Winning for Habs no small feat

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

If somebody wanted to make some money this fall, all they had to do was be the supplier for the "Hello, my name is ..." tags for the Montreal Canadiens organization. New owners, new coach and about half the roster turned over.

Gone are many faces of the franchise: Captain Saku Koivu, winger Alexei Kovalev, front-line defenceman Mike Komisarek and winger Chris Higgins and veterans Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Patrice Brisebois, Tom Kostopoulos, Mathieu Schneider, Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon.

GM Bob Gainey chose to completely remake the face of the Canadiens in the off-season when he had the contracts of half the roster expiring and the team coming off a very disappointing centennial season in which the expectation was to contend for the Stanley Cup, but ended with a meek, first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

Enter the likes of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen up front and Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara on the blue line. Coach Jacques Martin was brought in to take over behind the bench after Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau late last season and took the team down the stretch and into the playoffs himself. All the new parts and personalities in this revamped franchise will have to come together quickly to keep Gainey from losing his big gamble.

Sun Media recruited an Eastern Conference executive and a pro scout to break down this year's Habs.

Forwards

The knock on the Habs in recent memory has been their lack of size up front, so given the chance to go in a different direction, Gainey went out and ... signed a whole bunch of small guys. The big question with these guys is if they can get back to playing at the level they did a few years ago. Gomez, Gionta ... their numbers have been going in the wrong direction.

Cammalleri is coming off a great year, but he also had a great year a couple of years ago and slipped badly the next year, so what's it going to be with him? It's tough to see these guys competing against the Bruins and the Leafs on a regular basis this year because of their size. They've got like no size on their first two lines unless they play Moen up there. They are also going to need kids like (Guillaume) Latendresse, (Matt) D'Agostini and (Max) Pacioretty to step up and give them scoring support and there's no sure bet in that bunch.

DEFENCE

Markov is a legitimate No. 1 guy and the supporting group isn't bad. Gill should be a penalty killer in Martin's system. Spacek, Mara and Hamrlik are all veteran guys who aren't stars, but are pretty solid. Josh Gorges looks like he's ready to step up and play more of a role. They should all benefit from playing for Martin because he'll be emphasizing defence.

GOAL

The big question here is which Carey Price are we going to see this year? The one who was a star as a rookie two years ago or the guy who struggled for most of last year? The answer to that question might be the most important one for the Canadiens this year. Maybe it was just growing pains for Price on and off the ice, but he needs to get back on track this year. Jaroslav Halak is a decent backup, but if he has to step in because Price hasn't bounced back, you know the Habs are in trouble.

COACHING/MANAGEMENT

It's going to be really interesting to see if Martin's defensive approach will fly with guys such as Gomez and Gionta. Martin's track record says the Canadiens will be better defensively, but are the guys going to be happy? We know a lot of those offensive guys in Ottawa got tired of it.

INTANGIBLES

The leadership group in the dressing room -- Koivu, Komisarek, Kovalev, Higgins -- has been moved out, so it's going to be interesting to see who steps up to fill that void. None of the guys they've brought in have been big leaders on their previous teams. There are probably more questions around the Habs about how all their changes are going to affect things than any other team in the league.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Fantasy pool hero: Andrei Markov

Tough guy: Georges Laraque

Sleeper: Jaroslav Spacek

Rookie to watch: Pick one

On the decline: Roman Hamrlik

Unsung hero: Travis Moen


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