After making an unexpected and thrilling run to the Eastern Conference final as an eighth seed, you'd think they'd be paving the "usual route" for a parade this year.
But the Montreal Canadiens go into the 2010-11 season with a big question mark about their ability to even come close to matching their heroics of last spring, and the uncertainty begins and ends in net.
After his marvellous playoff run that saw people writing tribute songs and putting his name in the middle of stop signs, Jaroslav Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, while the No. 1 goaltending job was handed to Carey Price.
There were issues with having two young goaltenders - both contractually and sharing time - so the choice was made.
Even after last spring's success, the Canadiens are no lock to make the playoffs this season and Price's play will go a long way toward determining if they'll even make the playoffs, never mind go on another long spring run.
Offence was an issue for the Canadiens last season as they were tied for 25th in the NHL in goals per game. They have two solid duos in Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta-Scott Gomez, but their goal-scoring depth falls off after that. They need underachievers Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitysn to find some consistency (good luck with that) and maybe a prospect such as Eller to step up. They have some decent guys for the third and fourth lines in agitator Maxim Lapierre, veteran Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt, who stepped up in the playoffs last season. It's time for Ryan White, Max Pacioretty and Ben Maxwell to start contributing.
The Canadiens have a decent group on defence, but once again will have to start the year without top guy Andrei Markov. He was knocked out of the playoffs with a knee injury in the second round which still has him on the shelf (since 2006, the Habs are 193-115-41 with him and 19-35-7 without him). Rookie P.K. Subban, who burst on the scene during the playoffs, is a risk-reward type of defenceman whose dynamic skating will make him an offensive threat and will make him fun to watch. Veterans Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Josh Gorges are all back and, in the case of the first three, a year older. Can they still keep up?
Carey Price was handed the starter's job for this season after playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was traded. Whether Price can do the job is the No. 1 question confronting the Canadiens this season. He was given every chance to have the job last year, but just 13 wins in 41 games saw him lose the job to Halak down the stretch. We might have seen the best Halak can do, which was pretty good, but he looked to run out of gas in the third round. The Canadiens have to hope Price's best is better. Veteran Alex Auld was signed as a free agent to back up Price.
Pierre Gauthier took over as the Canadiens general manager when Bob Gainey stepped away from the job last season and his tenure in Montreal could well be judged on his decision to trade Halak and keep Price. This is still largely Gainey's team (he signed the core after a huge purge in the summer of 2009), but Gauthier's goaltending decision will be the one analyzed to death this season. Coach Jacques Martin, whose talented Senators teams always came up short, gained some credibility with the club's long playoff run last spring.
Which is the real Canadiens team? The one that struggled to score goals during the season or the one that showed incredible poise and the ability to stick to a game plan against much more talented opponents in the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs? Certainly another year together for a team that was reconstructed in the summer of 2009 should help produce better regular-season results as long as Price can do the job in net. Cammalleri and Gionta missed a combined 38 games last season, so if they can stay healthy, the offence should improve.
Fantasy pool hero
Rookie to watch
On the decline