NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens are bringing a new attitude into this season with an eye on returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Coming off a sixth-place finish in the Atlantic Division and missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, with a 29-40-13 record for 71 points, the Canadiens had a busy offseason. General manager Marc Bergevin categorized Montreal's adjustments as a reset rather than a rebuild.
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"If you look at our lineup, [forward] Max Domi, a new player, he's young (23) but he has experience," Bergevin said. "[forward Brendan] Gallagher is young (26), [forward Jonathan] Drouin is young (23), [forward Artturi] Lehkonen is young (23), [forward Charles] Hudon is young (24), but they have experience in the NHL. So it's not just the [NHL Draft], we already have good young players.
"We already have young players in place so we're not getting rid of older players to bring in young players. We already have a core of young players who are growing together, so that's why I'm not ready to say we're rebuilding."
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Domi, who had 45 points (nine goals, 36 assists) in 82 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season, was acquired in a trade for center Alex Galchenyuk on June 15.
"I think his skill level still has room to grow but he's also a guy that is excited to be in Montreal, wants to be in a hockey market, and has a lot of character, grit in his game," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said of Domi. "And we want our fans to see a team that's going to be exciting to watch, that's going to compete hard every night and that's going to battle night in, night out. We want to create an identity that way. Max is certainly that player that comes to play and he plays hard every night, so we're excited to have him on board."
Gallagher had NHL career highs of 31 goals and 54 points in 82 games after missing time in each of the two previous seasons because of a broken hand.
Gallagher, along with defenseman Jeff Petry, who had 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games, and backup goaltender Antti Niemi, who was 7-5-4 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 19 games, performed well last season; most of the rest of the Canadiens underperformed.
Domi said he has faith the Canadiens have the elements to bounce back.
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"I mean top to bottom, you've got a general manager that's been a part of Stanley Cup teams and stuff, and you've got a coach that's won a Stanley Cup," Domi said. "And then you've got older guys, guys like [defenseman] Shea Weber, who's been a guy that I've been looking up to before I even played in the NHL. You've got the best goalie in the NHL (Carey Price), you've got guys like Brendan Gallagher … I mean, the list really goes on. You've got all the young kids coming up, and just to be a part of that and to fit in is going to be pretty special."
Montreal will begin the season without Weber, who will be out until mid-December because of knee surgery. Forward and captain Max Pacioretty, a five-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL who is entering the final season of a five-year contract, could be traded.
Tomas Plekanec, who had 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 77 games with the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs last season, was brought back on a one-year contract to shore up the center position; Drouin, who had 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists) in 77 games, is expected to remain at center despite Bergevin saying he believes Drouin is better suited to playing wing.
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The Canadiens added veteran depth: Forward Joel Armia, who had 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 79 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season, was acquired in a trade July 1, and defenseman Xavier Ouellet and forwards Matthew Peca, Kenny Agostino and Michael Chaput were signed as free agents.
"We know that we need some help up front," Julien said. "In the middle is probably the place we'd like to get stronger. We want to improve our back end, so there's a lot of things that we want to get better.
"I think it's more about finding those guys that will give us the identity of our team. … We've seen it in the past where there wasn't a salary cap and teams just loaded up on star players, they could never win. But then this year you see a team (the Vegas Golden Knights) that makes it to the [Stanley Cup Final] that just as a group played well together, and I'm a believer in that."