Pacioretty Briere

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

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Added: Danny Briere, George Parros, Douglas Murray
Subtracted: Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Yannick Weber

The Canadiens are going to be good

Few teams in the league are going to be able to hang with the depth of this squad. They’re coming off a year where they finished second in the Eastern Conference, and they’re only about to get better. Their forward depth is staggering. From Max Pacioretty (among the league’s top even-strength goal scorers over the past few years), to Tomas Plekanec (he of multiple 20+ goal seasons), to Brian Gionta (he of multiple 20+ goal seasons, including a 48-goal campaign), to Danny Briere (he of multiple 30+ goal seasons), to David Desharnais (on pace for 20 in a shortened season last year), to the 24-year-old Lars Eller (who’s been close to 20 and started with two last night), to Rene Bourque (he of multiple 20+ goal seasons), and on down to young super rookies like Alex Galchenyuk (27 points in 48 rookie games) and Brendan Gallagher (15 goals in 44 rookie games). I mean, isn’t that ridiculous? You can basically put talent like that in any order and offense is going to happen. They’re supported by workhorses like Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Ryan White when things need to get gritty.

They’ve got a world class goaltender in Carey Price, who has a real shot of backstopping Team Canada in the upcoming Olympics, and he plays behind the defending Norris Trophy winner in the form of hard-shooting, hard-hitting, hard-playing PK Subban. Andrei Markov is also on the back-end and he’s healthy: the last time we’ve said that about him, he put up 58 and 64 points in full-seasons. They’ve got toughness in Alexei Emelin, they’ve got reliability in Josh Gorges…they kind of have it all. There’s no reason to think this won’t be one of the best teams in hockey this season.

 The Canadiens are going to be bad

That was really cute that the writer above mentioned the stats of guys who are in such steep career decline you’d think their carabiners broke mid-rappel. And when small players lose a step, woo-boy, that means they’re now just “small players.” Not like “elusive,” or “slippery,” or anything, just…small. I’m talking about Danny Briere, and I’m talking about Brian Gionta. They’ve lost so many steps you’d think someone stole their ladders. The rest of the support scoring is the type of average NHL forward that serves as the pinata for teams with real top-end talent. Galchenyuk and Gallagher are still too green to qualify as anything near next level, so seriously, you’re looking at an average group of forwards here held down by a few semi-thuggish forwards.

After the two pretty offensive baubles on defense (and Markov’s had so many injuries you can expect a huge drop off), you’d be lying to call that d-corps above average. Carey Price is coming off one of the worst seasons of any regular NHL goaltender, and the team is 0-1 on the heels of his .895 last night. If he has another season like last year, this team could be worse than bad. They could be brutal.

Flippant barstool prediction:

They look like a road team in playoffs to me.

The Numbers:

The Montreal Canadiens didn’t end up with the 2nd seed in the East last year by accident. They put pucks in nets, partially because they generated 30.6 shots per game (9th in the league). They also had the league’s 5th best powerplay (20.7%) and they were 6th-best at 5-on-5 (with a goals for/against ration of 1.25), which all translated to them putting up the fourth-most goals-per-game (3.04 a night). Hell, they even kept shots down at the other end (26.9 per night, 5th overall). If they could’ve gotten their PK figured out (79.8%, 23rd overall) they might have eked out a couple more points.

Okay, but seriously:

There is a lot of offensive depth on the roster, and they are going to score goals. I doubt anyone will be on page one of the NHL’s scoring leaderboard, but there’s enough skill in the lineup that they’ll be in the top half of the league offensively. From there, it’s a matter of keeping pucks out. They did a good job limiting shots last season, so if they can accomplish that again, I see them being a playoff team. The only real issue to me is that they don’t seem like a tough group to play. Not just because they’re small, they just seem to lack an edge. A healthy Markov and a solid bounce-back year from Carey Price would go a long way. But being that I see them as a road playoff team, that means they’re only a few bad breaks from falling on the wrong side of the playoff picture.

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