Habs’ defense ranks as big wild card

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When the Montreal Canadiens have been at their best lately, it’s been thanks to timely offense, great goaltending and a suffocating defense. With all apologies to Francis Bouillon “Cube,” they haven’t added much to their blueline, yet their group could be impressive if enough toss-ups go their way.

1. Can Andrei Markov get healthy?

The Canadiens took a leap of faith when they handed Andrei Markov a three-year contract in the 2011 off-season. That gamble went splat as he went from seven games played in 2010-11 to 13 in 2011-12. By that pattern (just 20 games in the last two seasons), one would say Markov’s knee is done.

There is one pattern that’s a bit more heartening, though. All 13 of his games last season came after March 10, so maybe he’s turned the corner? If so, the Habs would get one of the better power play weapons in the NHL (not to mention a solid minute-eater) back on their blueline.

2. Will P.K. Subban progress?

Despite receiving two more minutes per game and playing in four extra contests, Subban scored half as many goals (14 to 7) and two fewer points (38 to 36) last season compared to his impressive first full campaign. He also drew attention for bickering with teammates and coaches – whether that was overblown or not.

That being said, he faced a much greater burden last season and also had inferior luck (his shooting percentage went from 7.1 to 3.4). It’s reasonable to expect more promise – and some extra positive bounces – from Subban, especially if Markov takes some of the heat off of him.

3. Can Tomas Kaberle regain his game?

Few defensemen have seen their stock plummet quite like the former perennial Toronto Maple Leafs trade rumor magnet. Still, his numbers looked a bit like the old Kaberle once he landed in Montreal; he scored 22 points in 43 games, almost exactly a point every two contests. Perhaps this fresh start will pay off, as he could make sweet PP music with Markov and/or Subban if things go well.

The rest

This could be a very deep defense if Markov stays healthy and Kaberle proves semi-useful. Raphael Diaz showed signs of promise while Josh Gorges is a popular shutdown man (or at least was with the old regime). The rest of the guys range from intriguing up-and-comers to respectable depth guys.

If this group responds well to Michel Therrien, it would certainly lighten the load for an iffy offense and an encumbered Carey Price.

Related

Offseason Report: Montreal Canadiens

Roundup: Habs re-up with Geoffrion, Pens sign Strait

It’s Montreal Canadiens day on PHT

What can the Habs expect from Michel Therrien?

Carey Price faces greatest pressure yet next season

Video: Crosby to Dan Patrick – Subban fight ‘wasn’t as bad as it looked’

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Listerine, the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and a growing rivalry. Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban battled it out at the highest level not so long ago, but some of that action looked worse than it actually was.

At least, that’s the message Crosby sent on “The Dan Patrick Show,” as you can enjoy in the clip above.

As a bonus, Crosby also discussed his favorite Stanley Cup traditions – hey, there can be traditions when something happens three times – and how Mario Lemieux inspires some especially creative ideas:

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey: