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2017-2018 NHL Preview: Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens have built a strong core around Carey Price, how will Claude Julien fare in his first year back with his old team?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2017-2018 standings. Twentieth up are the Montreal Canadiens who are in their 107th season. Having won 24 Stanley Cups, the Candiens went a decade without winning for the first time between 2000-2010. They have made the playoffs 4 of the last 5 years.

Basic Stats:
2016-2017 NHL Standings: 7th
Eastern Conference Standings: 4th
Atlantic Division Standings: 1st
Goals for Rank: 15th
Goals against Rank: 4th

Overview: The Montreal Canadiens 2016-2017 season will forever be tied to the infamous Shea Weber for PK Subban trade, Montreal does better in the regular season but then loses in the first round to the Rangers and the Nashville Predators make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Will this year be a flip where the Canadiens go in as the low seed just steamrolling through the playoffs? A lot changed for them up front where they did not resign Alexander Radulov (18 goals, 36 assists, 2nd on the team in points) and traded for Jonathan Drouin (21 goals, 32 assists, 3rd on the Tampa Bay Lightning in points). The points are similar and the Canadiens hope the production level is at very least similar but potentially much higher. Drouin is a touted player who many think has not yet hit his ceiling. My guess is the team was slower and more physical last year and they are trying to transition into quicker and physical this year. Montreal was high in both hooking and holding calls last year. They invested more into the defense with the additions of Karl Alzner, David Schlemko and Mark Streit. All three are older and don't produce much but what they do is block shots and move the puck. This addition will help alleviate some pressure off Carey Price who has been phenomenal. The Canadiens were defensively sufficient allowing the 10th fewest shots in the league but bringing that number even lower helps the off season investment they made in Carey Price (6 years and $39MM). Given all of this, why am I bringing them down 5 spots? They solidified their defense, their travel and back to backs is actually down year over year (link below) and it comes down to three things.
1. Claude Julien tends to struggle offensively in his first year with a team. 2002-2003 Montreal, 2006-2007 New Jersey and 2007-2008 Boston Bruins all in the bottom ten in goals for per game.
2. Carey Price is 30 years old, he is still excellent but I think his best year back in 2014-2015 when he had 1.96 GAA and .933 is the peak of his career. Last year he had a 2.23 GAA with a .923 Sv %, I think he has a 2.26GAA with a .920 SV% this year and I wouldn't be surprised if the Canadiens look to give him more than 20 games off to avoid potential injury.
3. The Atlantic division was pretty bad last year, their 8 teams represented the (7th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 23rd, 25th and 26th teams in the NHL) this year I have them lined up as (7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 21st, 22nd, 26th, 29th) that's 4 teams in the top 12 vs. 2 last year. I bring this up because Montreal went 19-5-6 against the Atlantic division last year, I don't think it's that easy for them this year.

Major Additions
: Karl Alzner, Jonathan Drouin Ales Hemsky and Peter Holland
Major Subtractions: Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov

Prospects and Picks:
- Ryan Poehling. The 25th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Ryan  is a great skater with a quick shot, he just needs to mature both in his game and physically as he's just 185 points and 6'2. Ryan has seen success scoring across the U18 USA team. He will look to build off a good freshman campaign at St. Cloud State this year.

-Noah Juulsen. The 26th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Noah, as captain of the WHL Everett Silvertips, should see some time in the AHL with the St. John IceCaps. He's sound  in his position and reads the ice very well. He passes the puck well with a good shot. He's not the fastest skater and can be overtly physical to the point where he is penalized. He will have to work on these facets in the AHL but he has potential at cracking the Montreal Canadiens lineup if he shows success this year with the IceCaps.

Sleeper Fantasy Asset:
-Alex Galchenyuk. Playing just 61 games last year, he scored 44 points, good enough for 3rd most on the team. He will get a nod at top line minutes alongside Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher this year. The time from that along should bump him up at least a minute and a half on average per game, look for his scoring to go north of 55 points on added minutes and game played alone.

-Phillip Danault and/or Artturi Lehkonen (24 and 22 years old) might get a nod at top 6 minutes, it could be one or both or neither. It all depends on how well they adapt and whether either of them sees a sophomore slump. I think Phillip is a better two way player but Artturi is a more pure scorer so Phillip has better odds and fighting tooth and nail through slumps but Artturi could have a big night on the power play. Either way, keep your eye on both to see which (if either or both) score above 45 points this year).

Cap Situation:
They currently have around $8.5MM with 23 players signed.

Projected finish:
2017-2018 NHL Standings: 12th
Eastern Conference Standings: 7th
Atlantic Division: 4th

NHL 13th: New York Rangers (Eastern Conference 8th; Metropolitan Division 4th) 2017-2018-nhl-preview-new-york-rangers

NHL 14th: Calgary Hurricanes (Western Conference 6th; Pacific Division 3rd)

NHL 15th: Carolina Hurricanes (Eastern Conference 9th; Metropolitan Division 5th)

NHL 16th: San Jose Sharks (Western Conference 7th; Pacific Division 4th)

NHL 17th: Dallas Stars (Western Conference 8th; Central Division 4th)

NHL 18th: Philadelphia Flyers (Eastern Conference 10th; Metropolitan Division 6th)

NHL 19th: Winnipeg Jets (Western Conference 9th; Central Division 5th)

NHL 20th: St. Louis Blues (Western Conference 10th; Central Division 6th)

NHL 21st: Boston Bruins (Eastern Conference 11th; Atlantic Division 5th)

NHL 22nd: Buffalo Sabres (Eastern Conference 12th; Atlantic Division 6th)

NHL 23rd: Arizona Coyotes (Western Conference 11th; Pacific Division 5th)

NHL 24th: Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference 12th; Pacific Division 6th)

NHL 25th: New Jersey Devils (Eastern Conference 13th; Metropolitan Division 7th)

NHL 26th: Detroit Red Wings (Eastern Conference 14th; Atlantic Division 7th)

NHL 27th: New York Islanders (Eastern Conference 15th; Metropolitan Division 8th)

NHL 28th: Vancouver Canucks (Western Conference 13th; Pacific Division 7th)

NHL 29th: Florida Panthers (Eastern Conference 16th; Atlantic Division 8th)

NHL 30th: Las Vegas Golden Knights (Western Conference 14th; Pacific Division 8th)

NHL 31st: Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference 15th; Central Division 7th)