The 2016-2017 season was one of redemption for the Montreal Canadiens, after the monumental collapse of the previous year. In general, the team has responded well, very well indeed, as they finished atop the Atlantic Division. It took a coaching change and a few trades, both in the off-season and in-season, but Marc Bergevin has brought his team back to where we are accustomed to seeing it since he took over as General Manager. Like in any season though, there have been positive and not so positive stories, players performing as expected, over expectations and under-performing as well. While waiting for the first round of the playoffs to get going, here is a list of the later two, based on what people were permitted to expect from them.
After last season’s debacle, many were questioning Pacioretty’s leadership and abilities as the team’s captain. Some were legitimately concerned, others were only hot because they felt like the Canadiens’ organisation had chosen him over their beloved P.K. Subban. Things got worse after a very slow start of the season when he only managed five goals in his first 24 games, which got his pundits calling for a trade. But then he caught fire and was the Canadiens’ most dangerous scorer once paired up with Radulov, a true play-maker. We later learned that the Captain played the month of November with a broken foot. He finished the season with 35 goals.
Markov truly is an ageless wonder. The 38 year-old defenseman finished the season with 36 points and a very impressive plus-18 rating, third best on the team in that category. We really noticed his value when he was injured and the Canadiens didn’t show the same poise defensively and there is no doubt that he will be back for at least one more season. As a UFA however, he might only be signed after the expansion draft due to the number of players the team can protect.
Only Pacioretty (67) had more points than Radulov (54) on the Canadiens this season, which kept quiet those who were expecting him to be an overpaid flop. With his play, his hustle and his irresistable smile and love for the game, Radulov has proven to every doubter that he is no Semin and that he has matured. No one works harder in practice than him and he has taken a role of leader in the dressing room. He is a UFA and many wonder if the Canadiens will be able to resign him but rest assured folks that like Markov, Radulov wants to be in Montreal and the Canadiens want him back. A deal will be done but like for other UFAs, it might only be announced after the expansion draft.
So much has been said about Weber in the off season and yet, the one nicknamed Man Mountain by coach Mike Babcock at the World Cup of Hockey has taken Montreal by storm. He is what he was painted to be, which is one of the league’s top shutdown defensemen, while providing a solid offensive support. Weber finished the season with 17 goals and was second behind Byron with a +20 differential. Fourth on the team in hits with 140, he was first on the Habs in blocked shots with 157. Weber was on the ice for only two goals at five-on-five in his last 15 games, and hasn’t allowed a goal in those situations in his last seven games, while playing against the top opposition night in, night out.
All we can say is: thank you Calgary! What more can we say about this 5-foot 9-inches speedster aside from the fact that prior to this season, Byron had scored a total of 28 goals in 200 regular season’s games. In 81 games this season, he finished with 22 goals, good for second in that category behind Pacioretty. As a matter of fact, Byron has scored 33 goals since being picked off waivers by the Canadiens. Further, he has two more years remaining to his contract with a cap hit of $1.17 million per season.
What have we learned from Benn since he was acquired by the Canadiens? He is not Jamie and that he is certainly not in the NHL because of his brother. While some may have noticed him for his beard when he first skated with the team, he has been a steady force on the Habs’ blueline and people recognise him for that. He has been so good that the Canadiens will now have to make a decision about protecting Benn or Beaulieu for the expansion draft. The 29 year-old rearguard has two years remaining with a cap hit of $1.1 million.
Earlier this month, I was writing about the Habs having a jewel in the rough in Lehkonen. He has added four more goals since then, to finish the season tied with Radulov for third on the team with 18 goals. Even better is the fact that he seems to be getting better and stronger as the season progresses, which is good news for the playoffs.
No but really, what a trade with Chicago! If you forgot, the Canadiens traded pending UFAs Dale Weise and Thomas Fleishmann for Danault and a second round pick in 2018. As few would have predicted that Galchenyuk would regress this season, Danault stepped in and filled the role of number one centre (by default we must admit) between Pacioretty and Radulov and he did a pretty good job. Danault, who is only 24, scored 13 of his 17 career goals this season and produced 40 of his 50 career points with the Canadiens. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that he is not a number one centre but he is none the less a good surprise, a versatile player who can help out where and when needed.
Very tough season for the diminutive Gallagher, but it was mostly due to injuries. For a second consecutive season, he suffered a broken hand, which affected his play. The good news however is that he seems to have regained his mojo in the last couple of weeks, which augurs well for the Habs for the playoffs.
The young centre had a pretty good start to the season, until he suffered a lower-body injury which kept him out of the line-up for several games. But since coming back from that injury, Galchenyuk hasn’t been the shadow of himself. He constantly makes bad decisions with the puck and turns it over at the most inopportune time, resulting in both Michel Therrien and Claude Julien cutting his ice time. Placed on a line with Lehkonen and Shaw, we were hoping that he would help carry this line but it is rather his linemates getting it done in spite of him. Something has happened with him and let’s hope that he figures it out soon, as they need his offensive contribution.
Since signing his contract extension back in October of last year, Plekanec has only scored 19 goals in over 150 games, which is well below what we can expect from him, particularly that he occupies $6 million of the team’s cap space. He finished this season with a career low 28 points. Many feel like he will be left unprotected by the Canadiens for the expansion draft but the odds of him being selected are minimal, particularly that one of Benn or Beaulieu could also be exposed. He has one year left to his contract.
Pencilled in as the perfect candidate to play alongside Weber, Beaulieu could not seize the golden opportunity presented to him on a silver platter. He has been terribly inconsistent, losing his spot to Emelin who fared rather well, at least in the first half of the season. Bad decision making and what seems like a lack of caring could finally get the Canadiens to give up on him, either at the expansion draft or through trade this summer.
When called upon to play with Weber on the first pairing, Emelin had a great first half of the season. But for some unknown reasons, he was just horrible in the second half, even by being a healthy scratch for a few games but coach Julien. By far the team’s most physical defenseman, Emelin needs to get back to basic and keep things simple by playing his position and let his linemate play his own game.
Few will agree but I was terribly disappointed to see Price let his team down for what seems to be a vendetta against his former coach Michel Therrien. Maybe he was injured, who knows, but I find rather suspicious that Price found his game immediately after Julien took over. Some will say that it’s the system, but it’s not. Price won his multiple awards under Therrien and it seems like he didn’t appreciate being pulled in that one game, better remembered as “the look”. Price did however have a decent season after but his struggles were well documented on this very blog.
The other players not on this list did not surprise nor disappoint. Here’s hoping that everyone steps up and has great playoffs, particularly those who have sort of let the team down during the regular season. Go Habs Go!