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20 Montreal Canadiens Thanks to Jose Theodore, the storied franchise has playoff potential again

The Canadiens have not won the Stanley Cup in almost a decade,
but their 24 championships and nearly unbroken lineage of
homegrown greats--from Maurice Richard to Jean Beliveau to Guy
Lafleur to Patrick Roy--still prompt Montrealers to refer to
them as Les Glorieux: The Glorious. Now, six years after Roy's
unceremonious exile, the franchise has another bauble on this
string of stars, a goaltender with matinee-idol looks and
prime-time skill, Jose Theodore. In 2001-02 Theodore became the
third goalie in history to win the Hart and Vezina trophies in
the same season. (Dominik Hasek of the Sabres and another
Montreal demigod, Jacques Plante, are the others.) With his
sparkling .931 save percentage, the 26-year-old Theodore
apparently mesmerized even teammates: Montreal was outshot in 58
of the 76 games in which he started (including postseason

Theodore should have more help this time around. After facing so
much adversity last season--captain Saku Koivu's non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma, the clothesline that knocked out winger Richard Zednik
in the first playoff round and some poor coaching by Michel
Therrien that may have cost the Canadiens a shot at an Eastern
Conference finals berth--Montreal enters '02-03 with a
cancer-free Koivu and its deepest team since the mid-1990s. More
good news: The league's announced crackdown on obstruction
should favor a club of smurfs that ranked 15th among last
season's 16 playoff qualifiers in regular-season goals. While
the Canadiens' squishy defense will suffer with the early-season
absence of their most physical blueliner, Sheldon Souray (wrist
surgery), it opens a spot for puck-moving rookie Ron Hainsey.

General manager Andre Savard has rebuilt the infrastructure that
crumbled shamefully during the previous regime, but this is still
a finesse team that was exposed in the playoffs as being
incapable of handling robust forwards or beating big defensemen.
Still, if too-small Montreal earns a playoff berth--which won't
come easily because so many other Eastern Conference teams are
improved--a goalie will lead them. Do you know the way, Saint
Jose? --M.F.



Last season goaltender Jose Theodore became the 12th different
Canadien to win the Hart Trophy since it was introduced in 1924.



OFFENSE 15 Small, skilled group could wear down by season's
DEFENSE 19 Mobile unit; rookies Hainsey, Komisarek will help
GOALTENDING 2 Theodore proved he's one of league's best
SPECIAL TEAMS 17 Dackell, Juneau are penalty-killing gems
MANAGEMENT 19 Therrien has to make up for postseason gaffe