NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens' quick exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs came down to not scoring goals when it counted most. Captain Max Pacioretty scored 35 during the regular season, but he had one assist in six playoff games.
[CANADIENS 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
Montreal added forwards Jonathan Drouin and Ales Hemsky and defensemen Karl Alzner, Mark Streit and David Schlemko, but was unable to re-sign free agent defenseman Andrei Markov and forward Alexander Radulov.
So the obvious question, a bonus to the three below, is: Are the Canadiens better heading into this season than the team that won the Atlantic Division but was eliminated by the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round?
1. How will they replace the offense of Radulov and Markov?
It's going to be a challenge for coach Claude Julien to make Montreal a better offensive team with two-fifths of his top power-play unit gone. And that's just the tip of the iceberg in what the Canadiens have lost with Radulov signing with the Dallas Stars and Markov going home to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League after 16 seasons in Montreal. But Drouin is the most talented young player from Quebec in the NHL, and at 22 he has his prime seasons ahead after signing a six-year, $33 million contract ($5.5 million average annual value). Hemsky brings a toolbox of offensive skills, and Streit has plenty of power-play experience, though he won't come close to replacing Markov in that role.
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2. Who will be Shea Weber's partner?
Weber played briefly with defenseman Nathan Beaulieu at the outset of last season, and then Alexei Emelin was paired with Weber until coach Michel Therrien was fired on Feb. 14. Julien used Markov with Weber on the top pair, but none of those options remains available. Jordie Benn, Alzner, Streit and Schlemko are left-handed shots, as is Jakub Jerabek, who signed a one-year, entry-level contract May 1. Alzner may claim the top-two role by default, but he's a better match for Jeff Petry. Jerabek, 26, is a wild card. He had 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 59 games to finish fifth among KHL defensemen.
Video: OTT@MTL: Weber hammers home PPG with big slapper
3. Who will be the No. 1 center?
Alex Galchenyuk, going into his sixth NHL season, should be the answer, but it may be Phillip Danault or Drouin. Galchenyuk finally gained the confidence of management to move to center from left wing, and early results were promising until he sustained a knee injury in December and was sidelined him for six weeks. Danault moved onto the top line between Pacioretty and Radulov, and remained there when Galchenyuk struggled and had a setback in his return, to the point that he began the Stanley Cup Playoffs at left wing on the fourth line. Drouin is adept at all three forward positions and has said he will play wherever Julien needs him.
Video: MTL@DET: Galchenyuk scorches one-timer for OT win