To help me answer some of these questions, I have assembled an eclectic team of Montreal Hockey experts to see if we can come to a consensus on anything.
Avi Goldberg is a sociologist who teaches full time at Vanier College and part time at Concordia University. He writes on connections between sports, culture, and politics for the AllHabs digital magazine.
Conor Mckenna is a familiar face here at "The Breakdown" having appeared in an excellent edition of "HABS-TOWN". Conor hosts multiple shows on TSN 690 radio in Montreal, including the Habs post-game show.
Mike O'Brand has visited "The Breakdown" before. Although he is currently abroad, he maintains his "HabsLaughs" Blog & Twitter account. Mike offers a passionate and humorous viewpoint of the Habs world.
Jessica Rusnak is the TSN 690 reporter on the Habs beat. She covers every practice, every game, every media scrum, she's always there. Recently she has also started filing "Habs Report" on the TSN website.
The last time the NHL played a lockout shortened season in 1995, Peter Bondra led the league with 34 goals, how many goals will the Habs leading scorer pot this year, and who will it be?
Obrand: Easy: 95 goals-Alex Galchenyuk
McKenna: I think Max Pacioretty will lead the Habs with 20-23 goals this year.
Rusnak: I agree with Conor as well I say Pacioretty 20-25 goals
Hermelin: I'm going to have to agree with everyone here, and give the lead to Max Pacioretty, but I'm going to say he'll get in the 18-20 goal range. I'd Also caveat that by saying I think Eric Cole and Brian Gionta with both also likely wind up in that ballpark as well.
When do the Montreal Canadiens and PK Subban reach a deal? Is it in time for the start of the season?
Obrand: The funny thing is that he signed a contract to be on my fantasy team last week…he says he’s showing up for that…
Rusnak: I do not believe Subban will sign with the Canadiens before the start of the season.
Goldberg: I have paid little attention to this, have very little understanding on why this is so difficult to get done, and can’t figure out why it is always these defensemen who hold out for a better contract.
McKenna: It's looking less and less likely that PK signs before the 19th, but these things can change very quickly.
Hermelin: I'm a little bit frustrated with this. I got into a bit of an argument about it with someone on Twitter the other day actually. Let's be honest here, the Canadiens aren't winning a Stanley Cup, and PK Subban at this point in his career is not the one missing piece to get them there. If I'm Marc Bergevin I let him sit out.
Rusnak: If the Canadiens start off the season well then there will be less pressure to sign Subban and the Canadiens will have the upper hand. If the Habs get off to a rocky start then I could see them coming to an agreement sooner rather than later. I say the Habs sign Subban by February 1st.
Obrand: They have 5 days to sign him? I think it gets done within the next 48 hours and he reports to camp on Thursday.
Hermelin: Carey Price and Max Pacioretty had to wait until their second contract was over to get a long extension, PK needs to be in the same boat. I think the best comparable player in the league to PK Subban is John Carlson in Washington. The Capitals gave Carlson a long term deal (he's signed through the 2017-2018 season) but he's also signed to a reasonable cap hit of just under $4 Million dollars - something that PK Subban's camp is reportedly not willing to accept. It seems to me like Subban and his camp think that being a popular player on a popular team with a fantastic personality means more dollars. The longer he sits out, the more that popularity will wane.
What do you think about what happened with Scott Gomez?
McKenna: Unfortunately for Gomez, this kind of had to happen. He's still young enough that if he gets into the right system, he could become an effective player again but between the city and the team, Montreal was simply the wrong place for him.
Goldberg: There is certainly a lack of fairness from the perspective of the player, but from the perspective of team (both in terms of wins/losses and business), telling Gomer to sit is the best decision that can be made. The problem with Gomez has not been the absolute value of his contract, but rather the fact that he has contributed no meaningful tangible results for the team aside from the allegedly good humor he has dispensed in the dressing room.
Hermelin: I've actually gone on at length on this very blog about Scott Gomez. In short he was never worth the contract he signed in New York and he could never live up to it. I'm not a big fan of his being unceremoniously sent home to avoid injury, but it seems the league and the players association have worked that out. I absolutely agree with Mike here too, I think Scott Gomez does have some value as a player and he should have at least been given training camp to prove it.
Last week, Gomez gave an in depth interview to the Gazette's Dave Stubbs saying that "I’m happy to be back and a buyout is the last thing on my mind. I’m here to help the team win in whatever capacity they want. I’m going to give my all." He wasn't given that chance, do you feel he deserved a chance at all? Did he or does he have anything left to offer to anyone?
McKenna: He does have something to offer, but as I mentioned earlier, not here in Montreal. He has been saying all the right things for years but the fact is, something had to give. Reading between the lines during the press conference when Bergevin addressed the Gomez dismissal, you could tell that he wasn't happy with the work ethic and effort level he was getting from #11. This was the only thing to do and I applaud Bergevin for having the balls to do it. You simply can't have a guy who is by far the highest paid on your team going out there and not contributing. It undermines everything a winning organization needs to have and that's why this had to happen.
Last season, Thomas Kaberle showed up to Hurricanes training camp very out of shape. Although he did pick up his share of points with Montreal, his play left much to be desired. After the season, Kaberle admitted to reporters that he was out of shape and needed to work hard in the offseason to prove himself again. Kaberle's not an old man, and he has shown up in camp in considerably better shape this year - what do you expect from him?
Obrand: I have no expectations. He was by far the worst Habs D-Man last year in terms of defensive play. Good for him for getting in shape but I grew to resent him long ago…hopefully he proves me wrong.
Hermelin: I hate that he's soft in the corners. I can respect that he came in to camp in better shape. He's overpaid, however he picks up assists even when he's invisible. The guy has one great skill, he makes excellent first passes, as a bottom pair defenseman who will see time on the Power Play, I think there can be some use from him yet.
Rusnak: I'm going to give Kaberle the benefit of the doubt. He showed up at this year's camp in much better shape and seems more focused on hockey. He has a good attitude, he wants to prove to everyone he is still a good hockey player. I'm going to give him 5 games to prove that he has changed since last season.
McKenna: I expect Kaberle to be a factor offensively and a disaster defensively. The longer Subban isn't available, the more of a role he'll play and I can't see that being good for the Habs. Kaberle has not been a positive force on a winning hockey team for a long, long time.
Who is the most important player for the Canadiens this year?
Hermelin: The obvious answer here is Carey Price, but I am going to say Andrei Markov. If Markov is even close to the player he was before he started running into injury problems the Canadiens become infinitely better. Suddenly they will not only have a top shut down defenseman who can play 20+ minutes, but there Power Play looks dangerous too.
Obrand: But actually it’s Peter Budaj. If Price goes down with an injury Budaj will have to play out of his mind for the Habs to have a chance.
Rusnak:Carey Price. I agree with Mike, If Price gets injured early in the season I don't know if Budaj will be able to get the job done for the Habs.
If any one player can be singled out for Montreal as needing to offer more to the club this year than last, who is it? why? how big an impact can they make?
Goldberg: The most obvious answer has to be Rene Bourque. You love this guy’s size, you see the near-30 goals on his stats from a couple of years, and you have faint memories of watching him score goals when watching highlights from the Western Conference late at night and you wish he could be a powerful scoring winger for the Habs.
Obrand: Rene Bourque. He isn’t a Hab yet if you know what I mean. Bourque needs to know what it means to be a Montreal Canadien. You can’t play flat on any team and that is especially true in Montreal. Bourque can be an effective top 9 winger who can play big and score the dirty goals. We had tiny glimpses last season but nowhere near enough.
Rusnak: Rene Bourque. This team needs to play a tougher more physical game. Bourque can do that while also producing points something that was also missing from the team last season. If Bourque is playing to his full potential it will be a huge bonus to the team.
McKenna: Carey Price needs to do better. There are other options here, but most are guys who were hurt last year. If Price can be at his best through a shortened season, the Canadiens are a playoff team. If' he's sub-par, they could be in the mix for the top pick in the 2013 draft. He's that important.
Michel Therrien told TSN 690's Mitch Melnick that he plans to have the players play this season "on their toes" not "on their heels" alluding to a more offensive system. In the past, Therrien has been a defensive coach, do you believe that, like Alain Vigneault in Vancouver, Therrien has evolved his coaching system and style OR is this much like when Jacques Martin came in and made similar promises?
Obrand: People grow up but talk is cheap. We’ll have to wait and see.
Rusnak: Only time will tell
McKenna: Of course this is purely speculation but I do expect a more uptempo style from Therrien's version of the team. Unfortunately, the personnel is largely the same from a year ago, so the question is whether that higher-risk strategy will result in the Canadiens getting exposed defensively. Frankly, the pain of another bad year would be reduced during a shortened schedule and getting another top prospect could be the best thing that could happen to this team going forward.
Hermelin: I honestly believe Therrien will try to change his system, and the Canadiens I've believed for awhile have the horses to play an up-tempo aggressive offensive game, but if and when the going gets tough I worry the Coach will revert back to what he knows best.
Alex Galchenyuck. What do you do with him?
Obrand: Top 6 immediately. He’s the most offensively talented player on the team.
Rusnak: I want to see what Galchenyuk can do in an NHL game before I decided. But I believe the Canadiens won't keep him if they don't think he'll be able to play on the top 2 lines.
McKenna: I don't think you can properly assess Galchenyuk without seeing him in actual NHL game action first. Having said that, my instinct is that he will make the team. You have to hope that means he gets to play an actual role and get minutes that matter at the NHL level because it would be painful to watch him regress after the strides he's made in Sarnia and for Team USA at the WJC this season.
Hermelin: I personally think he should go back to Sarnia to finish out the season and try to win a Memorial Cup. The problem I have is next season. He looks too dominant to spend another year in Junior, but he's not allowed to go the American league as yet.
I'd give him the 5 games to see what he's got, but unless he's setting the world on fire, re-evaluate him in the fall. No damage can be caused by him going back to Sarnia, but like Conor and Avi have said it would be painful to see him if he struggles in the NHL and follows the same trend that Guillaume Latendresse and Mike Ribeiro did. The American Hockey League route worked out pretty well for Tomas Plekanec.
Of the players in camp currently, who does not start the season with the Montreal Canadiens?
Obrand: Players who don’t play for the Canadiens?
Rusnak: Dumont, Gallagher, Tinordi, Commodore
Hermelin: I can't see any way that both Diaz AND Weber stick with the club. Part of me would like to see Gallagher or Dumont get a shot of Galchenyuck on that line with Plekanec and Gionta.
Where do the Canadiens finish this season?
Obrand: 8th and above or 15th.
Rusnak: 6th in the east
McKenna: I'll pick the Habs to finish 6th in the East.
Hermelin: In a shortened season like this, it's really a crap-shoot. So much depends on health. Assuming there are no major injuries for the Canadiens (or any other teams in the East) I see the Canadiens battling for a playoff spot. I can't see them finishing higher than 7th in the conference, but I don't see them finishing lower than 10th either.
Which Bell Centre concession item did you miss most during the lockout?
Rusnak: The cookies!!!
Obrand: Smoked Meat…when I feel like taking out a bank loan to buy one.
McKenna: Hot dogs, man! That's mostly because they're the only item that we lowly reporters get for free in the press lounge. I know, poor us!
Hermelin: I'm kind of partial to the Pizza. Although, it often burns the top of my mouth. I also really miss having Felix and Norton cookies at the games, those were awesome. We used to buy them during the playoffs whenever the Habs would go to Overtime. That tradition seemed to stop after Game 4 vs Carolina in the 2002 playoffs. Something to do with Bill Lindsay taking a face-off making me lose a cookie or four.
Goldberg: In Montreal, where hockey is an integral part of our day-to-day life and culture, the only serious damage that has been done is economic, either to local businesses or to those whose incomes depend on hockey. This is not to be underestimated or downplayed, especially if individuals or families have suffered as a result. As for regular hockey fans, a) they experienced a temporary respite from their most favorite cultural pastime; b) they may have actually benefited during the lockout by taking up other sports or activities; and c) after having time away from hockey, they are now poised to resume the love affair with their game, and possibly even to experience the joy of their teams and the competition at an intensity not thought to be possible. The question of whether the Habs, or any other Canadian team, has done enough to repair the damage, in reality, is moot. The notion of compensation has been amplified by the media who, having showed uncharacteristically direct criticism toward both the players and owners during the lockout, may be projecting their own legitimate anger for having their jobs cut out from underneath their feet onto the fan base. The fans will take what they can get in terms of compensation, but the most important thing for them is the playing of the games. The fans are waiting to plant their fannies in their seats, they are already filling the talk shows and Twitter timelines with their passion, and by the time they are belting out their first rendition of “Ole Ole Ole Ole” at the Bell Centre, their bad dream will be practically forgotten.