MONTREAL — It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Going into this NHL season, most of the hockey world considered the Montreal Canadiens contenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Instead, when the playoffs kick off next week, the Habs will be headed for the golf course.
The Canadiens got off to a white-hot start.
After a win against the Leafs on opening night, they rattled off eight more in a row.
There was a blip against Vancouver in game nine, but then a new win streak.
It was the best start in franchise history — for a team that takes history pretty seriously.
By the end of November, the team was solidly in first place overall in the league.
Then came disaster.
Price had backstopped the team to a solid season last year, winning both the Vezina trophy for best goaltender and the Hart trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
Without Price, the team collapsed.
The Habs turned to first-year player Mike Condon, but he wasn’t up to it.
They then traded for Ben Scrivens, who was playing in the minors.
His numbers were worse than Condon’s.
No one was able to right the ship.
To make things worse, some of the most important players on the team were hit with an injury at one time or another — or repeatedly.
Brendan Gallagher suffered a grotesque hand injury that kept him out for weeks, then another that sidelined him again.
The Habs’ spark plug missed nearly 30 games.
But no injury hurt more than losing arguably the best player in the world, the team’s leader on- and off-the-ice, netminder Price.
Replacing Price with Scrivens was taking a long shot.
Whereas the Habs goalie led the league in save percentage and goals against last season, Scrivens was at or near the bottom in both categories.
There was also a controversy over players off the ice this year.
The former first-round pick was a disappointment in both Buffalo and Vancouver, but the Habs were hoping to salvage a potential solid player.
They ended up suspending him before training camp was even finished, after a car accident in the early hours of a Sunday morning.
Kassian wasn’t driving, but there were questions about his conduct.
He was under the influence and entered the league’s substance abuse program.
There was another debacle when the girlfriend of forward Alex Galchenyuk was arrested for domestic abuse.
The incident included another player and a party that stretched in the morning of the next day.
Both players met with general manager Marc Bergevin over what happened.
Habs fans went into the season with great expectations.
Their hopes seemed to be coming true, until everything fell apart.
But for most of the season, there was no real fan anger; it was mostly disbelief and shock.
By the end of the year, tickets at the Bell Centre were almost being given away by scalpers.
Everyone heard the stories about people grabbing seats for as little as $6.
It was too late and a lot of fans had already tuned out.
When the Canadiens blew a three-goal lead April 2 against the Florida Panthers, the reaction of some fans was: “Are they still playing?”
“Better Luck Next Year” is a week-long series airing on Global National looking at the impact of Canada’s Stanley Cup playoff drought on the teams, the fans and the seven cities home to NHL teams. Watch Global National at 6:30 p.m. ET/AT and 5:30 p.m. MT/PT.