Puck Daddy - NHL

Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...

Last Season (39-33-10, 88 points; fourth in the Northeast; 8th in the Eastern Conference)

After wholesale roster changes in Summer 2009, the Montreal Canadiens survived an injury-plagued regular season (which completed their seemingly endless centennial celebration) to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a lowly No. 8 seed.

Then they shocked the Washington Capitals in seven.

And then they shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven.

Suddenly, the pieces to Bob Gainey's puzzle started fitting in front of lights-out goaltender Jaroslav Halak(notes), before Montreal finally bowed out in the conference finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

(Read Down Goes Brown's Habs Eulogy here.)

Are the playoff Canadiens the team we'll see for 82 games this season? Can they replicate their success minus Halak and with added pressure on Carey Price(notes)? Will injuries undermine their efforts again? Are their young fans finally safe from snow-spraying Russians?

Key Subtractions

Halak's playoff heroics endeared him to fans but didn't sway management from dealing his restricted free-agent rights to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller(notes) and Ian Schultz(notes). Halak then signed a 4-year, $15-million deal with the Blues before returning to Montreal in September to sign autographs for 5,000 adoring Habs fans.

George Laraque's contract with the Canadiens was bought out after he was banished from the team in January. Defensive forward Dominic Moore(notes) left for a 2-year, $2.2 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts also signed goalie Dan Ellis(notes) to a 2-year, $3 million deal after Montreal traded away Sergei Kostitsyn(notes) (finally) for his rights. Ellis decided not to sign with Montreal because "in the end the offer on the table was not enough to keep me from free agency."

Defensemen Paul Mara(notes) and Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes) were unsigned on July 1; Glen Metropolit(notes) left for the Swiss national league and their delicious chocolate.

New Additions

Habs fans learned more about Lars Eller and Ian Schultz than they ever dreamed they would this summer. Eller is projected by HabsWorld to be a top-six forward as early this season.

Former Rangers goalie Alex Auld(notes) was brought in for a 1-year deal after Halak was traded and Ellis left for Tampa. Center Jeff Halpern(notes), formerly of the Kings, inked a 1-year deal and could be a valuable defensive forward down the lineup. Dustin Boyd(notes) was signed as a free agent after the Ellis deal. Journeyman defenseman Alexandre Picard was signed after spending last season with the Senators and the Hurricanes. It's his fifth team in four seasons.


Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team

Triple H has won more world championships than anyone else in the WWE. He disappears for a while, comes back with a new look and reigns again. He can be a hero at times, and a villain at other times. And when times get tough, he simply turns on the nostalgia by resurrecting Degeneration X.

Forwards

Mike Cammalleri was everything the Canadiens paid for as a blue-chip free agent in 2009, and then some: 19 points in 19 games in their playoff run, including 13 goals and 3 game-winners. That's after 50 points in the regular season in 65 games. Thank you, freaky pregame visualization routine.

Cammalleri played a good portion of the regular-season and the playoffs with Tomas Plekanec(notes), who managed a career-high 70 points in a contract year along with a little trash talk. Andrei Kostitsyn(notes), another linemate, was limited to 59 games due to injury and scored 33 points.

The duo of Scott Gomez(notes) and Brian Gionta(notes) scored a combined 105 points in their first regular season with the Habs; Gionta tallied 28 goals, his best total since potting 48 in 2005-06, which is no small accomplishment.

Benoit Pouliot(notes) scored 24 points in 39 games, but those numbers didn't get the notoriety that Guillaume Latendresse's(notes) did after Montreal traded him to Minnesota for Pouliot. Travis Moen(notes) played 81 games and amasses 161 PIMs. Maxim Lapierre(notes) was his usual mix of sneaky offense and physical play that gets him in trouble. Tom Pyatt(notes) played 40 games last season and could be a factor in 2010-11.

Defense

Andrei Markov(notes) missed 35 games after injuring his knee in the season opener, but still managed a remarkable season: 34 points in 45 games and a plus-11. This is his contract year before going UFA. Markov was paired with Ryan O'Byrne(notes) in the postseason before Markov was injured (again). O'Byrne rebounded from a pretty embarrassing 2008-09 season but was still up-and-down.

Hall Gill and Josh Gorges(notes) were a revelation in the postseason, playing shutdown defense. Like Gill, Jaroslav Spacek(notes) was a key free-agent signing last summer; he played 74 games and managed 21 points before missing time at the end due to illness.

Roman Hamrlik(notes) had 26 points and 157 blocked shots, and saw time with PK Subban(notes) in the postseason. Subban showed flashes of his brilliant potential during the playoffs and hopes to earn a spot this preseason. And, if he does, hopefully these guys stay home.  

Goaltending

Carey Price has a 2-year deal and the backing of management to finally make this his team. Last season, he started 39 games and won 13 of them, with a 2.77 GAA. In the postseason, he was Carey Price.

The consensus on Price: He has ridiculous gifts as a goaltender, but may never be able to put it all together in the Montreal pressure-cooker. Alas, the Halak/Price debate now spans two conferences but isn't going away anytime soon, which means even more pressure on him. 

Price is the established No. 1, but look for Auld to get more than a few looks.

Match We'd Pay To Watch

What else? Carey Price vs. Jaroslav Halak in a "loser is banished to the KHL" match. Price has the upper hand until agent Allan Walsh runs to ringside and tosses Halak a chair. Unfortunately, Halak's hands were shaking too much to catch it, and the battle resumed ...

Breakout Player

If he earns his chance, Subban can play over 21 minutes a night as a dynamic offensive defenseman. He's gotten stronger over the summer, too. A potential Calder contender if he earns the ice time.

Potential Flop

Plekanec's world has changed: He's now a $5 million a year center, coming off a 70-point season. There are a new set of pressures on him; could his numbers slide?

Finishing Move

Remember all that jive about Subban being a dynamic offensive defenseman? Yeah, it's because of stuff like this. NOT EVEN TEST URL CAN STOP HIM.


Special Teams

The Habs were second in the NHL with a 21.8 power-play conversion rate last season, getting 10 PPG from Gionta and from the since-departed Metropolit. Their kill wasn't terrible either: 12th overall at a 83-percent conversion rate.

Coach/GM

Jacques Martin silenced many of his critics by getting this Canadiens team into the postseason through plenty of injury adversity and then outcoaching foes during their Cinderella run. He's never going to be Mr. Popularity, but his system worked in the postseason, in front of a blazing hot goaltender.

General Manager Pierre Gauthier took over a roster that was mostly set for this season, with 17 players returning. He locked up Plekanec and made a smart deal with Price.

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: B
Defense: A-
Goaltending: B-
Special Teams: A-
Coaching: B
Management: B

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

A healthy Canadiens team is a playoff team and a challenger for the division title. Once the playoffs hit, they'll go as far as their star forwards and Carey Price will take them. And we're a hell of a lot more concerned with the latter than the former.

Entrance Music for 2010-11 Season

As if it could be anything but this grand entrance theme for Dino Bravo, a.k.a. the strongest man in Canada?

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