly, even if they struggle more than I'm expecting, they should at least be more entertaining.
Patrik: I feel for the Canadiens, I don’t see them score their way out of trouble, and I am not sure Carey Price can do it all by himself. The fact that it once more lies with Mr. Price makes me think we can be in for a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Andrew Zadarnowski: Won’t be as bad as last season, at least that’s what I hope for. I detest the logic of actively tanking for a top pick, and I certainly would prefer to watch the team be competitive, or at the very least exciting to watch. That said, the primary defensive concerns from last season remain, especially with Shea Weber out for another two months (or more), and the team will need to dramatically increase its even-strength scoring in order to remain in any sort of respectable divisional positioning.
Who will be the player who means most to the team during the season, and why?
David: The leader of the team this season will most likely be Brendan Gallagher once again. He is the motor. No matter the circumstances, he shows up. I expect him to lead the team in goals with another season of 25 or more.
Oli: Well the obvious answer to this is Carey Price. If Carey can get back to his best and have a bounce-back year, it will make all the difference as the team in front of him will play with more confidence and freedom. However, I’m not sure Carey will get much help from the blue line...
Cara: Jeff Petry because of the aforementioned defence, and last season Petry was the rock that carried that crew. Hopefully Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete are able to step in and help him out.
Shayna: Gallagher and Price.
Aruny: Carey Price. With Max Pacioretty shipped off to Vegas and Weber on the IR, all eyes will be on the Canadiens' highest paid player. Expectations will be sky high, and every little mistake will be heavily scrutinized.
Marc-Antoine: I believe it would be a good year for Jonathan Drouin to become the player we thought he was when the Canadiens acquired him. Someone who can break open a game with his skill and dictate the flow of the game. If one of their most skilled players can’t do this, it will be a long season for everyone.
Nathan: Carey Price, and not just because he’s the best player on the team. While the likes of Phillip Danault and Jeff Petry have critical roles to play, it’s clear that when Price is off his game, the Canadiens start to panic and scramble. Ironically, this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, as when the Canadiens don’t play structurally sound hockey, Price starts to cheat and overcommit, not trusting his team to block one-timer lanes and clear rebounds. Whether the Habs are challenging for a playoff spot or the lottery win will hinge on Carey Price.
Scott: It’s got to be Carey Price, right? As he goes so do the Canadiens as a whole, and a rebound season from him could lead the team to any number of surprises.
Kyle: Price will mean the most to the team. Price had confidence issues last year but I believe they derived from poor defensive play. Price needs to just rely on his skill and not worry about being positionally correct because his D probably won’t be.
Jared: Carey Price. If he’s great, he could get this team close to a playoff berth. If he’s bad, this team will be at the bottom of the league. The team around him isn’t that bad and the style should be one more condusive to winning in today's NHL but it’s not good enough to win despite bad goaltending.
Patrik: Carey Price. If he has a ‘normal’ season Canadiens will finish third from the bottom in the Atlantic. If he has a monster season he might drag the team to the playoffs, and, if he doesn’t come back to anything resembling normal and with the defence that Montreal has they could be in for a lottery pick once more.
Andrew: Carey Price. He’s the only answer here. The team will live and die by his performances, so therefore my answer has to follow that logic and clearly highlight Price as the most important player on the team. There can be no room for slowdown in his game, especially not when entering a brand new eight-year contract.
Top goal-scorer for Montreal?
Jared: I’m going off the board and going to say Artturi Lehkonen. (Editor's note: Not as off the board as he thought)
Scott: The boring answer is Brendan Gallagher here, but I’ll also cast my lot for a rebounding Artturi Lehkonen as well.
Nathan: With Pacioretty and Galchenyuk gone, Brendan Gallagher will probably lead the team in scoring once again, coming in somewhere around the 25-30 goal range.
Marc-Antoine: Well, with Pacioretty and Galchenyuk gone… This task may fall upon the shoulder of fresh 30-goal-scorer Gallagher. Is it feasible, yes. Is it likely to happen again? Not that certain.
Aruny: Brendan Gallagher.
Cara: Brendan Gallagher
Oli: Gallagher with 30 goals. I think the offence (or lack thereof) will be pretty spread.
Patrik: Ärtan [translation: The Pea], L’Arttiste, the Forgotten Finn, Mr. Playoff Performer - Artturi Lehkonen.
Andrew: Jonathan Drouin will have an awakening this season playing on wing and will open the floodgates to lead the Canadiens in scoring. A healthy Gallagher can certainly be expected to contribute at his usual pace and I think that this will be year that Artturi Lehkonen joins the team’s elite scorers.
How will the Atlantic division finish?
David: I think that Tampa Bay and Toronto will battle each other for the top spot. A resurging Florida and a strong (and healthy) Boston team will follow them in the standings. Montreal should be ahead of everyone else in the division.
Oli: It’s a toss up between Tampa and Toronto to win the division for me, and I have the Lightning just edging the Leafs. Toronto obviously has the firepower to more than match, but defensively they will come unstuck at times and go through tough stretches, whereas Tampa should be pretty consistent again.
Then, Boston to come third above Florida, followed by the Habs, Sabres, Wings and Sens.
Cara: Tampa Bay Lightning (because I am petty and they have good forward depth and defence), Toronto Maple Leafs (They can score their way out of trouble), Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers (They’ve been close for so long), Buffalo Sabres (They have to be good, right?), Montreal Canadiens (Have you looked at their defence, although they could pass Buffalo), Detroit Red wings, and the Ottawa Senators (I don’t even know where to start with them...)
Shayna: Tampa will lead the Division, the Leafs will come second but there will be a substantial gap between them with the Leafs suffering defensively. The Sens will be bad. Not even funny bad... just sad bad.
Aruny: As much as it pains me to say this, the Leafs or Lightning will probably end up on top, followed by the Bruins. Meanwhile, Detroit and Florida will battle it out to be second worst, as the Ottawa Senators completely implode a week into the new season. If Buffalo’s goaltending situation improves, they could surprise though. But who are we kidding? They are still Buffalo after all.
Marc-Antoine: TBL, TOR, BOS, FLA, BUF, DET/MTL, OTT. It will be a coin toss who ends up before the other between Detroit and Montreal. Ottawa will most likely burn and flame out. They seem pretty destined to bottoming it out this year.
Nathan: The Leafs have signed John Tavares, but that three-headed monster (Matthews, Tavares, Marner) only brings them up to par with the other three-headed monsters already present in the division (Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak; Point, Stamkos, Kucherov). It’ll be a three-way toss-up at the top of the division, with the main questions being the Leafs’ defence, the Bolts’ consistency, and the Bruins’ depth.
Toronto to edge the division, riding off the momentum of finally landing a marquee hometown free agent.
Scott: Tampa Bay, Toronto, (decent sized gap), Boston, (larger sized chasm), Florida, Buffalo/Montreal, (a canyon that will soon be a national park), Detroit, (literally an endless chasm of sadness and despair), Ottawa.
Kyle: Toronto, Tampa, Boston will be in and Florida will make the Wild Card. Montreal will finish next but out by a bit.
Jared: I think Toronto will win the division followed by Tampa Bay and Boston. I see Detroit and Ottawa at the bottom. Montreal will fight with Florida and Buffalo in the middle.
Patrik: Tampa Bay and Toronto will battle it out. I hold the Lightning a bit higher thanks to the defence and goalkeeping, but it will be close. Boston sort of in a no man's land. Then I think Buffalo is on the right path to fight with Florida for the next spot. They play in blue and yellow and half the team is Swedish, can't be to bad now can it?
Montreal and Detroit can swap around because of different hot/cold streaks, and Colorado will see Ottawa and laugh all the way to the draft.
Andrew: I see Boston taking the division this year. They are a team that needs to be taken seriously and can be a potential threat to the league. Toronto and Tampa Bay will also remain in the mix for the division crown. Montreal can surprise by not being the bottom dweller they are projected being, but the highest they can aspire to in the division is fourth place, mixing it up with Florida and Buffalo. Detroit and Ottawa will trail behind.
Which team will be the most improved team in the league this year?
David: I’m betting on the Oilers to have a much better showing this year. Their place in the standings will depend on where Connor McDavid can take them, as always. But he seems to have put in the work this summer to be better than ever.
Oli: The Sabres are an obvious pick, but I’ll go with the Flames. We saw bits of what they are capable of last season but they had a horrendous end to the season with a lot of injuries, so maybe this year everything clicks into place.
Cara: Buffalo Sabres.
Shayna: The Sharks will be even more terrifying. Like a Great White evolving into a Megalodon. Also the Leafs. Young kids will be more mature and they have that Tavares guy, who I hear is okay.
Aruny: Colorado Avalanche.
Marc-Antoine: Oh man, I want to say either Buffalo, Arizona or Carolina. They’re all underdogs who could surprise us if they can put it all together. Question is, can they?
Nathan: A toss up between Toronto and San Jose. Both managed to acquire elite talent without destroying their salary structures (so far) and without losing anything of real value.
Scott: I wouldn’t be shocked to see this team be Montreal, but Calgary has a good chance at rebounding into the playoffs as well.
Kyle: The most improved team will be the Calgary Flames in terms of points. I don’t know if they will make the playoffs but they should have a 10 point jump.
Jared: Calgary. I also think Dallas will be much improved, but it's weird to put a 92-point team from a year ago in this spot, even if they missed the playoffs.
Patrik: Buffalo, and as an outsider I think Vancouver might improve a lot thanks to a Swedish playoff MVP.
Andrew: Can this be the season that Buffalo finally putting it all together? Rasmus Dahlin looks like he will be able to anchor the back-end while Jack Eichel takes care of business the other way. If Buffalo ever stands a chance to climb out of the league basement this could be the year.
Which two teams will play for the Stanley Cup?
David: The Stanley Cup will be a rematch of the 2015-16 final. Penguins vs. Sharks. Kristopher Letang will have a more consistent performance this season, Matt Murray will bounce back and the Penguins will once again dominate the East.
Oli: The Sharks look scary in the West but I see Winnipeg winning that in what would be an incredible series.
In the east, I can foresee Tampa finally getting back to the finals, but having to get through Boston or the Leafs which could be damaging...
Cara: Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning
Shayna: Sharks vs. Lightning
Aruny: Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators
Marc-Antoine: I’ll go with Nashville against Tampa Bay. Why? Because it’d be hilarious and they’re both good teams. Y’know, fun and play with skills.
Nathan: Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets. Gary Bettman is seen weeping in the stands at all 7 games.
Scott: San Jose and Tampa Bay, I want nothing more than to see these two offensive juggernauts go at it for the Cup.
Kyle: Nashville (I want to say San Jose but I won’t) vs. Pittsburgh
Jared: San Jose and Toronto
Patrik: The West is a mess, the arms race will make it impossible to predict; my head says the Predators but my heart says the Sharks. East will be Tampa (Toronto will have the team in 2020).
Andrew: Boston and Nashville.
Stanley Cup Champions will be:
David: Erik Karlsson will give the boost San Jose needed all those years and the Sharks will finally win their title.
Oli: ...And for that reason I see the Jets winning the cup. They are stacked but with balance and great goaltending. They could win the Presidents Trophy and the Cup in truth.
Cara: Vegas, baby!
Aruny: Toronto Maple Leafs (now excuse me while I go throw up after writing this).
Marc-Antoine: Hopefully Nashville, these guys have been putting together an incredible team for the last few years. Also, the last 3 cups have been won in the east. The West is due for one.
Nathan: Winnipeg. Why not.
Scott: I think this might finally be the year the Lightning get over the hump, but it’s not going to to be a cake walk for them.
Jared: San Jose
Patrik: The Great White Shark of San Jose (as it will also bring the cup to my hometown of Gothenburg).
Who are your Calder/Hart/Vezina winners?
David: Calder: Miro Heiskanen Hart: Connor McDavid Vezina: Connor Hellebuyck
Oli: Rasmus Dahlin will win the Calder, helping move the Sabres forward in an encouraging season.
The Hart trophy is pretty open this year, though McDavid is probably considered favourite, and I anticipate him to continue his frightening development.
I’m picking Connor Hellebuyck to take the Vezina in a memorable season for the Jets.
Cara: Calder: Rasmus Dahlin Hart: McDavid (Oilers make the playoffs) Vezina: My boy Hellebuyck
Shayna: Calder: Andrei Svechnikov Hart: Sidney Crosby Norris: Erik Karlsson, wait... P.K... No Karlsson. It’s Erik Karlsson.
Aruny: Calder – Rasmus Dahlin, Hart – Connor McDavid, Vezina – Andrei Vasilevskiy
Marc-Antoine: Calder I’d say Dahlin. Hart would be… McDavid. Vezina probably either Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets or Andrei Vasilevskiy
Nathan: Rasmus Dahlin, Connor McDavid, Matt Murray.
Scott: Calder: If he plays a full year, Jesperi Kotkaniemi should be in this mix, otherwise Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov will battle for this one.
Hart: McDavid and Crosby will compete for this again, and it likely won’t be close
Vezina: Normally I’d say Carey Price, but I think Bobrovsky likely gets it back with Connor Hellebuyck in pursuit.
Kyle: Calder: Elias Pettersson, Hart: Aleksandr Barkov, Vezina: Martin Jones
Jared: Calder: Rasmus Dahlin, Hart: Connor McDavid, Vezina: Martin Jones
Patrik: Elias Pettersson is a proven performer and the amount of goals and assist he will rack up will impress everyone, even if my personal favourites of Dahlin and Heiskanen will make a run for it. The Calder goes to Pettersson in the end.
Hart: It’s Connor’s time!
Vezina: Martin Jones because that defensive line is frightening, or Andrei Vasilevskiy because he might be the better goalie and has a slightly worse defence in front of him. I go for Vasilevskiy right now.
Andrew: Calder : Rasmus Dahlin, Hart: Connor McDavid, Vezina : Connor Hellebuyck
So there you have it. What do you say? Let us know in the comments.