So here we are, just a bit over 2 months away from the drop of the puck to the 2015-16 NHL Regular Season. With this off-season being the most significant and most impactful of the Marc Bergevin era thus far, from the trading of PK Subban to the signing of Alexander Radulov, there is the utmost of pressure heading into this season for the “foxhole” crew. Especially after a disastrous season and missing the playoffs (do remember that the Habs did start the season 9-0), Habs’ fans and management will be very wary of any slow start to this upcoming season. In any case, barring any injuries or trades, here is what I project the lineup on opening night will be in Buffalo, starting out with the forwards.
Pacioretty – Galchenyuk – Gallagher
We saw potential from this line at the end of last season, after Therrien finally put Galchenyuk at his natural centre position. This line just makes too much sense, that even Michel Therrien will have a hard time deciding not to put these 3 players together. On one wing, you got arguably the Canadiens’ best forward and captain Max Pacioretty, a 4 time 30+ goal scorer. And on the other side, you got Brendan Gallagher, the team’s heart and soul. Down the middle, you got the man you drafted in 2012 to rebuild your franchise, Alex Galchenyuk. It can be debated that Radulov could fit in Gallagher’s spot (potentially for the power play), but I feel that Gallagher style of play compliments Pacioretty’s and Galchenyuk’s to a tee. Max and Alex need a hard nose guy that can cause trouble in front of the net, as both play a more perimeter game.
Shaw – Plekanec – Radulov
Whether right or wrong, Michel Therrien always has a method of bringing in new skilled players to the team. From Thomas Vanek to Danny Briere to PA Parenteau and Alex Semin, none of these offensive players started out on the first line. There was always a “show me first and I will reward you” attitude with Therrien and offensive players. On the other hand, Therrien loves those grinding type of players, the likes of Brandon Prust and Dale Weise, and you can bet he’ll love Andrew Shaw. I feel that Radulov and Plekanec can have some sort of chemistry, as both play a style that can facilitate each other. While Shaw will bring a different dynamic and some scoring potential to this line. As well, I don’t see how Shaw signs a 6 year 24 million contract, just to play on the bottom 6. The Habs are committed to Shaw long term and who can argue when he’s a 2 time Stanley Cup champion.
Carr – Danault/Desharnais – Andrighetto
What to do with David Desharnais? It has been rumoured, that since last season’s trading deadline, Marc Bergevin has been actively shopping Desharnais to no avail. No team is currently interested in a 5’7 centre, that is too small to play in the top 6, but doesn’t have the defensive ability to play in the bottom 6. However, after trading away Lars Eller to Washington, and with a 3.9 cap hit in the final year of his contract, unless Desharnais is traded before the season, I feel Therrien will once again start him off as the 3rd centre. This line will be used as an offensive exploitation matchup (similar to last year’s Fleischmann-Desharnais-Weise lineup), with Carr and Andrighetto potentially adding some much needed secondary scoring. Don’t underestimate Carr here, as a “crash the net” type of player similar to Gallagher and Shaw, Carr was able to score 6 goals in 23 games (on pace for a 20 goal season) during his rookie season before a season ending knee injury. I do feel that Danault is the guy Bergevin really wants to thrive in this position. He has even come out and commented that acquiring Danault last year made Eller expendable. But until Desharnais is off the team, I can’t see Danault being played over him.
Byron – Mitchell – Flynn
I’m not sure what to think of this line, but it is the best of what remains. I’m kind of old school hockey, where I believe the bottom six, especially the bottom 3, should be a hard noise, grinding, in your face line, that can lay the smack down on opposing teams. The Byron-Mitchell-Flynn line doesn’t really ooze fear in opponents and in all honestly, 10 years ago, opposing team might be laughing at this as our 4th line. But this is the new NHL, a NHL where speed dominates, as shown by last year’s champion, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They didn’t really have a big 4th line that could ground and pound teams to submission, but rather they had a fast, skating line that drained and tired out the opposition. That could be the potential of this lineup, as all 3 players are reasonably fast and should use speed to their advantage.