There have been substantial changes to the Montreal Canadiens since they last
competed in the 2006 Playoffs. Montrealers believe their team is a better team than 6 months ago and as always there is a lot of pressure for the Canadiens to succeed.
Can the Habs compete and take a legitimate run at the playoffs and the Stanley cup?
The Canadiens chances are as good as any if they can get the right performance from the right guys.
Gone from the Habs are Mike Ribeiro, Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis and Niklas Sundstrom.
New to the team are Sergei Samsonov, Mike Johnson, Guillaume Latendresse and Janne Niinimaa.
Those acquisitions try to address the Habs needs for scoring, size and grit which they’ve lacked for many years.
However, many questions still surround the Habs. All the ingredients for a winning team are there, how they all mix will determine their success.
Sergei Samsonov will earn $3.5 Million this season and there is pressure for him to deliver a performance that suits his salary. At $3.5 Million and the ice time he’s sure to receive, anything less than 25 goals from him would be a disappointment. Can he do it? 25 goals is no easy feat on a new team in a pressure cooker city like Montreal. Samsonov has not been particularly noticeable in the pre-season which doesn’t mean a whole lot but he will be watched closely and heavily criticized should he not play up to expectations.
Mike Johnson might turn out to be the Canadiens best free agent signing. Johnson should have a fresh start and a great year with the Canadiens. He comes from Phoenix with essentially no pressure or expectations and will get a fair chance to show what he can do. The last person who came to the Habs in that situation was a fellow named Cristobal Huet.
The signing of fan favorite Guillaume Latendresse indicates the Habs aren’t afraid to go with youth. Latendresse at 19 is the first player since Peter Svoboda in 1984 to play for the Habs at that age. Latendresse proved in 2 strong training camps that he deserves a chance. But with the hopes of all Quebecers riding his shoulders it will be a ton of pressure to deal with.
The departure of Mike Ribeiro was in essence a promotion for Tomas Plekanec who will now play on a top line with Kovalev and Samsonov. Plekanec’s past play proved he’s worthy of the spot and now he must prove he belongs there for an 82 game season. On paper that line looks extremely dangerous and it might very well turn out to be.
Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder had career seasons last year and will be expected to improve their numbers again. Ryder continues to prove he is a strong goal scorer and powerplay sniper while Higgins has shown flashes of brilliance in his rookie season.
Saku Koivu has to stay healthy. After all the speculation surrounding his eye it appears as if he hasn’t missed a beat and is fully ready to go. The Canadiens need him there to lead the same way they need Alex Kovalev to score goals. Core players have their roles for a reason and need to fill them. Your best players have to be your best players.
Janne Niinimaa joins the blueline which is the Canadiens most questionable area. Niinimaa is basically getting a fresh start and a chance to show he can play in a top 4 role. Which Sheldon Souray will show up? Can Mike Komisarek show he is a real force to deal with? Will the thin blueline be able to stay healthy?
Some things remain the same for the Canadiens. Strong goaltending is the only thing that got the Canadiens to the post-season in recent years and that is not about to change. Huet is the consensus #1 starter after a fantastic year and a fat new contract. He still only has a half season of strong play to his name and the pressure is on for him to perform. Everyone remembers what happend to Jose Theodore after winning the Hart and Vezina trophies.
Should Huet stumble the Canadiens also have a potential starter in David Abeischer who has made it clear he wants the #1 spot. Clutch goaltending wins Championships and on paper the Canadiens look to be as deep in that department as any other team.
Guy Carbonneau is a rookie Head Coach. Kirk Muller is a rookie assitant coach. Both had terrific careers and are loaded with experience and hopefully they can translate it into strong coaching.
The Canadiens as a whole have more depth and skill then they’ve had in many years. The future is bright for the organization and the potential to be a sleeper and have a deep playoff run is certainly there if all the chips fall the right way.
Players to watch in 06/07: