When the lockout shortened 2012-13 NHL season began last January, few believed the Montreal Canadiens had a glimpse of hope to win the old Northeast Division title. They proved everyone wrong. Under the leadership of returnee head coach, notorious hard man Michel Therrien, the Habs had an outstanding regular season. There record of 29-14-5 was 4th best in the entire NHL and 2nd best in the Eastern Conference.
Often, a team is judged by its player personnel as much as its performance, and the Habs don’t have the star power or recognized depth up front to compare with some teams they’ll compete against this season. The lack of star power throughout the Canadiens forward group raises questions about their ability to duplicate as division champions. Not to say the Habs aren’t capable of scoring goals, but it’s questionable whether they can produce enough offence to finish 1st again.
New Faces Will Help The Habs In 2013-14
The addition of Danny Briere is a sentimental one, which is always the case when an established native of Quebec joins the NHL’s most celebrated franchise. However, Briere’s best playing days are behind him, and injuries remain a problem for the highly skilled, clutch forward. With age and sustainable fitness an issue for Briere, this signing comes with some risks. As always, with risk there is the potential for reward or disappointment. A healthy Briere is still a skillful weapon, even at this point in his career. As long as the shifty native of Gatineau, Quebec can stay injury free he will contribute on the scoreboard and in the leadership department for the Montreal Canadiens throughout the 2013-14 NHL season.
The Habs signed lumbering defenceman Douglas Murray to a 1-year deal worth $1.5 million during the off season. The Swede with the most Canadian name in hockey is a fearless shot blocker and penalty kill specialist at this stage in his career. For the money and term it’s a good deal for the Habs. Good penalty killing usually means trip to the playoffs.
Murray won’t be over used in Montreal. The Habs stable of blue liners is strong at the high end side. Long time force on the Canadiens defence, Andrei Markov, last season’s Norris Trophy winner, P. K. Subban, and veteran leader Josh Gorges make up the backbone of one of the best defence corps’ in the National Hockey League. Murray won’t have to play big minutes. He’ll be an effectively spotted specialist on the Canadiens.
In between the pipes, the Habs are in good shape. Goaltender Carey Price has become one of the best puck stoppers in the NHL over the last five seasons. Much was made of Price’s disappointing playoffs, but he’ll bounce back – Price is going to win hockey games.
Winning The Atlantic Is Going To Be Difficult For The Habs
NHL Realignment has changed the makeup of the league’s divisions. The Habs don’t lose any rivals from last season, however, they do gain three more. The Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning join the old Northeast teams to form a division of 8. At least 3 of the 8 teams in the Atlantic will make the playoffs this season, at most 5. Because the other new Eastern Conference division also suffers from a wealth of competitive cosmopolitans it’s hard to predict this early in the year who the wild card favourites are. Basically, the Habs, and their rivals will be fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the top three, not wanting to rely on a potential wild card slot.
In a way, the Northeast is anyone’s for the taking, so the Habs have a realistic chance at securing a second straight division title if all goes well. Their main competition consists of 4 franchises that also made the playoffs in 2012-13, one of them being the club that quickly eliminated the Canadiens from the 1st round of the playoffs last Spring.
The Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings form the Habs’ major competition for a second straight division title. All four teams have recently proven their ability to win hockey games. It’s likely at least one of last years’ playoff teams doesn’t enjoy a follow up trip this year. Where the Habs fit into that mix is up in the air, but one thing is for sure – they are definitely in the mix.