When the Montreal Canadiens punted Brian Gionta and Josh Georges the team not only dumped their most recent captain but two thirds of their most visible leaders. On and off the ice in good seasons, bad stretches of team play, and when coaching came complete with three rings, a master of ceremonies and a big top, these two were a constant part of the equation on the positive side.

When Gionta inked his deal with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the most scrutinized captaincies in the NHL in one of the most intense media markets in the world. The question of who can replace him is a separate one than who should replace him. This isn’t a franchise at the bottom of the well that needs all the publicity it can get. There’s no freshly drafted future of the franchise who has oodles of talent and no bad history to trot out before the media.

Many will point to the flashiest player on the roster in situations like this and say yep that’s the guy!. In which case you’re looking at two or three players, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk lead that race. Probably in that order. An argument can be made for David Desharnais, who likely lands the francophone vote as well.

Taking a look at each of those candidates many list Subban as the front runner, he’s dynamic, he’s fast, strong, he can score almost at will, he’s young, he seemingly adores the media. On the negative side he’s still got holes in his defensive game, is prone to blowing his top on the ice, and is about the living definition of lightening rod.

Max Pacioretty has been the goal scorer in Montreal for the past few seasons, he’s a bigger body, has a blistering shot and elevates his game against rivals, and at 25 he has years and years ahead of him on the ice. On the negative side not only is he not a local franophone he’s yet another American, has failed in every season of his career to play a full slate of games, and a lot of the penalties he takes can be construed as the “selfish” variety.

Brendan Gallagher is young, smooth skating, possesses a quick shot, willingness to go anywhere for the puck and plays much bigger than his size. From the other perspective, he’s developing a reputation much akin to that of Alex Burrows and Steve Ott, and putting the C on that type of player says things about your franchise. There’s also the notable divisions that have been evident on this team in the last three or four years including the one along age lines.

Alex Galchenyuk has oodles of skill, is a solid powerplay contributor, and may turn into an elite forward. On the negative side you’ve got everything that can be said against Pacioretty and much of what can be said against Gallagher in addition to having the ill grace to have a Russian father.

Skill wise, no one could really fault a choice to honor any of these men. But in a market like Montreal, or any of the other original six markets, it isn’t just about skill. That’s why if I were passing the C along to its next guardian, I’d also consider what their on ice temperament is like, how well respected they are by players around the NHL, and of course looking carefully at where I think the teams window is.

For that reason the obvious choice is none of the above. While giving the captaincy to at least two of those named above would not be a mistake, that doesn’t mean a better choice can’t and shouldn’t be made. That better choice is Tom Plekanec.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

Welcome to the Second Season, unlike most years, the second season for the best teams will run nearly half the length of the regular season.

#1 vs. #8

The Pittsburgh Penguins marched determinedly through the regular season, attempting to keep pace with the western powers. Malkin, Crosby, Letang and other key players all missed games due to injury. Crosby is out least for game one, and Jarome Iginla will be playing in the post season for the first time in almost half a decade.

The Islanders haven’t seen the post season in so long you have to wonder how many members of the staff at Nassau had vaction plans this week and next. Sixteen players will be making their playoff debut, including nearly all of their key forwards, and several of their battered blueliners. From the blueline, only three gentlemen appeared in all 48 games this season; Mark Streit age 35, Andrew MacDonald, and 22 year old Travis Hamonic who’s in his third season for the Islanders.

Players to watch:

With Crosby out, the cameras may actually grace other Penguins, Neal is a human highlight reel, Brandon Sutter is finally making himself comfortable in the NHL, and Chris Kunitz quietly led the team in goals in the regular season.

For the Islanders if you aren’t already a member of the United Temple of Taveres; get familiar.¬†The 2009 #1 overall has outpaced his class across the board, he’s got 20 more goals than the second place goal scorer from his class, and almost three times as many as 4th place. On the backend Vishnovsky and Streit are more than capable of being momemtum changers in any zone.

Edge:

The Penguins should win this series. But that depends on Marc Andre Fleury turning in a useful playoff performence. In the last three years his sv% has been awful, despite reasonable regular season numbers, .834, .899, .891 are useful but only for making sure your team gets plenty of sun. The Islanders have a chance if Nabokov can out duel The Flower.

#2 vs. #7

The Montreal Canadiens had a wretched season last year, and reaped the draft rewards, American rookie Alex Galchenyuk made an instant impact, Vancouver Giants alumni Brendan Gallagher did as well. They’ve had a small downturn since Alexi Emelin injured himself, but they still held on to win the last Northeast division title.

The Ottawa Senators are probably glad they don’t have to make room on the plane for medical records. Overcoming injuries have defined this team this season. Jason Spezza is still out, Erik Karlsson is just back, and the list of who didn’t play all or most games is much longer than the list of those who did.

Players to watch:

P.K. Subban is the most electrifying player in this series, and possibly on all of the Canadian teams, Lars Eller has shown a willingness to get his nose dirty, and Michael Ryder still has one of the fastest releases in the NHL.

For the Senators, Alfredsson isn’t a player you should ever take your eyes off of, Kyle Turris led the team in goals and points, and Gonchar is still a consistent threat.

Edge:

Offensively the difference between these teams is night and day, the Canadiens had the fifth best offense in the regular season, and the Senators the fourth worst. On the other hand the Senators finished second in goals against, while the Canadiens were a pedestrian 14th. Craig Anderson has better post season numbers, and should be able to snatch a game or two, but the Habs should win it.

#3 vs. #6

When it comes to winning the Southeast Division, the Washington Capitals have had that locked down for most of its existance, it seems only fitting they should finish its last season on top. Unfortunately, that’s all they seem to be able to win. Maybe this year with a rejuvinated Ovechkin, a mature Carlson and Alzner, and most miraculously a healthy Green they can turn in a good performence.

Last year the New York Rangers went to the Eastern Conference finals, and but for the skill of Adam Henrique, might have gone further. Some might consider it a problem when their 12th best paid forward leads the team in scoring, especially when that player makes roughly 10% of their highest paid forward, for the Rangers, that’s just the way things are.

Players to watch:

The Caps bost a potent offense, and a bit more grit than they are given credit for, Troy Brouwer was second in goals this season, Chimera had a big season last year, and Backstrom has finally started to round back into All Star form.

While Stepan led the Rangers in scoring, Richards, Nash and Callahan have got to be due for an offensive explosion at some point, right?

#4 vs. #5

The Boston Bruins had a heap of distractions towards the end of the season with bombings, blizzards and forever long pregame ceremonies, which might excuse their poor play if it hadn’t been a season long occurance. The positives for the Bruins are that they are pretty healthy physically. The negative is that no one knows where their collective head is.

The Maple Leafs are making their return to the playoffs. Lots of this team hasn’t played in the playoffs at all, and some who have aren’t all that good in the second season. Lupul and Van Riemsdyk have the most playoff experience, Kessel is a point per game player in the playoffs, but he’ll have to get over his ineffectiveness against Chara and Boston in a hurry to keep that going.

Players to watch:

For the Bruins, everyone is waiting on Soderberg to make his impact felt, but he may well sit, watch Bergeron per usual, and see if Ference and Lucic can keep up their snarl.

The Maple Leafs have woefully underused Grabovski this season, and he might just be the key to winning this series, Kadri and Gunnarsson should also be in your crosshairs.

Edge:

The Bruins played poorly down the stretch, but the Leafs are new as a team to the playoffs, and have a bug in their heads about the Bruins. Expect a lot of physical play and for the team that wants it more to win.

There are four teams who have set themselves apart  from this season. They play different styles, are split in two different conferences and have accomplished their dominance in different ways. The real question is, can they keep it up, and are they legitimate contenders?

The Chicago BlackHawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks have had the most spectacular season to date, they’ve attacked the league and gotten even non-hockey fans and media to take notice.

Facts:

  • Fifth in goals for.
  • Second in goals against.
  • Sixth in penalty kill.
  • Fourteenth in powerplay.

How they can get better:

  • Powerplay is only mediocre.
  • Patrick Sharp is injured, when he returns at anything like his normal self the team is instantly deeper and instantly more dangerous.

How they can get worse:

  • Emery and Crawford are playing way outside the zone of their normal skill set. Emery’s career save percentages is .908%, and his only season over 910 with more than 30 games played was back in 2005-06. Currently He’s at .917% Crawford in his previous two seasons has had sv%’s of .917% and .903%, for a career number of .912%, this season, with most of his numbers coming prior to the injury he’s at a.925%.
  • No injuries to date on their defense.
  • They can regress to something like last years road record where they were a .500 team.

Are they contenders:

  • Yes, they’ve won with worse goaltending, the west is weaker now than it was then, and the short season means if they stay healthy they’ve got a better than 50% chance of being in the Western Conference Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens:

Many people are surprised the Canadiens are this good and that the Northeast Division is very good this season. On the first one they shouldn’t be, last season was the perfect storm of disasters for Montreal.

Facts:

  • Fourth in goals for.
  • Tenth in goals against.
  • Ninth in powerplay.
  • Fifteenth in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Special teams are only average.
  • They are quite bad at faceoffs at 23rd.
  • Prust, Bourque, Diaz, can come back and contribute.

How they can get worse:

  • Essentially a one goalie team with no real depth in the system, as goes Price goes the Habs.
  • They are getting solid contributions from rookies, if Galchenyuk and Gallagher hit the wall, particularly i it is at the same time the team could suffer more than some expect.
  • The NHL or officials could get serious about diving/embellishment and take a long hard look a the team that has had more than twice as many powerplay opportunities as their nearest rival in the division.

Are they Contenders?

  • Maybe, not many of these players have been deep into the playoffs. More importantly, the goalie who last took them deep is no longer on the roster.

The Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim has been mighty this season. They added defense, they pulled a goalie surprise out of their back pocket, and they’ve not been shy about playing hard and fast.

Facts:

  • Third in goals for.
  • Ninth in goals against.
  • First on the powerplay.
  • Twenty-Eighth on the penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Penalty kill, penalty kill, penalty kill.
  • Hiller needs to play better, a sub .900s% isn’t gonna cut it.
  • At 25th in faceoffs, they absolutely need to get closer to 50%.

How they can get worse:

  • Their scoring depth could vanish, they only have 1 player with 10 goals or more, but have eleven with more than five.
  • The league could finally put together a book on Victor Fasth.
  • Management/Ownership could panic on the Corey Perry front and drop him for little, no, or the wrong return.

Are they Contenders:

Probably, Selanne is awesome, Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan together are more to handle than most teams have the blueline talent for. On the other hand, a lot of their team are either rookies or have no NHL playoff experience.

The Boston Bruins

New year but not much has changed in Boston, same coach, same top forward in Patrice Bergeron, same legitimate Norris contender in Zdeno Chara, and same physical, puck control style.

Facts:

  • Tenth in goals for.
  • Third in goals against.
  • Twenty-third in powerplay.
  • First in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Milan Lucic and their third line could show up and start scoring.
  • Their powerplay could get better.
  • They need to get better when trailing.

How they can get worse:

  • They’ve been phenomenally lucky on the injury front.
  • Rask has not been the healthiest goaltender in team history.
  • Scoring could decay.

Are they Contenders:

Yes, the goaltending remains a question but there is very little difference between this team and the one that won the Cup not so long ago.