In truth when it comes to hockey these are the teams I'm most often watching.
Even though I'm a Habs fan I have always found it fun to follow the Leafs as well. I do live in Toronto, but even if I didn't I still would. They are the Habs best rival and they are super fun to stack up against one another.
The Leafs in my opinion have trended in the right direction for quite a few years now. They have hit that consistency benchmark in my eyes. Some fans may groan about not moving far in the playoffs, but.. at least you're there now.
Any fans who survived the JFJ-Fletcher-Burke-Nonis..etc years must sleep soundly in their beds with the current group of management and team compared to than. Not to say the team or the group could not be improved, but they are essentially competently led and have a pretty good on-ice product.
They are at the point now where they are looking to make the jump from playoff contenders to cup contenders. This off-season will be monumental as to where they go from here.
They have expiring contracts in both major UFAS and RFAS in the shape of Marner, Gardiner, Johnsson and Kapanen with other house cleaning as well.
Their core is pretty set but how they will build on it remains to be seen. Cap will be an issue.. It goes without saying that Marner will be retained..but what about the rest?
So will this be the year they finally put it all together and push themselves into the company of elite, or will they regress?
Their across province rivals are a little less clear. Unlike the Leafs who seemed to have established their core and consistency;they haven't quite got there yet.
The team did take several steps forward this year with the emergence of Domi, the play of players like Shaw/Gallagher and a few other notables, who pushed the the identity of a tough-to-play-against, and up and coming team.
They look to be trending up.
But we've since this before.
In truth, Montreal is a peak and valley team.
They've historically always had one or two seasons of success and than imploded faster than William Hung's singing career. They seem poised yet again to take a step forward, but we will see how they step.
The season success compared to last year aside, the real exciting stuff for Montreal this year is having a prospect or two to actually talk about.
More to the point they are actual centremen!
*Collective Habs fans rise from their daily prayers being answered*
Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki both had amazing seasons to end their years. Both could(and expectedly) will compete for spots on the roster next season.
So with those players in the fold and something approaching a core being formed around the pillars of Gallagher, Shaw, Domi, Weber and Price, Montreal could be primed for a step forward.
What do you think of the two? It all will start to shake out come draft and free agency but how do you think they will do.Will they regress on their previous seasons, continue to contend for and make playoffs, or challenge for the championship?
I think personally that both Montreal and Toronto contend next year but ultimately don't hit that elite status. Especially not Montreal.
Not yet anyway.
Toronto has less to fix and could be at that elite threshold, but the D will need to be solved and depth scoring will have to be maintained through the off season.
Montreal I believe will continue to improve on their scoring with the influx of new offensive prospects but will have a harder time sorting out their D. Outside of Weber and Petry their are massive "?" through the D-corps. That being said, given what we saw this year it is not impossible to imagine them competing for 5th-8th.
It will be exciting to watch all the same though!