Canadiens never found solution to training camp struggles, slow start
Shea Weber injury, questionable off-season moves by GM Marc Bergevin add up to weak season
The Montreal Canadiens' season started bad and never got better.
That left them out of the NHL playoffs for a second time in three years while tying a team record with 40 regulation time losses en route to a 29-40-13 campaign, fourth worst overall in the 31-team league.
- Canadiens hope to learn from disappointing campaign
- Stanley Cup playoff schedule
- Western Conference preview
"I don't think you can pinpoint one thing, but right from the start, you can go right back to training camp, we weren't good enough," forward Brendan Gallagher said Monday as the team held exit meetings at their training facility. "We were searching for solutions every day.
As early as the pre-season, we struggled heavily to score and struggled to win, and it seemed like that ... stayed with us throughout the year.— Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty
"That was probably the hardest part. We'd come to the rink every day, talking to you [media], thinking we had the answer and obviously not having it. I am proud of the guys because even when we were out of it we continued to come to work every day, but we failed by being in that situation so long and not finding a solution."
The Canadiens put themselves in a hole by winning only one of their first 10 games and were never able to dig themselves out.
"Early on there were definitely some warning signs," said captain Max Pacioretty. "As early as the pre-season, we struggled heavily to score and struggled to win, and it seemed like that kind of stayed with us throughout the year.
"At the moment, you're not getting too caught up with it, but as early as training camp things looked negative and never really seemed to get positive from there."
It really goes back to last summer and some questionable moves from general manager Marc Bergevin.
It started with a promising trade that sent defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for gifted forward Jonathan Drouin, with the hope he could become the productive first-line centre the team has been missing for several years.
But then Bergevin watched as right-winger Alexander Radulov, who made an impressive return to the NHL last season, signed as a free agent with Dallas. Then he couldn't make a deal with 38-year-old defenceman Andrei Markov and lost him to the KHL.
That left Montreal, a rich team, with about $8 million in unused salary cap space and two gaping holes in its roster.
Weber shut down mid-season
The off-season signing of defenceman Karl Alzner was also a bust, while Drouin struggled to adapt to playing centre for most of the season.
It also hurt that top defenceman Shea Weber injured his left foot in the opening game of the season. While he tried to play on, he was shut down in mid-season for surgery.
Then star goal Carey Price, who signed an eight-year contract extension worth $84 million that begins in 2018-19, had a horrible start, letting in uncharacteristically soft goals. He recovered from that, then missed 15 games with a concussion. He finished well off his career numbers with a 16-26-7 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average in 49 games.
Pacioretty also seemed to lose the touch that saw him score at least 30 goals in his last five full seasons, dropping to 17 goals in 64 games. He ended the season on injured reserve with a strained MCL.
There were rumours about Pacioretty at the trade deadline that will carry into the summer. He is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.
"I was more frustrated with my game when it got to the point where those rumours were surrounding me," said Pacioretty. "I've said it so many times before: I love playing in Montreal.
"I take a lot of pride in playing for Montreal. I've had a lot of success playing in Montreal and ideally, I want to be a Montreal Canadien for life. But things aren't ideal now. Obviously things will change. I'm not sure what. We'll see what happens."
New system under Julien
Injuries to regulars like Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw also hurt, but the team was losing even before the injuries hit.
Defenceman Jeff Petry said it didn't help that they played a heavy pre-season schedule while trying to learn a new system under coach Claude Julien, who was hired late in the 2016-17 campaign.
"It had a bit to do with it — not fully understanding the system and not having the ability to practise the system," he said.
A surprise was a penalty kill that was 30th in the league with a 74.1 per cent kill rate.
Changes are expected this summer. The Canadiens still need a competent offensive centre and are hurting on the left side of the defence, among other deficiencies.
But most players believe that the same team returning healthy next year would do much better than this season's squad.
"I'm not worried about the future of this team," said Price. "We just had a bad year.
"A lot of under-achieving performances, myself included. It's disappointing, but next year's a brand new year and we have to go in with the most optimism."