A painful loss in the Eastern Conference finals led to some changes for the Montreal Canadiens, leaving them without a captain for only the second time in their history.
The Toronto Maple Leafs also know a bit about tough finishes, but they’re looking for new president Brendan Shanahan to lead a turnaround that ends a lengthy title drought.
The visiting Canadiens begin a journey they hope concludes with their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 22 years when they try to avoid their fifth straight season-opening loss to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
After a Game 7 victory in Boston, Montreal (46-28-8) owned home-ice advantage in the conference finals, but the series shifted dramatically when goaltender Carey Price went down with a knee injury in Game 1.
The New York Rangers went on to end Montreal’s hopes of winning its first title since 1993 with a series-clinching 1-0 win in Game 6.
In the wake of that defeat, captain Brian Gionta signed as a free agent with Buffalo and alternate captain Josh Georges was traded to the Sabres for a 2016 second-round pick.
Instead of naming a new captain, general manager Marc Bergevin opted for four alternate captains: defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, and forwards Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.
Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million deal this summer, making the Toronto native one of the league’s highest-paid defensemen after he tied for fifth at his position with 43 assists and finished with 53 points last season.
"It’s going to be an exciting year," he told the NHL’s official website. "It’s going to come down to us sticking together."
Price, who appears healthy after a strong preseason, is coming off a 2013-14 campaign in which he ranked eighth in the NHL with a 2.32 goals-against average. He was 1-1-0 while allowing seven goals in two starts at Toronto last season.
Despite the presence of Subban and Pacioretty, who finished with a team-high 39 goals, Montreal ranked in the bottom third of the NHL with 2.55 goals per game. P.A. Parenteau might help after recording 14 goals and 19 assists with Colorado.
Montreal has opened against Toronto in each of the past five years, with the Maple Leafs winning the previous four.
After fading down the stretch to finish 12th in the East, the Maple Leafs (38-36-8) made a big splash by hiring Shanahan. The three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Famer takes over a franchise that hasn’t celebrated a championship since 1967.
The Maple Leafs will have to improve defensively to get back in contention after ranking 26th in GAA (3.07) and 28th on the penalty kill (78.4 percent) last season.
Toronto signed puck-moving defenseman Stephane Robidas away from Anaheim and adding Roman Polak in a trade with St. Louis. Jake Gardiner, coming off a 31-point season, also agreed to a five-year deal worth $20.25 million in the offseason.
Jonathan Bernier seems to have the edge between the pipes after posting a 2.68 GAA last season, while James Reimer (3.29) gives the Maple Leafs another solid option.
"We can’t ignore what (Bernier) did for our hockey club (last season)," coach Randy Carlyle said. "Simple as that. We can’t ignore what James Reimer’s done for our hockey club (in his career)."
Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk lead the attack after combining for 67 goals and 74 assists in 2013-14, while Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri provide a strong supporting cast.
Although Dave Bolland left a hole in the middle when he signed with Florida, Mike Santorelli will be looking to help fill the void after coming over from Vancouver.