NHL preview: Can Drouin provide the spark Habs' offence needs?
Montreal needs to find a way to score when it counts
This is part four of our series of season previews for the seven Canadian-based NHL teams.
2016-17 record: 47-26-9 (103 points), 1st out of 8 in Atlantic Division, eliminated by the New York Rangers in 6 games in 1st round of playoffs.
Key off-season additions: D Karl Alzner, F Jonathan Drouin.
Key off-season subtractions: F Alex Radulov, D Andrei Markov.
Probability of winning the Cup*: 3.85%
Probability of making playoffs*: 73.69%
*derived from betting odds posted by Bodog
Last season's story
Montreal's 2016-17 season was filled with ups and downs on the road to a first-round playoff exit. The team looked to have made serious strides after a forgettable campaign the year before, getting off to a blistering 13-1-1 start before it all came crashing down. After going 18-18-7 through the winter months, the Canadiens replaced coach Michel Therrien with Claude Julien — in a second go-around behind the Habs' bench — in February. The move brought fresh life into the team, allowing them to finish atop a weak Atlantic Division. However, persistent issues with their inability to convert offence into goals (15th in goals scored with 223) was further exposed by the New York Rangers in the post-season. A healthy Carey Price could do little to remedy the fact that his teammates failed to score when it counted most. Captain Max Pacioretty, who led the team with 35 goals in the regular season, could only muster a single assist in the six-game opening-round loss.
Surely the acquisition of a young talented player like Jonathan Drouin through a trade with Tampa Bay lessened the blow of losing Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov in free agency. At just 22, Drouin is heading into the prime of his career and the team is trying him out as a long-awaited solution to their lack of a No. 1 centre. Whether that works remains to be seen, but it's doubtful that Montreal's off-season acquisitions will be enough to fill the gap that Radulov and Markov left in its top power play unit. The addition of Karl Alzner won't help much with scoring, but he's a dependable defenceman who should slot in nicely in one of the top-two pairings.
Drouin helps ignite Montreal's inconsistent offence alongside Pacioretty, finally providing Price with the scoring support he has needed. Adding veterans Mark Streit on defence and Ales Hemsky on offence as well as impressive training camp prospects Charles Hudon and Victor Mete help provide enough depth to stay competitive in what could be a tough Eastern Conference. They'd love to see unreliable forward Alex Galchenyuk live up to his potential, something he's been unable to do in the five NHL seasons since being chosen third overall in 2012.
Down goes Price. We all saw how the Canadiens fell apart in 2015-16 without their MVP, who was injured for most of that season with a strained ligament in his knee. While expected backup Al Montoya was adequate last season, he won't be able to steal Montreal games the way Price often does. But if the team can't find a way to be reliable on the scoresheet, even Price won't be able to bail them out.