Tuesday, August 2, 2011

10 Hab Predictions for 2011-12

With the Montreal Canadiens roster appearing nearly set for the coming season, today we bring you 10 predictions as to how the Habs will fare this year. I'll begin with what I feel are the safer bets and move down towards the more bold assertions.

10) The Habs will be a top 3 powerplay team.

No big stretch here as the club has had a strong powerplay percentage the last few years, but with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty finally providing legitimate net-front presence, and a Markov - Subban duo at the point, the team's PP should look as good as it ever has in recent memory.

9) Carey Price will play 65+ games and finish in the top 5 in all of goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts.

Peter Budaj may have been a "starter" in Colorado, but that doesn't mean Price will get much more of a break. Budaj is inconsistent when forced to play much, so Carey will again be shouldering the load, and he should be expected to do so with success, earning a Vezina nomination at year's end. I could have added that he'll finish top 5 in games and minutes played as well, but I think that's more of a given than a prediction.

8) Andrei Markov will erase all off-season concerns about the length of his new contract.

Habs fans can be of the fickle "what have you done for me lately" type, and as such many forget just how dominant of a player a healthy Andrei Markov was. If the Canadiens' medical staff is confident in his recovery - which clearly they must be if they advised it would be ok to award him a 3-year deal - then we can expect big things from the man nicknamed Marky this season. James Wisniewski filled in admirably last year, but Markov has a much more complete game and is a true #1 d-man.

7) Lars Eller will establish himself as a capable top 6 player by mid-season.

Eller's play has polarized fans to an extent, with his glimpses of skill making some feel he'll be a star, and his lack of production making others question if he'll ever be more than a third liner. I tend to side with the former, and will his output may not be huge this season in a third line role, I am confident he will show that he is well prepared for top 6 duty if/when he is called upon. With added confidence and maturity, expect somewhat of a breakout year for the young Dane.

6) Louis Leblanc will spend the full year in Hamilton, while Andreas Engqvist, Rafael Diaz, Alexei Yemelin, Aaron Palushaj, and Mike Blunden all play at least 1 game for the Canadiens this season.

The Habs possess a strong group of near-NHL ready talent and a number of players will be knocking at the door to get ice time. Engqvist and/or Blunden may be penciled in to start the year on the team's fourth line, and Yemelin will be given every chance to succeed now that he's finally over in North America, but on the opposite end, Habs fans shouldn't expect too much from Louis Leblanc in his pro debut. Coming off off-season shoulder surgery, he will start out slow in Hamilton, but he will find his stride to be able to challenge for a job in 2012-13.

5) The Canadiens will win their first round playoff matchup.

Looking at moves made by the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, I have my concern about the Canadiens' chances this year, particularly if they don't address any holes on the blueline. But I see the club finishing somewhere in the 3-6 spots, meaning they should avoid the two East favourites in my eyes and be able to win a matchup against anyone else (including the Boston Bruins).

4) Scott Gomez will rebound with 50+ points and solid all-around play.

No, Gomez will not be dealt prior to the season opening, and he will provide the Canadiens with reliable services, battling hard at both ends of the rink and setting up his linemates like we all know he is capable of doing. With two strong powerplay units and a plethora of talented wingers, it shouldn't be hard for Scottie to put up points. But it will be his work ethic and determination that wins Montreal back over, even if everyone would still love to be rid of his cap hit.

3) Pierre Gauthier will be active at the trade deadline and land a "big fish" top 4 defenseman (who may or may not just be a rental).

As mentioned, there is some concern over the team's D coming into the season, but given that the rest of the team looks far better than it has in years, and that the club enters the year with over $5M in cap space, I expect Gauthier to address the hole by deadline time. The acquisition target is likely to be a pending UFA to leave some flexibility for the future, so it could be Barret Jackman, John-Michael Liles, Ryan Suter, Fedor Tyutin, or Johnny Oduya.

2) In his pre-UFA year, Andrei Kostitsyn will play with more physicality and consistency than Habs fans expect him to.

Many fans have Kostitsyn slated to start the year alongside Lars Eller on the team's third line, as the pair showed some nice chemistry last season. I expect a big season from the Belarussian forward, knowing that this is perhaps a last chance to show he still has more potential than his production of the last few years. I wouldn't guarantee bigger numbers given the question of where he will play, but I would bet he'll be a very valuable part of the time by throwing his weight around and contributing quality secondary scoring now that he'll get to exploit weaker defenses and fewer checking centers outside of the first 2 lines. And we all know how his skillset can exploit weak defenders.

1) The Habs will have two 30-goal scorers this season.

So here's the big one. The Canadiens have struggled to even have one player top the 30 mark for most of the last decade, but with the mix the team now has up front, I expect to see two players reach the mark. The smart money is likely on Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, but there are plenty of other possibilities, starting with Tomas Plekanec. Perhaps Erik Cole finds great chemistry and matches his career high set in 2005-06 (30). If you prorate Max Pacioretty's production of last year over a full 82 games, he was on pace for well over the mark as well. Or just maybe the aforementioned Kostitsyn finally puts it together and becomes what Alex Kovalev was to Montreal's powerplay in 2007-08. Either way, with this many weapons in the team's arsenal, two of them are likely to hit the mark.


jmhab said...

6) Louis Leblanc will spend the full year in Hamilton, while Andreas Engqvist, Rafael Diaz, Alexei Yemelin, Aaron Palushaj, and Mike Blunden all play at least 1 game for the Canadiens this season.

How much do you know about the team? I say this because you add Yemelin to that group almost as if he will be in Hamilton. If you didn't know, he has a special contract that if he can't play in the NHL he has a clause to go back in the KHL... Also it is odd that you think Philly will be an elite team in the east, Giroux and JVR are good but are not at Richards and Carter's level yet, and Pronger not %100 we can expect Philly to stuggle during some points of the season.

Dan K. said...

The list was simply young players/prospects who would play in Montreal this year. I am aware that Yemelin has an escape clause to the KHL. He is the safest bet from that group to play in Montreal this year, but he still isn't yet a guarantee.

As for Philadelphia, I have confidence in Ilya Bryzgalov being huge for them. Jakub Voracek will replace most of Carter's lost offense, and I expect a good rookie season from Brayden Schenn. Plus they still have Daniel Briere up front. My pick is Washington to win the conference, but I'd fear the Flyers as well.