The Montreal Canadiens are the NHL's most successful franchise, but they are without a Stanley Cup win since 1993 and finished bottom of the pile in the Atlantic Division last season.
They have made no secret of the fact that the team have been a work-in-progress for the last few years, while the injury woes they dealt with last term would have held back even a Cup-contending outfit.
More luck with health this year just by itself this year would see them improve, but they are housed in a super competitive division with established powerhouses and hungry improvers and for this youthful core to suddenly become a playoff team looks fanciful.
They made it all the way to the Cup Finals in 2021, but that was an unorthodox year in which their regular-season points total would not have even seen them make the postseason under the usual structure.
For now, the focus for Martin St Louis, entering only his second full season as an NHL coach, and his inexperienced squad will be to continue to grow together and look ahead to what they hope will be a bright future.
|2023/24 NHL Season
|US & Canada
|October 10, 2023 - June 2024
|TOR Maple Leafs +800, COL Avalanche +850, EDM Oilers +900, NJ Devils +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1000
Montreal were sunk at the bottom of the Atlantic Division for the second straight season, but the fact that they were able to improve significantly on 2021-22 in spite of all their injury issues is encouraging, albeit also highlighting just how much of a dumpster fire they were the previous campaign.
They still ended up finishing 12 points of the second-worst Atlantic Division team, as well as posing the fewest goals scored and most goals conceded in the division.
Nick Suzuki was the only player to suit up in all 82 games and was the Habs' only forward to play in more than 70, while none of their defensemen managed more than 65 appearances save for Jonathan Kovacevic.
Key attacking pieces Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach played just 46 and 58 games respectively, while 2022 first overall draft pick Juraj Slafkovsky made just 39 appearances before going down injured for the rest of the season.
The Atlantic Division as a whole looks more open this season with the likes of Boston and Tampa Bay having shed some of their established stars, but the Canadiens will have done well if they manage to lift themselves off the bottom of the division this term.
That said, they can certainly have high hopes of being a more tricky team to play against than they were last season. In the first two months of last campaign they had a 11-10-1 record before things fell apart in December and never really recovered.
New signing Alex Newhook bolsters an already solid group of centres, while Caufield was on pace to become the highest scoring Canadien in 30 years before he got injured last season.
Management see Caufield as a key part in the rebuild, having inked him to an eight-year contract extension. Slafkovsky, who starred in Slovakia's 2022 Olympic bronze medal run, scored only four goals in his 39 appearances, but is expected to be given more ice time this campaign to show his true form.
For years, the Habs built their game around superstar goaltender Carey Price, but with a knee injury seemingly having ended his career, Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault formed a tandem last season.
It will be interesting to see whether Allen, the oldest player on the roster at 33, will be given as many starts this year or whether Cayden Primeau gets a shot.
The 24-year-old Primeau made three appearances last season, with a 3.46 goals-against average, better than Allen's average of 3.55 goals allowed.
Only San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are longer-priced to lift the Stanley Cup than Montreal's +12500. They can be backed at +1025 to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years, but are -1800 to fail to make it again.
Meanwhile, they are +550 to end the regular season with the lowest points total of the NHL's 32 teams.
Caufield is -110 to score at least 33 regular-season goals. The 22-year-old potted 26 goals last season from only 46 appearances.
Rookie defenceman David Reinbacher is +5000 to win the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie.
Martin St. Louis is +4000 to win the Jack Adams Award for the league's top coach. He has the joint-seventh-longest odds to win the award.
The Canadiens' campaign kicks off in Toronto against fellow Original Six Canadian outfit, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on October 11.
They host another historic rival, the Boston Bruins, at Centre Bell on November 11, with a return matchup a week later at TD Garden. The Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are in town on November 16, while the Habs will spend New Year's Eve in Florida following a game against Tampa Bay.
Montreal will wrap up their season with a home-and-home against division rivals Detroit on April 15 and 16, 2024, playing the road leg first.
Hall of Famer and six-time NHL All-Star player Martin St Louis had plenty to deal with during his first full season as a head coach with the Canadiens last term.
The long-time Tampa Bay Lightning star and 2003/04 Hart Trophy winner finished his career with New York Rangers in 2015, and was offered the position of head coach of their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack in 2017, but declined.
In January 2019, St Louis became a special teams consultant for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and was named interim head coach of Montreal in February 2022, and ended the season with a 14-19-4 record.
The coach was credited with having raised morale among the players, whose record stood at 8-30-7 when he arrived. That was enough to earn a permanent role, signing a three-year contract at the conclusion of that season.
Alex Newhook (F) (Colorado)
Tanner Pearson (F) (Vancouver)
Gustav Lindstrom (D) (Detroit)
Nicolas Beaudin (D) (Laval)
Brady Keeper (D) (Abbotsford)
Mike Hoffman (F) (San Jose)
Jonathan Drouin (F) (Colorado)
Paul Byron (F) (retired)
Rem Pitlick (F) (Pittsburgh)
Chris Tierney (F) (New Jersey)
Denis Gurianov (F) (Nashville)
Joel Edmundson (D) (Washington)
Alex Belzile (F) (NY Rangers)