The sorry economic state of Canada's NHL teams is exemplified by the bottom line of its most hallowed franchise, Montreal. They made a meager $2 million profit last year despite playing in a sold-out 21,273-seat arena with 130 luxury suites leased to the max. If that's the best the Canadiens can do, no team in the land of the 66-cent dollar (a.k.a. the Northern peso) is safe.
Montreal general manager R�jean Houle was ordered to hold salaries down, which has forced him to shed some higher-priced veterans and rush young defensemen Brad Brown and Brett Clark into regular roles this year. The cost-cutting has also precipitated contract squabbles with wingers Martin Rucinsky and Brian Savage and defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, none of whom had reported to camp as of Sunday.
Despite having a sub-.500 record at Molson Centre last season, Montreal did ease into the playoffs, upsetting Pittsburgh before suffering a spectacular goalie meltdown while being swept by Buffalo. The Canadiens used three netminders in four games, which isn't exactly how you draw it up on the chalkboard. First-string goalie Andy Moog has retired, leaving the position to Jocelyn Thibault and Jos� Th�odore. Thibault had a respectable 2.47 goals-against average last season, but his second straight playoff disaster—he gave up four goals on just 13 shots in Game 3 against the Sabres—battered his confidence. Th�odore filled in admirably last spring but has appeared in just 22 regular-season and playoff games, and nobody thinks he's ready to be a frontline goalie.
The Canadiens should have two gifted scoring lines once their holdouts report. Still, they lack toughness and a quality checking line to neutralize big conference rivals like Philadelphia, and they could use a power-play quarterback.
Montreal shouldn't cry in its Molson Golden—it could make the playoffs for the 48th time in 50 years—but it won't be sipping any beer out of an engraved silver cup this year.