It's the eve of the Carbonator era for the Montreal Canadiens. Fans can't wait to see how the former captain will tackle his new role as a head coach in the NHL.
Can Guy Carbonneau efficiently impose his leadership -- and his will to win -- so the Red-White-and-Blue achieve a greater season than the last?
Here's a list of 10 things Carbonneau has to accomplish as he launches into his oh-so-demanding new role with the Habs:
WIN EARLY ON
The pressure will be strong at the outset. The competition promises to be fierce between Eastern Conference teams and it'll be crucial for the Flying Frenchmen to avoid making a bad start. Montreal did start last season with a bang, going 13-3-3 their first 19 games. But despite this rocket-fast start, they had to put in all their spare change to finish seventh in the Eastern -- three measly points ahead of Toronto and Atlanta, who didn't make it to the season-end showcase.
Carbonneau won't have a choice but to make optimal use of his players to finish the season full force and they'll have to be at the top of their game at the start of the playoffs. Many were exhausted at the end of the season -- among others, Mike Ribeiro didn't score when it really mattered (not one goal in the playoffs). The Habs must make sure they become better as a team in the second half. Carbonneau must find a way to lead a stable group able to win consistently, as opposed to one that performs in spurts.
THE FIRST SERIES OF DEFEATS
If the team goes through a difficult period, such as the one that cost Claude Julien his job last winter, how will the new head coach react? Will Carbonneau be able to keep calm when things don't go as planned and when analysts start to question his decisions or pounce on his mistakes? We believe so. The man has seen it rain a few times.
STAY TRUE TO HIMSELF
Carbonneau was a great hockey player because he put all of his heart into his game. It's crucial this does not change -- that he remain true to himself as a head coach. He must not let GM Bob Gainey influence him when the time comes to make a difficult decision. He has to be the boss. Carbonneau already has earned the respect of his team, but he has to make sure he doesn't lose it.
GENERATE MORE OFFENCE
Although they're not viewed as a powerhouse, one of Carbonneau's challenges will be to generate more offence this season. Analyst Dany Dube rightly stressed that 2-1 and 3-2 games were stressful in the long run, especially for goalies. It's imperative the team be able to count on at least two lines that score regularly. Ribeiro has to be more productive. Everyone expects the Carbonator to handle Ribeiro. It's make-or-break time this year for the Portugal-born forward.
KOVALEV MORE CONSISTENT
Alex Kovalev is one of the most talented players on the team, but his main flaw is he takes too many nights off. Can his new head coach make him a more consistent player? Here's another tricky challenge. The Russian topped team scoring last season with 65 points, but has enough talent for an extra 15 or 20 points, especially with the more open game brought about by the new NHL.
MANAGE GOALIE SITUATION
Cristobal Huet and David Aebischer both want the No. 1 spot. This situation is quite the reverse of the Jose Theodore years. How can Carbonneau handle this smoothly? Chances are keeping two No. 1 goalies happy won't be easy.
GET MARKOV OUT OF HIS SHELL
Will Carbonneau succeed in helping defenceman Andrei Markov get out of his shell? That's a tall order -- the Russian is as closed as an oyster. The defensive squad, that will have to do without Francis Bouillon at the start, needs a Markov who performs at full speed. Nothing less than an outstanding is expected, this being the last year of his contract. Same applies to Craig Rivet and Sheldon Souray. All three will be eligible for full free agent status next July.
TRANSITION FROM ASSISTANT COACH
Since assistant coaches play a completely different role, they usually enjoy a closer relationship with the players, who confide things to them they wouldn't to the head coach. Carbonneau must make a smooth transition from his former task. Even if the door to his office is always open, he must maintain some distance to fully establish his authority.
Finally, one big challenge Carbonneau faces is being patient. In all honesty, the Stanley Cup likely won't make its famous downtown Montreal parade in June.