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Canadiens Preseason Post-Mortems Revisited

Prior to the season, I wrote this piece which featured a list of things I thought would need to go right for the Canadiens to be successful this season, and a list of factors that could could derail their efforts. Now that the season is over and our site is back at full strength, let’s see how accurate the lists were.

Potential Pitfalls

1. Andrei Markov re-injures his knee, or his ankle, or any other part of his body, and misses most of the season.

To the surprise of many, Markov was able to suit up for all 48 of the Canadiens’ regular season games, as well as all 5 in the playoffs, and was a key contributor both at even strength and in particular on the powerplay.

2. After promising rookie seasons, both Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz fail to fill top four roles, and the lack of a big-name signing on defense comes back to haunt Bergevin.

Both Emelin and Diaz impressed this year, but both suffered key injuries that exposed the team’s lack of high calibre depth on the back end. In the end, the lack of a big-name signing on defense did come back to haunt Bergevin a little bit. Although it leaves more cap flexibility going forward.

3. Michel Therrien refuses to adapt to the new NHL, and management’s strange obsession with replacement-level “toughness” translates into a lack of scoring, as the team loses its speed-based advantage that was the key to its success in past seasons.

Therrien was very much a question mark going in, but he was all we could have asked for and more. That doesn’t mean he was a perfect coach by any means, but if you consider that the Canadiens’ worst possession club of the decade came under his reign, being a top team in that aspect of the game is impressive enough alone. What we thought of as Bergevin and Therrien’s obsession with toughness ended up being an obsession with capable 4th line depth, which turned out to be key in dealing with injuries and matching up with the depth of teams like the Bruins.

4. Therrien follows in the footsteps of his predecessors in relegating Eller to a mostly defensive role, failing to allocate him powerplay time or giving him linemates that properly complement his skillset.

It’s safe to say that the first week of the season had us worried. But ultimately Therrien seemed to recognize Eller’s importance, at least more than his predecessors. One way to put this is to say that Eller left his coach no choice but to play him. The young centerman, however, still averaged less ice time than he should be getting, particularly on the powerplay, but was the team’s best forward down the stretch and we would expect that he will be relied upon as a top-minutes tough-competition center going forward.

5. David Desharnais is unable to replicate his success from last season, as his unsustainably high shooting percentage regresses to the mean, and/or Erik Cole, now 34, is held back by nagging injuries and tired legs, and the team’s first line from last year fails to find success.

Well these things really did happen, and if it wasn’t for a) proactive trading from Bergevin and b) the progression of young players like Gallagher and Galchenyuk, an ineffective Desharnais and Cole likely would have derailed the season.

6. Carey Price is lost for an extended period of time to injury. This one is obvious.

Notice how I didn’t write “Carey Price regresses into to a below-average NHL goalie”. Who would have thought that was a possibility?

Necessary Positives for a Good Season

1. At least one of Rene Bourque or Tomas Kaberle lives up to his contract. For Bourque, this would mean at least 13 goals, 10 assists in a top-6 role. For Kaberle, this would mean at least 25 points, and a consistent presence in the top-6 and on the second powerplay.

Well Tomas Kaberle was never really given this opportunity, but boy did Rene Bourque impress. My presumption in setting the 23-point threshold was that he would play in all 48 games, and his pace (13 points in 27 regular season games) pretty much matched that. Throw in 3 points in 5 playoff games, and Bourque had himself an impressive bounce-back season.

2. Carey Price takes the next step in his development, and finishes the year as one of the top candidates for the Vezina trophy. Development from the youngsters on defense and a healthy Andrei Markov would certainly help his cause.

Okay we’re not gonna go there.

3. Alex Galchenyuk, thanks to a tremendous training camp and first five games, earns a top-6 role, which allows for more scoring flexibility through the top-9, gives Eller better linemates, and improves the Canadiens from 19th in goals per game a year ago to somewhere in the top half of the league. This would also take some pressure off of Bourque.

Yes, yes, and yes. Galchenyuk and Gallagher impressed, Eller was a star, and the Canadiens finished tied for 3rd in the NHL in goals per game.

4. Enough other teams in the Eastern Conference falter.

This truly was a big one. At the beginning of the season I isolated four elite Eastern Conference teams: Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers. Well Boston and Pittsburgh have proven to be elite, the Rangers weren’t far behind, but Philadelphia certainly fell off. If you consider the embarrassment that was the Southeast division, the East might be the weakest it’s ever been. A lot of things went right, and the Canadiens took advantage.

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