Montreal Last Season: The 2011-2012 season could only be described as a circus in Montreal. The peculiar circumstances surrounding the firing of Assistant Coach Perry Pearn, mid-game trade of Mike Cammalleri and the questionable promotion of Randy Cunneyworth, summed up a year in which former GM Piere Gauthier lost control of hockey’s storied franchise. Constant media and fan scrutiny, teammates fighting consistently during practice, and a 27th place finish in the league left a season that all involved with Les Canadiens would just as soon forget ever happened.
RFA’s: Lars Eller (C/LW), Blake Geoffrion (LW/C), Michael Blunden (RW), Aaron Palushaj (RW), Ryan White (RW), Petteri Nokelainen (C/RW), P.K. Subban (D), Raphael Diaz (D), Alexei Emelin (D), Carey Price (G).
UFA’s: Mathieu Darche (LW/RW), Brad Staubitz (RW/LW), Chris Campoli (G).
The Draft: The silver lining to a horrific season is a high draft pick and the Canadiens put it to use by selecting Sarnia Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk (pictured), an American of Russian background, spent his rookie season in the OHL as Nail Yakupov’s middle man in Sarnia, notching 83 points in 68 games. A torn ACL and subsequent surgery sidelined Galchenyuk for majority of last season but the fact he was still taken third overall in this year’s draft is a testament to the young man’s ability.
Marc Bergevin and his team certainly addressed their need for a big, skilled centre in Galchenyuk and while a year back in junior may be best to develop and make up for lost time, it isn’t unrealistic to think he could possibly be in the red, blue and white next season.
Summer Movement: Bergevin’s main focus in the coming weeks will be signing the bevy of young RFA’s in his system, mainly Carey Price and P.K. Subban. Lars Eller, Blake Geoffrion, Michael Blunden and Alexei Emelin are other pieces you’d expect to be locked up sooner rather than later.
Holes need to be filled all over the Canadiens’ lineup and the decision needs to be made whether to promote from within or go hunting on the trade and free agent markets. With only 9 NHL caliber forwards under contract, an addition of at least one proven player has to be considered. There’s been little noise out of the Montreal camp on targeted players but names like Alexander Semin and Paul Gaustad would be good fits in a lineup that requires a boost of skill as well as toughness. An outside shot at Jaromir Jagr would fill both requirements as well as providing the Habs with a mentor for their wealth of up and coming talent.
Breakout Player(s) in 2012: Assuming summer training goes well and he’s granted an opportunity to consistently play in the top 6 forwards, Alex Galchenyuk could be a dangerous offensive threat in his first NHL season. His skating definitely needs some work but his size and on-ice vision could grant him the ability to succeed.
Russian defenseman Alexei Emelin is poised to have a breakout year in Montreal. Canadiens management have taken their time developing their third round pick in 2004. The big bodied defenseman could be a large part of a quality shutdown pairing in Montreal for years to come if given the opportunity to play in a top 4 pairing with the likes of Andrei Markov or Josh Gorges.
Outlook: There’s no doubt that new head coach (for the second go-around) Michel Therrien has his work cut out for him. The youthful talent is in place for Montreal to build around and as much as last year would like to be forgotten, certain aspects in the dressing room appear to be hindering as evidence with the numerous outbreaks amongst teammates. Canadiens’ faithful should place faith in their rookie GM that he will in-fact acquire the right pieces to formulate the success he experienced with the Blackhawks’ organization.