MONTREAL — Brendan Gallagher's wish for the NHL season is to stay healthy and rediscover his scoring touch.
The Montreal Canadiens right-winger slumped to only 10 goals and 29 points in 64 games while dealing with injuries for a second season in a row and is eager to make amends.
The Canadiens will need him back in form, because the boost they got on attack from the acquisition of 22-year-old Jonathan Drouin in June was offset when Alexander Radulov turned down general manager Marc Bergevin's offer and signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars. Losing puck-moving defenceman Andrei Markov to the KHL won't help either.
And Gallagher is not alone. Veterans like Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk will also need to pick up their pace after their production dipped last season.
"Coming into camp last year there were a few things nagging me," said Gallagher, a 24-goal scorer two seasons ago when he played a full 82 games. "But it was the type of year when I was forced to deal with a lot of stuff.
"If you're going to have a good career you're going to have to deal with a bit of adversity and it was good for me. There were games where I felt I played good and just didn't get rewarded, but I pride myself on being a consistent player and that really wasn't what I was last year. Too many ups and downs. That's something I'm looking to change this year."
Offence was the main concern for Montreal after the attack went limp in the first round of playoffs against the New York Rangers, scuttling hopes for a promising post-season run after a 103-point regular season.
Fixing that problem will be up to coach Claude Julien, who was brought back for a second stint in Montreal in February to replace the fired Michel Therrien. Julien has had a full training camp to install the changes he was reluctant to make late in the season, but lack of scoring punch has also been a problem in the pre-season.
One of his first experiments was taking Drouin, a slick playmaker, off left wing to see if he can become the top-line centre the club was lacking. The Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., native made an immediate splash by inking a six-year contract at US$5.5 million per season and making a major donation to a local hospital. Now the 2013 third-overall draft pick is motivated to show Bell Centre fans it was worth it.
He spent the summer training with captain and 35-goal scorer Max Pacioretty, who will likely be his linemate. But Drouin may make the biggest difference on the power play, which has lacked a playmaking forward who can take attention away from veteran point man Shea Weber — he of the booming shot.
The Radulov and Markov departures left Bergevin with $8.5 million in unused salary cap space that can be used to acquire more help at some point in the season if needed.
To fill a hole on right wing, Bergevin took a flyer on veteran Ales Hemsky, who was limited by an injury to only 15 games with Dallas last season. Hemsky signed a one-year deal at $1 million.
"I just want to prove to myself that I can play in this league," said the 34-year-old Czech. "I played the last 15 games last year and it gave me a lot of confidence that I can come back and still play. We'll see how the body will react."
If Hemsky can chip in some goals it will help, but most of the improvement could come from players they already had.
Plekanec, formerly an automatic 20-goal guy, dipped to only 10 goals and 18 assists last season. Julien has met with the veteran centre to see how he can be more productive.
"It's up to him to get it back,"said Julien. "He's a guy who is very dependable defensively but he's capable of playing well on offence too."
Galchenyuk was limited by injuries to 61 games and saw his goals drop from 30 to 17. He was the subject of trade rumours this summer until he inked a three-year contract. And Julien made it clear from the start Galchenyuk will play left wing, despite the wishes of many fans to give him another chance at centre.
That keeps low-scoring but defensively sound Phillip Danault as a top-six centre.
The Canadiens also hope Artturi Lehkonen takes another step after a promising 18-goal rookie campaign, while speedy Paul Byron is back after a 22-goal performance, second best on the team.
There will be a new look on defence as well after Markov left, Alexei Emelin was claimed in the expansion draft and Nathan Beaulieu was traded to Buffalo. All three played on the left side.
Part of that was filled with the signing off free agent Karl Alzner, a strong stay at home type who was immediately paired with puck-mover Jeff Petry. Weber could find a partner in Jordie Benn, free agent signing David Schlemko, or perhaps 39-year-old Mark Streit or the impressive junior-age Victor Mete.
It is in goal where there are no question marks. Carey Price is back with a new eight-year, $84 million contract that kicks in next season. Al Montoya is the backup, although impressive prospect Charlie Lindgren is knocking at the door.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press