Montreal Canadiens, 47-26-9, lost in first round, $8.5 million in cap space
Biggest changes: Essentially, a team that won the Atlantic Division last season but fell to the New York Rangers in the first round replaced forward Alexander Radulov and defenseman Andrei Markov with Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner. Most hockey fans would make that trade in a second. Radulov, 31, played with unbridled passion in his first year back in the NHL, recording 18 goals and 36 assists for the Canadiens last season, which earned him a five-year, $31.25 million contract with the Dallas Stars. Drouin, who came to Montreal in a deal that sent top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the division-rival Tampa Bay Lightning, is coming off a career season, in which he netted 21 goals and 53 points. More importantly, he's 22 years old and locked up for the next six years at a fairly reasonable $5.5 million cap hit. Markov, 38, returned to Russia to play in the KHL after 16 quality seasons for the Habs. He'll be missed on the ice and in the locker room, but the 29-year-old Alzner, who played the past nine seasons with the Washington Capitals, brings many of those same qualities as a shutdown defenseman who relies on excellent body positioning and is a strong voice in the dressing room. The Habs also added right winger Ales Hemsky, who is hoping to bounce back from a hip injury, and center Peter Holland, along with depth defensemen David Schlemko, Mark Streit, Joe Morrow and Matt Taormina to offset the departures of forward Brian Flynn and defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin and Nikita Nesterov.
Case for: Canadiens fans who painstakingly watched former Habs defenseman P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators skate to the Stanley Cup Final yearn for the Canadiens to pull off a similar run, and in an unpredictable Atlantic Division, they just might. While other division rivals saw their depth depleted by the expansion draft and free agency, the Canadiens got better in two key areas: scoring and defense. Drouin should find chemistry with his new linemates, especially if he plays on the right side of left winger Max Pacioretty (35 goals, 32 assists) and winger-turned-center Alex Galchenyuk (17 goals, 27 assists). Hemsky, who had 13 goals in 2015-16 before a hip injury limited him to four goals in 15 games with the Stars last season, should fortify a group of secondary scorers that includes Paul Byron (22 goals), Artturi Lehkonen (17), Phillip Danault (13) and Andrew Shaw (12). Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec are looking to rebound from 10-goal seasons, and it's not a stretch to think coach Claude Julien might move Gallagher up to a top line to get him going. The blue line is a little thin behind Shea Weber and Alzner, but goalie Carey Price is capable of turning mediocrity into greatness on a nightly basis.
Case against: No team did more with less offense than the Canadiens, who were 15th in goals (223) and tied for seventh in wins (47). Credit Julien, whose attention to detail led to a season-ending 16-7-1 run after his arrival. However, the Canadiens' lack of scoring was painfully evident in a first-round loss to the Rangers in which they managed just 11 goals, none from Pacioretty, who managed just one power-play assist. That scoring shortage, combined with a suspect defense, could make Price work harder than he should. And if the Habs suffer significant injuries anywhere in their lineup, they will be forced to battle for a playoff spot.
Trade bait: Five players are entering the final year of their contracts, and if things go south, any of them could be moved. Up front, Plekanec is the most notable, although at 34 years old with a $6 million deal, his trade value is on a sharp decline. Forwards Torrey Mitchell ($1.2 million), Hemsky ($1 million) and Andreas Martinsen ($675,000) are also entering the final year of their contracts, along with Streit ($700,000), who was dealt before last year's deadline and won a Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Goalie situation rating: 10. Remember last summer, when there was debate over whether Price, who was recovering from a knee injury that cut short his 2015-16 season, should be Canada's No. 1 goalie for the World Cup of Hockey? Price silenced his critics by leading Canada to gold, then went 37-20-5 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .923 save percentage to re-establish himself as one of the world's best netminders. Price should be fueled by the pressure that goes along with being the league's highest-paid goalie after signing an eight-year, $84 million contract extension, which carries through his 39th birthday. His backup, Al Montoya, is serviceable, but Habs fans are hoping they don't have to see a lot of him.
Scout's take: "Any time you have a goaltender of that pedigree, you should be considered one of the top threats in the Eastern Conference. The addition of Drouin makes them very dangerous offensively. As long as they can stay healthy on the blue line, I think they'll have a bit of a bounce-back season."
Prediction: third in Atlantic