So The Hockey News website is doing a ranking of where they think all 30 teams will finish this season, from last to first, and in the 8th spot overall – in the East – they have chosen the Montreal Canadiens.
Looking at this prediction, I’d have to say that it is tough to argue with and that is largely because I have NO IDEA how this team will fare this year. It seems to reason that the Habs are a playoff caliber team, but who really knows?
With all the changes that have gone on this season, it is almost impossible to say for sure. This could be a team that tears up the standings or falls flat on its face. It really could go either way. However, just looking at the individual players, on paper, and not taking into account chemistry, for a moment, this looks like it should be a playoff bound team. Why? Well, they are bigger and have more offence on the back end, and while smaller on the first line, the rest of the forward squad is actually quite a bit larger. With grinding, fighting players like Moen and fast skilled players like Cammalleri and Gionta, this team should be better than last year. But there is that word again…’should’.
The reality is that hockey, like any team spot, has a ton to do with team chemistry and we only have to look at last year’s Habs team to see a prime example of that. The Habs, last year, had chemistry in spurts but could not maintain cohesion and this, along with injuries and off-ice distractions, ultimately lead to their downfall. Last summer, Montreal looked like a contender, on paper, heading into training camp, but it just didn’t pan out because the team never truly gelled.
As for this year’s team, only time will tell what we have on our hands, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them stumble out of the gates, while they find their footing, and start to come on stronger as the season goes on. That being said, the new additions to our roster are all seasoned veterans that know what it takes to win in this league. Also, a lot of them know each other already, so maybe they will be able to come together quickly. I think the true test of this team will be, as it has been for the last 5 years or so, is what their second line will do. It seems like every year, the Habs have one extremely capable line and one line that goes hot and cold, for most of the season. A few years ago, Higgins, Koivu and Ryder were lighting it up while Kovalev and Plekanec were weighing the team down. The following year, they could barely get a shot on net, resulting in Ryder being let go at the end of the season, while Kovalev was putting up the second best career points total, and Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn were putting up career numbers. This is not a winning formula.
For a team to be a true contender, in this league, they need 1st and 2nd line scoring, on a consistent basis. They also need a solid top-4 D and great goaltending. Without all of those ingredients, chances are that your team just won’t make it very far in the post-season. Looking at Montreal’s current line-up, I don’t think they have what it takes to be a championship team, because there are too many question marks. If the lineup remains unchanged before the start of the season, will the Plekanec line be able to provide consistent secondary scoring? Is Markov, Spacek, Hamrlik and Mara a good enough top four? Will Carey Price redeem himself from a disastrous sophomore season? Who will be the leader on this team? Will Jacques Martin be able to properly cultivate the talented young players on the team?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but suffice it to say that regardless of the answers, I believe Montreal should be good enough to at least crack the playoff lineup. How high they finish in the standings remains completely in their hands.