Additions notables: Mathieu Dandenault, D (FA - DET); Radek Bonk, C (T - OTT); Cristobal Huet, G (T - LA); Johnathan Aitken, D (FA - VAN); Peter Vandermeer, LW (FA - DET); Mark Streit, D (FA - Europe); Alexander Perezhogin, LW/RW (D - 2001, 1/25); Andrei Kostitsyn, RW/LW (D - 2003, 1/20); Tomas Plekanec, C/LW (D - 2001, 3/71)
Pertes notables: Patrice Brisebois, D (FA - COL); Stéphane Quintal, D (T - LA); Mathieu Garon, G (T - LA); Yanic Perrault, C (FA); Jim Dowd, C (FA - CHI); Joé Juneau, C/LW (Retired); Karl Dykhuis, D (FA - Europe); Jason Ward, RW (FA - NYR); Darren Langdon, LW (FA - NJ); Gavin Morgan, C (FA - Europe)
Joueurs notables non signés: None
Ailiers et Centres: If the new rules the League has put in place truly open the game up for faster, smaller and more skilled players, the Habs may be one of the biggest surprises in 2005-06. Their top line of Richard Zednik, Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev doesn't have great (or even very good) size, but more than makes up for it in speed, skill and toughness. The shifty Zednik is a classic sniper (complete with the maddening cold streaks), Koivu is a great playmaker and an inspirational leader, and Kovalev, when he wants to be, is as talented with the puck as any player in the League. Behind the top line the Canadiens boast the youthful tandem of 2003-04 Calder Trophy runner-up Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro, who led the team in scoring in the last NHL season. Bonk will replace Perrault in centering the third line, with checker Niklas Sundstrom on his wing. Jan Bulis, Marcel Hossa and Pierre Dagenais will also see time on the time three lines, as might one or more of the rookies. The Canadiens were in the middle of the NHL in goals per game in 2003-04, but should be able to take advantage of the cut down on obstruction and some of the other new rules and inch up towards the top 10 in 2005-06.
Défenseurs: Who will Canadiens fans whistle at now that Patrice Breeze-by is gone? Truth be told, Brisebois was never as bad as Habs fans would have you believe (ok, maybe he was in 2000-01 when he was a horrendous minus 31), but his passive style frustrated the team and fans alike. Despite (or in spite of) the boo birds, Brisebois was actually second among Canadien blueliners in points and led all Habs in plus/minus in 2003-04. The losses of Brisebois and Quintal open the door for youngsters Mike Komisarek (the seventh overall pick in the 2001 draft) and Ron Hainsey (13th overall in 2000) to see increased minutes and, for Canadiens fans, hopefully develop into a poor man's Scott Stevens/Scott Niedermayer duo for years to come. The Habs will rely most heavily on their top two defensemen, Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov, to play big minutes in all situations. Souray enjoyed a breakout year in 2003-04 that was unfortunately cut short by a knee injury. The inconsistent Markov is just two seasons removed from his best NHL campaign, and will look to regain that form. Dandenault and Craig Rivet will likely fill out the defense on a nightly basis. The Canadiens lack a true number one defenseman and could use another big hitter, but if Komisarek and Hainsey put it together, the group will be just fine.
Gardiens: See "Team Preview: Florida Panthers." Theodore proved in 2003-04 that his 2001-02, in which he won both the Vezina and Hart trophies, was no fluke, despite a relatively horrific 2002-03. In fact, Theodore actually won three more games in 2003-04 than in his career year of 2001-02. Now the Laval, Quebec native is seeking a long-term deal, believed to be for five years at around $5.5 million per year, and the Canadiens don't want to give it to him. So it appears that Theodore will sign a one-year deal and then walk at season's end. If that is the case, look for the classic French-Canadian butterfly goalie to be extremely motivated and to again post big numbers. For some goalies, a contract situation like this could be a distraction, but probably not for Theodore, a man who had a great 2003-04 despite the ongoing criminal investigations and indictments of six of his family members. Theodore will be backed up by Huet, a decent (and cheap) enough backup.
Résultat: Montreal finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and then, thanks almost entirely to Theodore, upset arch-rival Boston in the first round of the playoffs. The Habs were no match for Tampa Bay in the second round, but the team has undoubtedly taken a lot away from the experience. The Canadiens should return to the playoffs in 2005-06, and could be just a forward and a couple of defensemen away from being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Update (9/2): The Habs have signed Theodore to a three-year deal. The goaltenders preview above should now read: "Theodore's really good and happy."