(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
From worst to first (in their division). The Montreal Canadiens went from 15th in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth overall in the NHL in 2013. All they needed was a cleaning of house; installing Marc Bergevin as general manager and bringing back Michel Therrien as head coach; getting some help from their kids -- Brendan Gallagher and 2012 first round pick Alex Galchenyuk -- and enjoying a Norris Trophy-winning season from P.K. Subban.
But the strong regular season didn't carry over into the playoffs as the Ottawa Senators eliminated them in five games. Not the best way to end your season, but the turnaround and fresh start in management was enough to believe the finish in 2011-12 was a fluke.
Bergevin loves character players, but with the cap dropping, he kept his summer moves limited. Is keeping (mostly) the same hand going to help the Habs for a deeper playoff run this time around?
Had P.K. Subban's ferocious shot touched Tuukka Rask, the Bruins goaltender might have had a hole blown through his chest.
Bergevin tried making the longtime Vincent Lecavalier-to-Montreal dream come true, but the former Tampa Bay Lightning captain decided to go to Philadelphia after being bought out. Missing out on one buyout victim, Bergevin was able to bring in another by signing Danny Briere to a two-year, $8 million deal, finally bringing the Quebec native to the Canadiens after choosing the Flyers when he was a UFA in 2007.
Looking to add some size and toughness in the front and back, Bergevin also signed defenseman Douglas Murray to a one-year deal. Not the fleetest of foot, but can provide a physical presence when he actually catches up with a forward. On the fisticuffs side, mustachioed George Parros and his 1,007 career penalty minutes was acquired in a July deal with the Florida Panthers.
Heading out of town were Michael Ryder after joining the New Jersey Devils on a 2-year, $7 million deal and defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who was the team's second compliance buyout. He'll play with Kladno of the Czech league this season.
Forward: The Montreal forward corps received contributions from every one. Led by Max Pacioretty (15 goals, 39 points) and Tomas Plekanec (14 goals, 33 points), the Canadiens saw six forward hit double digits in goals. Had Alex Galchenyuk (9 goals, 27 points) scored one more, both rookies would have been a part of that group, with Brendan Gallagher notching 15 and earning a Calder Trophy nomination.
The lack of size has always the joke with the Canadiens' forwards, but they've proven it's not a factor in being able to produce. Adding Danny Briere won't help stop the jokes, but his presence gives Therrien another option down the middle should he decide to switch things around. If Montreal gets back to the playoffs in 2014, Briere can also add to his legacy as an elite postseason performer.
Brian Gionta, who's entering the final year of his deal, underwent bicep surgery in the summer and may miss the start of the season. Lars Eller, who is scheduled to become an RFA next summer, is expected to be ready for opening night after suffering a concussion and facial fractures after an Eric Gryba hit during their first round series with the Senators. David Desharnais didn't have the best end to his season after signing a four-year extension in March, but he shed some weight over the summer and is expected to bounce back.
Brandon Prust (110 PIMs), Travis Moen and Parros will provide the grit and sandpaper down the roster.
Defense: A contract squabble at the beginning of the season that cost him six games didn't hinder P.K. Subban, who finished second in goals among defensemen with 11 and tied in points with Kris Letang with 38. Subban's season ending with a Norris Trophy may have been a surprise, but the biggest shock was Andrei Markov playing a full 48-game schedule after only playing a combined 20 over the prior two seasons. His scoring touch returned as he finished with 10 goals and 30 points, eight of which coming on the power play.
Raphael Diaz (14 points) and Josh Gorges (21:23 TOI) will likely again pair with Markov and Subban, respectively. A blow to the blue line sees Alexei Emelin (110 hits) sidelined until December after off-season knee surgery.
Looking to earn a spot in the six spots is rookie Jarret Tinordi, who spent last spring as a Black Ace for the Habs. He'll to beat out Davis Drewiske and veterans Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon.
Goalies: It's Carey Price's net, with Peter Budaj there to spell him over the course of a long, but condensed NHL schedule with the Olympic in the middle. Price's former goalie coach in Montreal, Rollie Melanson, has said the netminder "hasn't stopped deteriorating" since he left the team in 2009. Four year later, Price will listen to Stephane Waite's guidance after he left the Chicago Blackhawks to join the Habs. Price had a tough finish to the season, winning just three times in his final 11 starts, including the playoffs, while allowing 37 goals over that stretch. What kind of affect will a new voice have?
Marc Bergevin didn't have a busy summer. Adding just Briere and Parros, he's confident enough in his top performers in 2013 doing it again this season, while allowing the youngsters to continue to develop.
In Michel Therrien's second seasons with the Penguins and during his first time around with the Habs, his teams saw a dramatic improvement. He's always been a coach that's been able to quickly remake teams, but eventually it levels off. What can he do this time around in Montreal?
Nothing gets us more fired up than Guy LaFleur disco.
Their offense. Montreal finished tied for fourth in the NHL last season with 3.04 goals per game. Eight different players hit double digits in goals.
Going hand and hand with a good offense is the strong power play. Tied with Pittsburgh with 42 goals with the man advantage in 2013, only Washington scored more.
P.K. Subban is coming off a Norris Trophy win and might be in even better shape this year.
The penalty kill ended up 23rd (79.8 percent), allowing 35 goals last season. Only Montreal and the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to score a shorthanded goal.
The balanced scoring will do the team well and the Team Canada Olympic carrot dangling in front of Carey Price should motivate him to a better season statistically -- that, and a new goaltending coach in Stephane Waite. The Northeast is now the Atlantic, with Detroit, Tampa and Florida joining. Despite the tougher road to the playoffs, the Canadiens should find themselves among the Eastern Conference teams playing past April 13.