After an off-season consisting of more misses than hits, the Montreal Canadiens enter the 2007/08 season as a team searching for an identity. Just missing out on the Daniel Briere sweepstakes, losing Sheldon Souray to free agency and seeing veterans Mike Johnson and Radek Bonk out the door, Les Habitants are entering this season with lower expectations than years past. Guy Carbonneau has the unenviable task of turning this team around after its second-half spiral out of the playoff picture last season. With expectations having been lessened, maybe Carbonneau can motivate his team enough to surprise some of the upper-echelon teams in the powerful Eastern Conference and just scrape into the playoffs.
Here are five questions people have about the 2007/08 version of the Montreal Canadiens:
Will the Habs have enough offense to get them into the playoffs?
Last season, the Canadiens scored 245 goals on the season which was less than every Eastern Conference playoff team aside from the Rangers (who were far more adept at keeping goals out of their own net than Montreal). This season the team is hoping a bounce-back year from Alexei Kovalev and the maturation of youngsters such as Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse and Christopher Higgins will lead to an increase in offensive output. Increased ice time for the team’s youngsters should result in more secondary scoring for the Habs than they received last season from Johnson, Bonk and Sergei Samsonov. Expect the Habs to improve on their 245 goal total from a season ago.
Will the team’s powerplay be significantly affected by the loss of Sheldon Souray to free agency?
The loss of Souray cannot be understated. The team’s impressive first half in 06/07 was due, in large part, to the team’s efficiency on the powerplay. Souray’s big and accurate shot allowed the team’s forwards more room to work off the half-boards, because penalty killers had to cheat on his slapshot in order to avoid getting burned by the big defenseman for a goal or big rebound. Without his imposing shot, the Habs will rely on Andrei Markov to carry the powerplay burden. While Markov does not possess the booming shot of Souray, he’s an adept passer, with good hockey sense. Markov could easily quarterback many powerplays around the NHL. Additionally, Kirk Muller has proven to be one of the better powerplay coaches in the NHL and will make any adjustments that need to be made in order for the Habs to remain efficient on the man-advantage.
Was the Roman Hamrlik signing worth it?
Some fans have questioned why the Habs would give Roman Hamrlik $4 million per year and let Souray walk for just a little bit more than that. Nonetheless, Hamrlik is one of the more underrated all-around defenseman in the game today. The former first overall draft pick moves the puck well out of his own zone, can quarterback the second powerplay unit and is positionally sound. Some people don’t realize the effect Hamrlik had on Dion Phaneuf’s progression as a dominant defenseman in Calgary the past two seasons. Although his offensive numbers won’t be those of Souray’s, his defensive game is far superior to the big Albertan’s. The Hamrlik signing will prove to be a solid one for the Habs GM Bob Gainey.
Who will be the Habs starting netminder at season’s end?
One position where the Canadiens have a lot of depth is between the pipes. With the likes of Huet, Jaroslav Halak, and top prospect Carey Price the Habs are set in goal for years to come. The Habs will start the season with Cristobal Huet in goal, however, if the team is faltering late in the season, expect the French netminder to be dealt at, or before, the trade deadline. GM Bob Gainey may be better off dealing Huet during the season and promoting the impressive Price to finish the season, in order to get the youngster some NHL experience before 2008/09. It says here that Price will be the top netminder in La Belle Province at season’s end.
Can the Canadiens make the playoffs?
Perhaps, but it is not likely. A lot of Eastern Conference teams improved significantly over the summer and the Habs were not one of them. Factor in the team’s 10th place finish in the conference last season, and it is difficult to find a team that is considerably worse than the Habs. Still, due to their good coaching, and youthful exuberance, the team should be difficult to play against throughout the season. That being said, it will not be enough to return the team to the playoffs and another summer on the golf course is probably in order for the winningest organization in hockey history.
On to the morning papers:
- In sad news this morning, long-time Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz has passed away.
- Damien Cox previews the Buffalo Sabres in this morning's Toronto Star.
- As Eric Duhatschek explains, the Flames' roster is almost entirely in place to start the season.
- Greg Boeck of USA Today profiles David Aebischer and his new opportunity in Phoenix.
- Dan Wood of the Orange County Register is already over in London and can't wait for the Ducks/Kings to kick off the regular season on Saturday.
- Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tell us about his experience standing between the benches during a Thrashers' exhibition game.
- The Bruins demoted prized prospect Tuukka Rask on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Bruins made more news on Tuesday by announcing that former Bruin star Cam Neely has become the team's vice president.
- Neely is a perfect fit as vice president opines Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald.
- Good news from Buffalo, as doctors expect Teppo Numminen will be released from the hospital in the next couple days.
- These new RBK jerseys are more trouble than they are worth writes Randy Sportak in this morning's Calgary Sun.
- Many people are suprised that Warren Peters is still in Flames' camp with a chance to crack the opening day starting roster.
- Kristian Huselius had two goals and the shootout winner in the Flames' 3-2 victory over the Sharks on Tuesday night. Prior to the game, coach Mike Keenan reminded the Flames that they were the only team in the NHL without an exhibition win.
- Brett Hedican feels his hip injury has progressed to the point that it shouldn't bother him on the ice anymore.
- After playing just under seven minutes, Hawks' forward Martin Havlat left Tuesday night's exhibition game with a strained groin. (Writer's note: We all know Havlat is going get 55 points while playing only 42 games this season; lets just get it over with.)
- Joel Quenville is happy with the depth the Avalanche have on the powerplay this season writes Mike Chambers of the Denver Post.
- As Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch writes, Jason Chimera's mind has finally caught up to his legs. Meanwhile, the Nikolai Zherdev center experiment is now over in Columbus.
- After an intense Monday morning team workout, the Stars were admittedly tired versus the Avalanche last night. Dallas was defeated by the Avs 5-4.
- Red Wings' defenseman Brian Rafalski didn't waste any time endearing himself to his new teammates on Tuesday night versus the Rangers.
- Oilers' backup netminder Mathieu Garon was tremendous in the team's 2-1 victory over the Coyotes last night.
- Craig MacTavish says you won't be able to crack the Oilers' defense unless you possess the ability to move the puck writes Joanne Ireland in this morning's Edmonton Journal.
- Panthers' newcomer, and Illegal Curve favorite, Cory Murphy has been dubbed the "The Specialist" by Florida captain Olli Jokinen.
- Anze Kopitar tallied a hat trick in leading the Kings to a 7-6 victory over EC Red Bull Salzburg on Tuesday night in Austria.
- Michael Russo of the Star Tribune has an interesting piece on former University of Minnesota defenseman Erik Johnson.
- Wild coach Jacques Lemaire has been extremely pleased with the play of Dominic Moore so far this pre-season.
- Patrice Brisebois is back healthy and was excited to get return to the ice on Tuesday.
- The Predators think they may have another Kimmo Timonen writes John Glennon of the Tennessean.
- The Devils are finding out what it's like to play for Brent Sutter writes Rich Chere in this morning's Newark Star-Ledger. Meanwhile, youngster Andy Greene has impressed the rookie coach so far this pre-season.
- Scott Gomez was the only Ranger to score in their 6-1 loss to the Red Wings on Tuesday.
- Sean Avery won't be be sitting out the Rangers' rematch with the Islanders on Friday night writes Steve Zipay of Newsday.
- After Steve Downie's gutless hit on Dean McAmmond, the Sens have revenge on their minds writes Bruce Garrioch in this morning's Ottawa Sun.
- Apparently Dany Heatley is asking for $8.5 million per season and it may take Eugene partaking in the negotiations to get a deal done.
- Flyers' coach John Stevens is unhappy with his teams work ethic only eight days before the team's first game.
- Ed Moran of the Phildelphia Inquirer examines the Flyers' defensive logjam and all the options the team has heading into the season.
- Ryan Whitney has reached his comfort level in Pittsburgh writes Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Hannu Toivonen was named the Blues' backup goaltender on Tuesday, just beating out Jason Bacashihua.
- Doug Janik is attempting to become a regular on the Lightning defense writes Cristina Ledra of the Tampa Tribune.
- Carlo Colaiacovo will sit out the Leafs' remaining three pre-season games in order to rest his sore knee. Nonetheless, coach Paul Maurice predicts the defenseman will be ready to begin the season against the Senators next week.
- Mike Zeisberger provides us with the details of Boyd Devereaux's medical scare in this morning's Toronto Sun.
- The Vancouver Canucks demoted 11 players to Manitoba of the AHL on Tuesday. Included among the group is highly touted prospect Corey Schneider.
- If the NHL makes their nets bigger, they will lose one of the best goaltenders in the league to retirement.
- Ryan Shannon impressed the Canucks' brass during training camp and has secured a spot on the opening day roster.
For Illegal Curve, I'm Richard Pollock.