So, what are you expecting the Canadiens to look like next year? This summer is such a Fulcrum of Fortune when it comes to the Habs. There are so many unknowns, it's not possible to predict where the team might end up.
The one thing we do know is that there's a completely different feel around the franchise this summer compared to last. Around this time last year, we were excited about the draft, but even more excited that the team that had finished first in the East was in line to get even better. The Habs were in the hunt for Mats Sundin (we thought) and they'd traded their first-round draft pick for Alex Tanguay. The thought of what the first three lines would look like had us salivating enough to overlook the weaknesses on defence and the inexperience in goal. Our team was going to contend, damn it!
As we know, it didn't pan out that way. Neither did our expectations from two years ago pan out, when we were expecting a bubble team and got a conference champion. So, maybe it's a good thing we have no way to predict what next year's Habs will look like. Without great expectations, we're more likely to be happy with what we get...or at least not have such lofty heights from which to plummet.
Right now, my expectations are very, very low. Bob Gainey has a lot of money to spend, but he's got to use it to fill some pretty big slots on the team. As it stands, the Habs need an entire first line and a top-pairing defenceman...as well as a couple of reliable third or fourth-liners and some bottom-pairing D. Considering how difficult it is to get free agents to come to Montreal and that this year's crop of free agents isn't overloaded with top-tier talent, I'm not really expecting to fill many of those holes on the UFA market. I'm also not overly expectant of keeping all the current Habs who fill those positions at the moment. Gainey may not want to overpay in either money or term for players he doesn't envision playing major roles on the team past next season. Some of those players may just be sick of Montreal and want to play somewhere else for a change.
I see next year's Habs being a mix of the young core we already know...the Kostitsyns, Price, Halak, Plekanec, Gorges, Higgins, D'Agostini, O'Byrne, Latendresse, Lapierre and maybe Weber and Pacioretty...and veteran free agent players with some fatal flaw that keeps them from commanding top attention from the contending teams. We may see Kovalev back because Gainey can't replace him on the PP. Koivu or Tanguay or Komisarek may agree to re-sign for whatever reason (I'd guess reason number one would be because Gainey might be willing to overpay for them in the face of little interest in the Habs from better players.) Only one thing is fairly certain: the Bouwmeesters, Gaboriks, Sedins and Havlats of the world will not be playing in Montreal next season.
That's what I'm expecting to see on the ice, but that's where the expectations stop. I have no clue how they'll do in action. I have to think Plekanec, Higgins, Kostitsyn and Price will be better than they were last year. That'll help. But whether whichever players Gainey finds to fill the other holes will be good enough to win is anybody's guess.
So, I'm not going to expect anything. If they win, great. It'll be like two years ago when we were so pleasantly surprised by the team's great showing in the regular season. That was fun to watch because we didn't think it would happen. If they don't win, well, we weren't expecting them to anyway.
In the meantime, while I'm not expecting anything, I find I'm watching Gainey's moves with interest. It's kind of relaxing, really. I spent last summer impatiently wishing for the season...the Centennial in which the Habs would dominate the East...to start. This year, it's back to enjoying the nice weather, the barbeques, the long evenings and the absence of hand-wringing over hockey. It's good. When the season starts, I'll be watching with avid interest. But I'm not expecting a Cup. Or even a playoff berth. That way, whatever we get will be a surprise. With any luck, it'll be a pleasant one.