MONTREAL - The Canadiens’ last-place finish should have been a sobering experience for hockey fans.
This is, however, Montreal, where the notion of sobriety has never really caught on. Festival season is confined to summer, but joie de vivre is a 12-month way of life in our fair city.
We are, by nature, optimists who see the glass as half-full – until it’s empty, whereupon we order another round.
The Canadiens’ dismal performance in 2011-12 is seen by many as a bump in the road to the 25th Stanley Cup, an aberrational and totally temporary descent into the nether regions of the Eastern Conference.
Twelve months before their 15th-place finish, the Canadiens had taken the Boston Bruins to overtime of a seventh game before losing their playoff series against the eventual champions.
In the glorious spring of 2010, the goaltending heroics of Jaro Halak had eliminated the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, carrying the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final. And that upstart team was only two seasons removed from the one that had posted a conference-leading 104 points.
But the overall trend has not been promising. The 2008-09 team posted 11 fewer points than its predecessor, and the Canadiens who surprised everyone in the spring of 2010 had snuck into the playoffs with 88 points.
In 2010-11, the Canadiens finished sixth with 96 points. And then the wheels fell off: Injuries, blown leads and, worst of all, a league-low 16 wins on home ice (which means on no fewer than 25 occasions, Bell Centre fans went home unhappy) added up to 78 points and early April tee times.
The poor performance prompted principal owner and CEO Geoff Molson to take a broom to the Canadiens’ front office. Gone are general manager Pierre Gauthier, éminence grise Bob Gainey, interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth and his assistant, Randy Ladouceur.
Marc Bergevin was hired away from the Chicago Blackhawks organization to become the Canadiens’ general manager. Bergevin has spent the summer on a hiring spree, and the new names adorning office doors on the seventh floor of the Bell Centre include highly regarded talent evaluators Rick Dudley and Scott Mellanby.
Former Canadiens defenceman Sylvain Lefebvre was repatriated from Colorado to coach the Hamilton Bulldogs. Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe have joined the player-development department.
Michel Therrien is back for his second tour as head coach. He has two new assistants: Gerard Gallant and Jean-Jacques Daigneault, plus Clément Jodoin, who coached the Bulldogs last season.
The Canadiens used the third overall pick in the June draft to select Alex Galchenyuk, a highly skilled centre deemed a can’t-miss prospect by most scouts and draft bloggers. The second round brought Sebastian Collberg, a slick Swedish forward whom many had touted as a first-round talent. Then the Canadiens used the 51st overall pick to draft Dalton Thrower, a rugged defenceman from the Western Hockey League. The third-round choice was winger Tim Bozon, who had 36 goals and 35 assists in his first season with Kamloops in the W.
Lefebvre’s team in Hamilton will include defencemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, the Canadiens’ first-round draft choices in 2010 and ’11, respectively; plus Michaël Bournival, captain of the Shawinigan team that won the Memorial Cup, his Cataractes teammate, defenceman Morgan Ellis, diminutive sparkplug Brendan Gallagher and Patrick Holland, who totalled 109 points in the WHL and may emerge as the sleeper of the trade that sent Mike Cammalleri to Calgary.
Let’s review: New faces in the Canadiens’ front office and behind the bench, young talent in the pipeline. Happy days are here again, right?
Whoah, not so fast.
Assuming the commissioner of the NHL has finished thumping Little Gary on the negotiating table and gets around to hammering out a collective bargaining agreement Donald Fehr and the players’ association can live with, the Canadiens’ 2012-13 season will begin with the Ottawa Senators visiting the Bell Centre on Thursday, Oct. 11. The team’s regular season will end Saturday, April 18, at the Air Canada Centre.
Will the Canadiens play postseason hockey?
The Hockey News doesn’t think so. The magazine is posting season predictions online, and THN has tabbed the Canadiens for 13th place in the Eastern Conference – behind Toronto and ahead of only Winnipeg and the Islanders.
The Hockey News’s capsule assessment:
“While Montreal found a wonderful line of Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais last season, the team still doesn’t score enough goals. They added grit in the form of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong that will beef up an undersized forward corps, but that doesn’t address the need for offence.
“If Andrei Markov can stay healthy the Habs are a different squad, but the Russian can’t be relied on for a full year anymore. If Carey Price has a Vezina calibre season the Habs will be ripe to exceed expectations, but as everything stands right now, this is still a non-playoff team.”
But again, Montrealers are, by nature, optimistic – with gusts to delusional. If Markov’s knee holds up, if Rene Bourque can recapture the form that produced consecutive 27-goal seasons in Calgary, if some phenom makes the team out of training camp ...
As we like to think when closing time draws nigh, anything’s possible.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette