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Canadiens putting last season's success behind them

by Sean Farrell / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

From the perspective of general manager Marc Bergevin, the Montreal Canadiens are starting with a clean slate despite an extremely successful 2013-14 season that culminated with a run to the Eastern Conference Final.

A six-game loss to the New York Rangers left Montreal achingly close to the team's first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final in 21 years. While Bergevin is proud of his team's accomplishments, his thoughts are focused on the upcoming season.

"We're back to square one now," Bergevin said. "Even though we reached the conference final, it means nothing. It doesn't mean that we start ahead of everybody else other than the Rangers. [The] Washington [Capitals] will be better. I'm going to go all those teams. They're all going to be better. They're all going to try to beat us, so our first goal … is to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. That's reality.

PROJECTED LINEUP

FORWARDS
M. Pacioretty D. Desharnais PA Parenteau
R. Bourque T. Plekanec J. Sekac
A. Galchenyuk L. Eller B. Gallagher
B. Prust M. Malhotra D. Wiese
Extras:
M. Bournival
T. Moen
DEFENSEMEN
A. Emelin P.K. Subban
A. Markov T. Gilbert
N. Beaulieu M. Weaver
Extra: J. Tinordi
GOALIES
C. Price
P. Budaj
Extra: D. Tokarski

"And you can look around the League; you have a bad stretch [and] you could miss the playoffs. That's just the way it is. There are good teams last year that did not make the playoffs, so it's a tough task just to make it. And once you're in anything is possible. We said it but we saw it last year with our team."

Turnover in the leadership group leaves Montreal without a captain for the second time in six seasons. Former captain Brian Gionta left as a free agent to sign with the Buffalo Sabres and alternate captain Josh Gorges was traded to Buffalo. As a result, Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien decided to name four alternate captains, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban; the latter two will take turns as the third alternate throughout the season.

The decision to go without a captain this season also leaves room for No. 1 goalie Carey Price to expand his leadership role.

"It's definitely part of the role I play," Price said. "The starting goalie is always regarded as a leader on the team and it's just part of the position. I think the guys that we have selected as alternate captains are great selections."

Pacioretty caught some flak, notably from Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur, for his playoff production, which included five goals and six assists in 17 games. Such is life in the Montreal fishbowl, where expectations rise exponentially when one scores a career-high 39 goals and a team-leading 60 points during the regular season.

HABS AMONG FANTASY TOP 275

The 2014-15 season is drawing closer by the day, so NHL.com has you covered with all the fantasy hockey advice you'll need on draft day.

Below are Montreal Canadiens players who qualified for NHL.com's top 275 fantasy list. Each player's aggregate spot was determined by averaging the individual rankings of Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen and Matt Sitkoff. Also listed are each player's Yahoo position eligibility and any offseason NHL.com fantasy content that breaks down projected value for 2014-15.

16. P.K. Subban, D (No. 1 defenseman)

28. Carey Price, G (Top 50 breakdown)

38. Max Pacioretty, LW (Specialist)

144. Andrei Markov, D (Mock draft analysis)

163. Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C (Cubeta's sleeper)

180. Brendan Gallagher, RW

208. PA Parenteau, RW (Injury rebound)

209. David Desharnais, C

226. Tomas Plekanec, C

The 25-year-old left wing didn't lose sleep over the criticism. He's more concerned with developing his all-around game.

"I've been able to expand my game and contribute in other areas and I'm looking to do so even more this year," Pacioretty said. "It was definitely rewarding to get on the penalty kill and to play at times a defensive role as the game went on, but I feel like there's still room for improvement in that area of my game and it's definitely really rewarding when you don't just contribute offensively so I hope to expand my game to that area as well."

Pacioretty and center David Desharnais have good chemistry together and newcomer Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau is an early favorite to line up on right wing on the top line.

"He's a smart guy," Desharnais said of Parenteau, who was acquired in a trade that sent veteran forward Daniel Briere to the Colorado Avalanche. "He makes plays, he's patient with the puck. And that's always a good combination with me and Max."

Alex Galchenyuk is getting an opportunity to show what he can do at center, his natural position, during training camp, but Therrien likely will continue to use the 20-year-old at left wing after stating that he is happy with Desharnais, Plekanec, Lars Eller and newcomer Manny Malhotra in the middle.

"That's a good thing for us because every team in the NHL, they're looking for centermen," Therrien said. "And there's a lot of things that happen during the course of a season, injuries and all those types of stuff. If you have the luxury to have a center who plays wing that you can move and it doesn't hurt your lineup, great. And this is the way we see it right now."

Malhotra, who signed a one-year, $850,000 contract in free agency, is lining up between left wing Brandon Prust and right wing Dale Weise on the Canadiens' energy line.

Czech rookie Jiri Sekac will be given every opportunity to play right wing with Plekanec, but he'll have to battle Michael Bournival, Travis Moen and Rene Bourque for ice time up front.

Gorges' departure frees up a spot on the left side for Alexei Emelin to return to his natural position. The 28-year-old Russian likely will start the season paired with P.K. Subban, who signed an eight-year, $72-million contract on Aug. 2.

"Over the past four years I've played with different guys and he's a great player," Subban said of Emelin. "I don't think he gets enough credit for his mobility and his puck movement and his offensive side. He's a fun guy to play with because he moves the puck well and we communicate extremely well out there and it's fun, so we don't know what the [defense] pairings are going to be to start the season but I'm just going to work hard to try and make sure to build as much chemistry as I can with whoever I'm playing with."

SUMMER MOVES

ADDITIONS: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, F (trade, Avalanche); Manny Malhotra, C (free agent, Hurricanes); Tom Gilbert, D (free agent, Panthers), Jiri Sekac, F (free agent, KHL)

SUBTRACTIONS: Brian Gionta, F (free agent, Sabres); Josh Gorges, D (trade, Sabres); Daniel Briere, F (trade, Avalanche); Thomas Vanek, F (free agent, Wild), Ryan White, F (free agent, Flyers); Louis Leblanc, F (trade, Ducks); Douglas Murray, D (free agent); George Parros, F (free agent)

PROMOTION CANDIDATES: Nathan Beaulieu, D; Jarred Tinordi, D; Greg Pateryn, D; Magnus Nygren, D; Sven Andrighetto, F; Christian Thomas, F; Gabriel Dumont, F; Jacob De La Rose, F

Markov is on board with the team's decision to go with four alternate captains for its leadership group after he was passed over for the captaincy for a second time.

"I don't see any problem with that," Markov said. "Everybody on this team has to provide their leadership. If you want to be successful you need 23 guys to be like a captain. You have to step on the ice and do your best for the team. That's what I see."

The 35-year-old Russian was paired early in training camp with free-agent signee Tom Gilbert.

"Last year I got a chance to play with Brian Campbell," said Gilbert, who left the Florida Panthers to sign a two-year, $5.6 million contract with Montreal. "He's a guy that gets up and down the ice a lot and they've got similar qualities. They both move the puck well. They both log a lot of ice and play in every kind of situation in the game."

Mike Weaver earned a $1.75 million contract with his performance after he was acquired from Florida on March 4. Prospects Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn are competing for the final spots on defense along with veteran Francis Bouillon, who is in camp on a professional tryout agreement.

Price has recovered from the hyperextended right knee he sustained in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final. That is great news for the Canadiens, who count on one of the elite goalies in the League to play the majority of their games.

While Price's good health locks him in as Montreal's unquestioned No. 1 goalie, the backup situation has become an issue.

Peter Budaj was passed over in favor of Dustin Tokarski after Price was injured in the playoffs. Tokarski had a 2.38 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 41 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

"I'm going to try and focus on what I have to do and I'm sure all the other goalies involved are going to do the same thing," Price said. "Spots are up for grabs no matter who it is. I'm going to be fighting to keep my job. You know, there's always going to be somebody trying to bump me from my spot so that's the nature of training camp. You come in and try to prove yourself worthy of your position."

Budaj is entering the final season of a two-year contract. The 32-year-old Slovak went 10-8-3 with a 2.51 goals-against-average and .909 save percentage in 24 games last season.

"That's just how competitive this sport is," Price said. "There's draft picks, there's free agent signings, that's just the nature of the beast. [Budaj] has been an unbelievable guy in the locker room. He's been a great friend of mine and it doesn't matter who you are, you're going to have to fight for your spot."

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