Change is the common thread running through all facets of the second century of Nos Glorieux. This offseason saw many changes to the defence and the scoring lines as well as change behind the bench and in ownership. After wildly exceeding expectations in the 2007-08 NHL season, hopes were high in Montreal that the storied franchise would properly commemorate its centennial celebration with on-ice success in the 2008-09 NHL season. Those hopes were dashed when Les Habitants narrowly clinched the 8th playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, after enduring a campaign filled with on-ice inconsistency and off-ice disrepute. The remedy for the ailing franchise, as prescribed by GM Bob Gainey, was a complete and substantive makeover.
Looks decent for someone that doesn't follow the team. It's pretty obvious by now that JM isn't too keen on using the three new forwards together and there's no way Laraque joins the third line let alone bump Lats down the depth chart (Lats is way more likely to move up a line than down), but you need to follow the team and the camp to know that. I also think Hamrlik needed more mention than merely jumbled in passing with O'Byrne and Mara, his role is obviously much bigger.
I think the ceiling is considerably higher than you say, especially because a Kessel-less Boston's reliance on .933 goaltending from Tim Thomas makes a "significant drop-off" from them pretty likely even if the rest of the players don't drop off from their career years. The Habs can win the division if they gel, and avoid all the troubles that plagued last season -- it's significant that they were a playoff team despite everything that went wrong, and the talent level is at least equal and probably higher.
The problem with the Habs is that nobody quite knows how the pieces fit together. The ceiling is very high -- 1st in East a la 07-08 is a possibility -- but the floor is very low, probably around 12th and a last-place finish cannot be ruled out if the whole thing implodes. I think it's more likely to go high than go low but a conservative prediction would put them 6-8. But not making the playoffs with better talent, better coaching and (hopefully!) fewer problems and injuries as last year would be a major disappointment.