A Quick Look at All the NHL Teams for the 2008-09 Season

A great source for sports information is TSN, Canada’s original sports channel. They are currently running a series that will give you insight into each team in the NHL. For the complete article on Montreal and all the NHL teams go to www.tsn.ca

With the puck dropping on a new NHL season this Saturday, TSN.ca presents ’30 Teams In 30 Days,’ a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen’s fantasy analysis. The focus is now on Canada’s six NHL teams, and it continues today with the Montreal Canadiens.

Ever since their inception into professional hockey 99 years ago, there has always been high expectations for the Canadiens…

Now take those expectations and multiply it by 10 this year. With hockey’s most storied franchise set to play its 100th season and celebrate its centennial in 2009, there is no better way to mark the festivities than raising banner No. 25 next October.

Is that asking for too much? Absolutely not.

Heading into 2007-08, the Canadiens – who were expected to be years away from contending – proved everyone wrong by finishing the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And while the team went through a roller-coaster playoff run that ended with a second-round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, they are¬†expected to challenge for the Cup with one of the league’s youngest and most talented lineups.

The Drive For 25 is alive.

General Manager: Bob Gainey (5th season)
Head Coach: Guy Carbonneau (3rd season)
2007-08 Record: 47-25-10 (1st in Conference)
Points Leader: Alex Kovalev – 84
Goals Leader: Alex Kovalev – 35
Assists Leader: Mark Streit – 49
PIM Leader: Tom Kostopoulos – 113
Plus/Minus Leader: Alex Kovalev – 18
PP Goals Leader: Alex Kovalev – 17
SH Goals Leader: Tom Kostopoulos – 3

What they did: Going into the offseason, Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey wanted to address two improvements for his lineup – a tough and physical presence to protect his skilled players and a big centre with a right-handed shot. The first need was quickly addressed with Georges Laraque, who signed a three-year contract with his hometown team …

What to watch for: The Canadiens were among the league’s fastest and most skilled offensive teams last season and should only get better with the addition of Tanguay. The Quebec native, who struggled in a defensive role under Mike Keenan, has a better opportunity to showcase his playmaking skills alongside captain Saku Koivu. Last season, Alex Kovalev stood above everyone as Montreal’s most valuable player, leading the team in scoring and being an on-ice mentor for his teammates. However, the 35-year-old has been an enigma for most of his career, putting in great performances one year and following it up with lackluster efforts the next. So which Kovalev will we see this season? …

Gainey took a big gamble at last year’s trade deadline when he sent veteran goaltender Cristobal Huet to Washington and annointed 20-year-old Carey Price as the new No. 1. And Price didn’t disappoint, finishing the regular season with a 24-12-3 record and a .920 save percentage. While the league’s top young netminder struggled in the postseason, he’s back in better shape and appears ready to handle the rigors of a full NHL campaign. The Habs also have a solid youngster in Jaroslav Halak, who was arguably the AHL’s top goalie before being called up as a full-time backup last March. Halak should continue to push Price for playing time, but the addition of Marc Denis could make the 23-year-old Slovakian expendable at some point this season.

Parting Shot: This season may be Montreal’s best chance to make a run for a championship, only because there could be considerable changes to the lineup next summer. Kovalev, Tanguay, Lang, Komisarek and captain Saku Koivu will all be eligible to test the open market, while Higgins, Plekanec and Guillaume Latendresse will become restricted free agents. Depending on this year’s performance and what the salary cap looks like next July, next year’s team could look¬†quite different with one or two key players out of the equation. But that doesn’t mean Gainey isn’t prepared. In five years as general manager, the former Habs great has done something that hasn’t been seen in Montreal since the days of Sam Pollock and Frank Selke – assemble a legitimate Cup contender while developing a rich pool of young players waiting in the wings.