NHL season preview series: Montreal Canadiens

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MONTREAL CANADIENS SEASON PREVIEW
By DEVILS INSIDERS

How they Finished: 46-28-8 100 points. (3rd in Atlantic Division) Lost to Rangers in ECF

Key Additions:

F, P.A. Parenteau (Trade, COL)

F, Manny Malholtra (FA)

D, Tom Gilbert (FA)

D, Mike Weaver (FA)

Key Losses:

D, Josh Gorges (Trade, BUF)

F, Daniel Briere (Trade, COL)

F, Tomas Vanek (FA)

F, Brian Gionta (FA)

We'll always be left wondering just how different of a series it might have been, had Carey Price played every game in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. The end result though was a strong season for the Canadiens that raised expectations for 2015.

Throughout the storied history of "Les Habitants" there have been countless captains, many of whom are NHL Hall-of-famers. Now, the team heads into 2014-15 without any player wearing the "C" after Brian Gionta departed for Buffalo. For a team that made such a deep run into the playoffs, while knocking off the arch-rival Boston Bruins in the process, leadership will be counted upon from a variety of sources.

The P.K. Subban saga is finally over, with the perennial Norris contender locked up long term, (8 years, $72 millon) that's one less headache for the Habs to deal with.

Though they lost some scoring prowess, they gained some as well. P.A Parenteau should fit in nicely as a distributor who can also contribute on the power play. Montreal also shored up the back end with a pair of veterans in Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver, after they traded away Josh Gorges due to salary cap issues.

If everything breaks right: The Canadiens will be right in the thick of it once again in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay should be better and Boston still looks like the team to beat, but Montreal is not far behind.

Another 100-point season is possible. With Carey Price in net, the Canadiens are awarded the luxury of a top-flight goaltender. Offensively, this team should continue to score at a strong pace. Though they lost Tomas Vanek, his production was far from stellar, as he notched just 11 goals in 35 games sporting the bleu blanc and rouge, including the playoffs.

Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are now seasoned NHL veterans and are heading towards the prime of their careers. Should they continue to grow this season, coupled with the steady play of Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, the Canadiens can be an even more compete offensive team this year.

If the goals are there and Price is healthy and playing at his best, there's enough along the blue-line to think that Montreal will be right in the playoff picture and perhaps knocking off the Bruins once again.

If it all goes downhill: They may struggle to make the playoffs. Though they had so much success last year, the expected emergence of the Lightning, along with a bounce-back season from the Red Wings could make a playoff spot tough in the Atlantic. The Maple Leafs and Senators can't be written off either.

Carey Price has to be the rock for this club once again. If he has a down year, there's not enough standout defensemen on this team to limit goals against.

Playing without a captain is always a gamble. Without one standout voice, it can lead to in-fighting within the team. Just take a look at the Sharks after they stripped Joe Thornton of his captaincy this offseason. For a city that expects great things from it's team, without one solid voice, the team could struggle.

Realistic Expectation: This team should return to the playoffs. There's no notable drop off in terms of the roster and some of their core players are all entering their prime. If anything, it's more likely that they finish a few points better. The key will be if they're able to beat teams like the Bruins and Lighting this season. With excellent goaltending, a strong nucleus of dynamic forwards and a defensive standout like Subban, the Canadiens should be right in the hunt once again in 2014-15.

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