How tough are times in Montreal? The NHL's most storied franchise
is for sale, and no one is rushing to buy a team that has won a
record 24 Stanley Cups. Once upon a time, every game in the the
Forum was a sellout and the waiting list for seats stretched to
Atwater Street. Now, Pierre Boivin, the team's new president,
laments that with a capacity of 21,273, the Molson Centre is too
big to sell out 41 times a season. After missing the playoffs the
last two years, the club knew that changes had to be made, and
they were. The only problem is that the Canadiens' three major
off-season acquisitions--Guy Carbonneau, Pierre Mondou and Andre
Savard--all work in the front office.
In 1999-2000 Alain Vigneault was a finalist for coach of the
year, guiding his undermanned team to a 23-11-4-3 record in the
second half. He accomplished that despite the lengthy absences of
forwards Saku Koivu, Trevor Linden and Brian Savage and
defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, all of whom contributed to the
league-high 536 man-games lost to injury.
"What will it take to make the playoffs?" asks Linden, who missed
50 games with a variety of injuries. "Keep Saku in the lineup.
Keep Savage in the lineup. Last year our goaltending was good,
our defense was good, we just didn't score enough goals. The key
is keeping our guys healthy."
The 5'8", 181-pound Koivu has proved to be a point-a-game center
when he plays, but he hasn't put in a full season since his
rookie year, in 1995-96. Savage, who had 17 goals, missed 44
games because of fractured neck vertebrae. Compounding last
season's difficulties is that in the off-season the team lost
hard-nosed wing Shayne Corson to free agency and dealt rugged
wing Turner Stevenson.
The Canadiens were sound defensively as goalies Jeff Hackett
(.919 save percentage) and Jose Theodore (.914) combined for
eight shutouts and the NHL's fifth-best goals-against average
(2.34). "You can't afford to get caught up in scoring more goals,
because before you know it you're also allowing more goals," says
Linden. "We have to choose an identity and go with it."
For years the identity of the Canadiens was as clear as fresh
ice: winners. Alas, there's no reason to believe it can restore
that image this year.
Dainius Zubrus led the Canadiens with 28 assists last season--the
lowest total to top Montreal since 1950-51, when Doug Harvey,
Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard tied for team honors with 24.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 23 Few scorers besides Savage and
DEFENSE 17 Not a lot of quality or depth on
GOALTENDING 8 Hackett is one of the NHL's
SPECIAL TEAMS 14 Penalty killing, led by Darby and
Poulin, is strong
MANAGEMENT 26 Poor drafts and trades have decimated