The Montreal Canadiens Can Bounce Back in 2016-17

This past season didn’t go exactly according to plan for the Montreal Canadiens. The team struggled mightily after a team record-breaking start to the season. With so much negativity surrounding the team over the last while, let’s take a look at the bright side of things. The Habs this year weren’t that different from the team that made it to the second round just a year ago. The big difference this season was the loss of all-star goaltender and backbone of the team, Carey Price. The Habs are known for relying very heavily on their goaltending, so it makes sense that they struggled after Price went down. With a fresh, healthy Price next season, and some extra additions, the Canadiens can bounce back and surprise many in 2016-17.

Not All That Different:

The team this season didn’t look too different from the one that made it to round two of the playoffs just last year. The only real notable differences are Dale Weise, P.A. Parenteau, and Brandon Prust. While some other players are also no longer with the team, their contributions were minimal and frankly, replaceable. It’s also important to note that the club had Weise for the majority of the season, and they were still unable to do much of anything in the standings.

So what really changed? Well other than some minor secondary scoring from Parenteau, nothing really changed. That is, except for losing their goalie — who some believe is the world’s best — for the vast majority of the season. Price went down with a nagging lower-body-injury that held him out of the lineup for all but 12 games this season. After having started 66 games last season, the loss of the backbone of the team was felt very heavily in the Habs’ locker room.

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The injury may have looked minor, but any Habs fan will tell you that it was the worst injury that they’d seen in some time (probably since Pacioretty’s).

Welcome Back the Best:

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The star goaltender was approaching a return to the ice around the end of the season. The team didn’t play him, though, since he still wasn’t 100%, and since there wasn’t any real benefit to having him play and risk another injury. The hope is for Price to have a restful, rehabilitating summer in which he can prepare himself for a full return to action in 2016-17. (That means no rodeos, Carey). The team relies so heavily on him, and you can bet that they’ll be counting on him being fully ready for action at the start of next season.

A forgotten statistic, the Canadiens finished 2nd overall in the NHL in 2014-15. The team finished only three points out of first place and had a league-best 189 goals against (tied with Chicago). 189 goals against averages out to 2.3 goals against per game, which is pretty darn good. This season, though, the Habs finished 22nd overall and conceded 236 goals. This averages out to 2.9 goals against per game. The difference may not seem so drastic, but with the team struggling to score as much as they were, the difference was a big cause of the drop in standings from season to season. Another telling stat is that the team scored the same amount of goals in both 2014-15 and in 2015-16. 221 goals-for ranked them around the middle of the league in said category in both seasons, except with Price, this amount of goals-for was good enough for 2nd overall in the league (in regular standings), and without Price, it was good enough for 22nd.

In Price’s absence, NHL rookie, Mike Condon stepped in and played mostly solid hockey for the team. While he was pretty good, and he deserves some credit for what he accomplished this season, Condon is no Price. Habs fans should wonder just how different this season could have been had the team all-star stayed healthy.

Necessary Changes:

Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin has already said that he’ll stick with his coaching staff to start the 2016-17 season. Many of the team’s fans were up in arms about this decision, but there isn’t much that they can do. Bergevin hasn’t put the blame on his coaching staff yet, but he has acknowledged that the team needs to improve. This summer will present prime opportunities for Bergevin to improve his team and help protect his coach. Whether it’s a trade at the draft, a big offseason signing, or a combination of the two, Bergevin will look to bring in offensive help. He is known for being very hesitant to make big trades, as he often feels that prices are far too high. Though he may be right in some instances, Bergevin should take advantage of the players that he currently has under contract, and he should look to add a few more to the team’s core.

I’ll leave this photo of Kyle Okposo here for fun.

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The team will look to add a forward, particularly a right-winger, that can help add offensive depth and goal scoring to the top-six. With a player of this sort, some of the load would be taken off of new captain, Max Pacioretty, and fellow goal-scorers, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Habs fans should keep in mind that the team owns the ninth overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. This suggests that another top-prospect will be added to the pool of young players in the team’s system.

With another piece or two added to the Habs, they could be right back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17. That is if Price can stay healthy and carry the team the way that he has in past seasons.

Verdict:

OK, so… what if GM Bergevin doesn’t do anything this summer? The Habs’ GM almost has to do something this summer. It doesn’t have to be a blockbuster trade, but it has to be something that improves the offensive outlook of his team. The Habs are simply too thin offensively, and that should and could be addressed this summer. If it isn’t, well, there’d better be a good explanation. One thing that is a guarantee is that Price will be back in net to start next season. The team next year will automatically be better than the team this year just with that.

Believe in the CH. With Price, the bar for this team raises much higher than what we saw this season. This isn’t to say that he could have saved the season, but rather, that he could have helped when times were tough and somebody needed to step up. A healthy Carey Price plus a few new additions up-front and a new philosophy could be a recipe for success for the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17. Look at it this way, it can’t get much worse.