The Montreal Canadiens and the host Toronto Maple Leafs play their opening game Wednesday night with both teams exuding optimism about the coming season.
The Canadiens have made changes that have increased expectations.
“We like our team,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said Monday during an interview on TSN Radio 690. “A lot of times you want to make changes, bring some people (in), and you’re not able to do it.”
The Canadiens and Maple Leafs will play a 56-game schedule in the all-Canadian division, a format created because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among his new players, Canadiens coach Claude Julien has goaltender Jake Allen, defensemen Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov, and forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli.
The Canadiens will be a bigger team than the one that upset Pittsburgh last season in the play-in round of the postseason before being eliminated by Philadelphia in the opening round.
Anderson came in a trade with Columbus, which acquired Max Domi and a third-round draft choice from Montreal.
“We were looking to add some size on the wing,” Bergevin said. “Guys like Anderson, there’s not a lot of them in the league. The teams that do have (similar players) end up keeping them. I’m not sure what happened (in Columbus), but there was a need for us. I tried to get him in the past.”
Toffoli was signed to a four-year contract as a free agent from Vancouver.
Montreal’s top line will continue to be Tomas Tatar, Phil Danault and Brendan Gallagher.
Shea Weber again will lead the defense teamed with Ben Chiarot, with Carey Price as the No. 1 goaltender.
The Maple Leafs also made changes and got a little older in the process, adding Joe Thornton, Zach Bogosian, Wayne Simmonds and T.J. Brodie.
Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen also are among the newcomers.
Goaltender Aaron Dell was signed as a free agent and will join Jack Campbell in backing up Frederik Andersen.
Thornton will join the first line beside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and coach Sheldon Keefe likely will have to watch his minutes. Thornton showed well in the Maple Leafs’ Blue and White intrasquad game Saturday.
“Joe seemed like he had lots of legs and energy,” Keefe said. “I thought he did his job on that line. The puck came to him, and he advanced it, moved it to those guys in good spots, and at times he really spread the ice and created space in the neutral zone for those guys.”
During the offseason, Toronto traded Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh in a six-player deal that included the Penguins’ first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2020 draft.
Toronto also traded Andreas Johnsson to New Jersey to create salary cap space.
By adding experience, the Maple Leafs will be less inclined to try to out-talent the opposition and will be more willing to play a grinding game when needed. The Leafs were eliminated last season by Columbus in the play-in round.
The new group seems to be more spirited.
“I’ve noticed a tremendous difference in that regard,” Keefe said. “I think part of it is the time of the year. We have not lost a game, so it’s easy for spirits to remain high.”
–Field Level Media