The eternal talk about the Canadiens these days is that they are good, but they are missing pieces to be a top team, so let's discuss what they are missing. I personally feel the team is exactly four pieces away from a Stanley Cup in their current state. Now that may sound like a lot, but I believe that some of the answers are mostly already within the team's future.
The first need most people argue is a true Top-6 power forward, a 6'1" +, 220 pound wrecking ball that will dig the puck out of the corners, go to the net, shovel in rebounds or deflect pucks in while running over opposing team's players, big or small. This has been a problem for the team to acquire for years and finding one of the quality the team desires is not inherent in the team's system. Andrei Kostitsyn possesses many of the qualities of a power forward in size, speed and strength but lacks the mannerisms and attitude of one. A frustrating dilemma for Habs fans but what can one do, if he doesn't think like a power forward he isn't going to be able to play like one. Benoit Pouliot has the size as well, but again like Andrei lacks the attitude and doesn't have Andrei's bull strength either. Max Pacioretty shows the size and speed, but much like Pouliot lacks the incredible strength and doesn't seem to have the natural instincts to deflect pucks in as he screens a goaltender or battle for position he may become more effective as he plays in the NHL but I doubt he will ever be confused with Tomas Holmstrom.
Names like Ian Schultz and Andrew Conboy exist in the system but at present, seem far too raw or possibly not having the potential to be effective players. It may be necessary for the Canadiens to sign or trade for this kind of player, likely at great expense due to the lack of them throughout the NHL. Pleasant thought? Not really but the team will have to be diligent in either drafting and developing or locating the next Mike Knuble or Tomas Holmstrom.
A top-4 bruising defencemen, this is the predator at the blue line who has a grin on his face when he sees an opportunity to hit and the willingness to drop the gloves. PK Subban throws an impressive check for a 6' defender, but he shouldn't be setting up to throw too many hits when his game should be based on offence. Hal Gill has the size, but lacks the killer instinct, he can hit but he doesn't consider it the cornerstone of his game. Gill is also 35 and is likely not spending more than one or two more years in the NHL The Canadiens need a defencemen who at all times, makes the opposing team regret hanging around in their zone. The answers potentially lie on the farm for the Canadiens, starting with 6'1", 220 pound Alexei Yemelin, the KHL star defencemen who they have been trying to lure over from the KHL for years. Yemelin is currently on the final year of his contract and could potentially be looking for new challenges after winning championships in the KHL and being named top defencemen of the 2010 KHL playoffs. Yemelin has seven goals and eleven assists on his current season, showing fair offensive upside as well. Unfortunately for the Canadiens though, all other size defencemen are not currently ready for the NHL next season, or perhaps even the season after.
The obvious long-term desire is 22nd overall pick of the 2010 Entry Draft Jarred Tinordi, a towering player at 6'7", Tinordi has had a rough start in his transition to the OHL and is likely at least three years from an NHL position. Other choices include Brendon Nash of the Hamilton Bulldogs at 6'3", Greg Pateryn of the University of Michigan Wolverines, 6'3" himself. However Nash is not considered an overly physical player despite his size much like current 7th defencemen Alexandre Picard and Greg Pateryn is very much a project player. At present, the Canadiens need to make all efforts possible to lure over Alexei Yemelin and hope Jarred Tinordi's development speeds up, or they may be forced to delve into the free agent market or trade for the required player.
Offensive third liners, with Montreal lacking a true superstar on it's top two lines, the need for tertiary scoring becomes important. The Canadiens need to confront the opposition with scoring threats from more than two lines, much like the depth of scoring for the Blackhawks often overwhelmed their opposition in their Stanley Cup run, the Canadiens need to bring such an element to emerge as an elite group. There are many options for this within the team's system however. While diminutive, David Desharnais has shown a lot of spirit and talent so far with his call-up to the Montreal Canadiens and works effectively when he has big-body linemates, but his size makes his ability to stay in the NHL questionable. Benoit Pouliot may not grow in to a true top-6 player, but he definitely possesses the abilities to be a strong offensive 3rd-liner. Lars Eller with more offensively gifted linemates could be a key contributing member as well, but at least one more Top-9 forward will likely need to be added.
The Canadiens may find the answers on the farm though, Andrew Conboy, as previously mentioned a potential future power forward but may become more of a Chris Neil, Brian Boyle type, not gifted enough to be top-6 but forces physical play on a checking line and can chip in goals as needed. Aaron Palushaj, while mired in an offensive slump this season was considered following PK Subban's call up to Montreal for the 2010 playoffs, the MVP scorer for Hamilton by former Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher. The developing youngsters Alexander Avtsin, Louis Leblanc and Danny Kristo will likely all be spending next season playing together in Hamilton and as they break into the NHL, may offer cap-friendly, but valuable offence by the 2012-13 season.
An elite defencemen, ideally, this is the return of Andrei Markov to fill the need. I have nothing against P.K. Subban, I believe he is the future of the Canadiens blue line but one can't undersell the talent and intelligence of the All-Star Russian blueliner and the need for more than one elite defender. Aside from the incomparable and legendary Nicklas Lidstrom, Andrei Markov is arguably the most savvy and intelligent amongst all NHL defencemen currently playing. His vision on the ice is incredible and has allowed him to quarterback one of the most dangerous power plays the post-lockout NHL has seen. The Canadiens are a team that too easily becomes panicked when pressed in their own zone, hence the need for a player like Markov. He has the unique ability to slow down the game and calm his team with smart defensive moves, quick outlet passes and leading the defence each time he hits the ice.
We all wish the best for Markov but if he is not able to recover, the Canadiens find themselves in trouble as while Subban is a future elite defencemen, he will be by himself, much like Markov was for his tenure in Montreal discounting the 10 games the two defencemen played together. Replacing Markov could be considered folly, as the cost to trade for someone of Markov's talent level or the ridiculous free agency bidding war that would result for a player of his talent would likely handicap the team as they tried to address needs already discussed. No defencemen after Subban looks to be capable of being half of what Markov is, there is always hope one could surprise but the Canadiens may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of paying the price to put a second elite defencemen on the roster through free agency or trade if the Canadiens best defencemen since Chris Chelios is unable to return to an elite level of play.
Now allow me to present to you, a Canadiens roster with names similar to the needs in place.
Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Ryan Malone
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot - Lars Eller - Mason Raymond
Travis Moen - Jeff Halpern - Ryan White
Andrei Markov - P.K Subban
Anton Volchenkov - James Wisniewski
Hal Gill - Josh Gorges
Now obviously this roster may not be the same when the Cup squad is assembled but at present, it does sound pretty formidable doesn't? A Stanley Cup Contender in my opinion and it may be where the Canadiens will be approximately by the 2012-13, 13-14 seasons.