Following a disappointing 2015-16 season in which the Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs thanks to an early-season Carey Price injury, Montreal found themselves back atop the Atlantic Division last season, only to be bounced in the first-round of the postseason.
After starting the season 31-19-8 the Canadiens elected to fire their head coach of four and half seasons (Michel Therrien) and bring back Claude Julien, who was fired in favour of Bruce Cassidy in Boston earlier in the year. Julien, who was with Montreal from 2003 until midway through the 2006 season, led the Habs to a 16-7-1 record down the stretch. After he took over, the Canadiens were tied for fifth in the NHL in points (33) and gave up the second fewest goals (50) over that span. However, unimpressively they were 24th in power-play percentage (14.3) and tied for 25th in goals for, so there was some some bad with all of the good.
Using 2015-16 as evidence, it’s obvious that this franchise is heavily dependant on Price’s play and health. Last year he wasn’t quite in his 2014-15 MVP form, but was able to finish tied for fifth in the NHL in wins (37), tied for sixth in GAA (2.23) and tied for seventh in SV% (.923). Entering 2017-18, expect nothing short of a top-5 fantasy goalie season and he is as reliable of a crease-guarding option as you will find on draft day.
After enjoying a lot of success as Price’s backup last year, Al Montoya is back for his second tour of duty in Montreal and he hopes to replicate a campaign that saw him be one of the safer spot-start options in daily leagues. Of goalies with at least 40 starts over the last two seasons, Montoya quietly ranks tied for 14th in GAA (2.40) and tied for 22nd in SV% (.916).
Prior to last season the Canadiens made a huge splash in the trade market by sending P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber and this offseason was no different. While many questioned the Subban-Weber deal from a Montreal perspective, it seems more are in favour of them acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Getting the hometown winger didn’t come cheap either though. Montreal sent 2016 No.9 overall pick Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional second-round pick to the Lightning in exchange for Drouin and a 2018 sixth-round selection. While the Subban trade was a little puzzling, this one is a little more explainable. Montreal was in desperate need of a game-breaking talent and a potential first-line centre because Alex Galchenyuk just wasn’t meeting the franchise’s standards.
Drouin spent the majority of his time in Tampa Bay on the wing, but he is expected to start his time in Montreal as their No.1 pivot with Max Pacioretty on his left and fellow offseason acquisition Ales Hemsky on his right. The former No.3 overall pick is coming off of 21 goals and 32 assists (53 points) last season, but an increased role and a full season next to Pacioretty could lead to a 20-goal, 40-assist season for the 22-year-old. The addition of Drouin also helps Pacioretty, who has led the Canadiens in goals for the last five seasons and points during the last six years. The 28-year-old has become one of the most reliable fantasy wingers over that stretch, missing just 19 games in six years and averaging 35 goals and 32 assists (67 points) per 82 games. Hemsky owns in incredible puck skills and playmaking ability, giving him a lot of sleeper value this season. The veteran will have to avoid the injury bug he’s had trouble with in season’s past and fend off second-year forward Artturi Lehkonen for first-line minutes.
That’s enough about the Habs’ top-line, because the rest of their top-9 possesses a solid amount of fire power as well. Galchenyuk’s struggles down the middle have been well documented but the American-born forward still brings a lot offence to the table. He had trouble with injuries a season ago, but during the last three seasons is he averaging a healthy 25 goals and 29 assists (54 points) per 82 games and could get back to 30 goals (2015-16) if he gets back above 200 shots. Philip Danault was a pleasant surprise for the Canadiens last season and appears locked in as the No.2 centre and could see his point totals improve if Julien elects to use him on the power-play more frequently—averaged just 0:37 PP TOI/GM last year. Injuries have forced Brendan Gallagher to miss 47 games over the last two years, which has led to people forgetting about the 25-year-old. Aside from the injury woes, Gallagher has a lot of hidden value. He has a 54.6 CorsiFor% and 6.0 Relative CorsiFor% during his career while averaging 241.6 shots per 82 games over the last four seasons. Had he stayed healthy, his shot volume would have been tied with Jeff Carter for 15th in the NHL over that time. With that many shots, Gallagher only needs to shoot at 8.3% to get to 20 goals and he has a career 9.2 shooting percentage, so I like him for closer to 25 if he stays in the lineup.
On the third line, Tomas Plekanec is still kicking around but offers little in terms of fantasy upside. Lehkonen is one of my favourite late-round targets this year, because he has electric talent and the potential to see a big uptick in playing time. Hemsky has had a hard time staying healthy and Lehkonen would look really good on that top-line with Pacioretty and Drouin. Even a slight bump in usage could see the Finnish-winger approach 200 shots and 20-plus goals. Lastly, Charles Hudon has been turning heads in training camp and seems to be a lock to make the team in October at this point. He has scored 27 and 28 goals with 20-plus assists in back-to-back AHL seasons and should be a target in deep keeper/dynasty leagues.
Despite there being some questions about Montreal bringing in Weber last year, there’s no denying his fantasy success. Everyone knows about his lethal shot and he has used it to score the second-most goals (75) among defensemen over the last four seasons. Weber can be counted on to be in the lineup every night, eat up big minutes and post strong offensive numbers. Outside of the Weber, the Canadiens’ blueline is a bit of a question mark. They did a lot to try and answer some questions back there this summer, but they may have swung and missed. A lot of NHL fans were hoping their team would avoid overpaying Karl Alzner, but the Habs inked the blueliner to a five-year, $23.125M deal this summer. He will likely log huge minutes next to Weber, but doesn’t offer a lot in terms of offence.
They also signed Mark Streit and Joe Morrow, along with acquiring David Schlemko via trade. Schlemko is underrated and should help their third-pair, but Streit will be hard-pressed to replace Andrei Markov, who the Canadiens let walk this summer. Since 2012-13, Markov ranked sixth among defensemen in power-play points (98) and tied for 11th in PPGs (19). The Streit signing might have been a good one a few years ago, but his game is deteriorating.
The Canadiens have a very “boom or bust” look about them this season, but they are a playoff team as long as Price is healthy. If Drouin can carry the duties of a No.1 centre, this team can be dangerous but they’re still only the fourth or fifth best team in the Eastern Conference.
Fantasy Rankings (Top 350)
- Carey Price-#9 (#2 G)
- Shea Weber-#31 (#4 D)
- Max Pacioretty-#41 (#7 LW)
- Alex Galchenyuk-#76 (#21 C)
- Jonathan Drouin-#84 (#14 RW)
- Brendan Gallagher-#149 (#30 RW)
- Jeff Petry-#260 (#63 D)
- Philip Danault-#290 (#68 C)
- Artturi Lehkonen-#295 (#56 LW)
- Tomas Plekanec-#336 (#74 C)
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