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

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins

Sens ink veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya to one-year deal

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The Ottawa Senators have added some depth to their blue line, as they’ve signed Johnny Oduya to a one-year deal that comes with a base salary of $1 million.

Interestingly enough, Oduya can earn another $1.25 million in performance bonuses (games played, time -on-ice, playoff bonuses), per the Sens’ Twitter account.

The 35-year-old started last season with the Dallas Stars, but he was traded back to the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 28.

Oduya finished the 2016-17 season with two goals, seven assists and a minus-4 rating in 52 games. He also played in all four the Blackhawks’ playoff games (he had no points and a minus-3 rating in the postseason).

The Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, and they didn’t replace him with a free-agent signing until now.

As of right now, Ottawa has Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson and Oduya on the back end (only Phaneuf and Karlsson are under contract beyond 2017-18). Top prospect Thomas Chabot could also make the team with a solid training camp.

Jets sign Connor Hellebuyck to one-year, $2.25 million deal

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The Winnipeg Jets took care of some important business on Monday morning, as they re-signed goalie Connor Hellebuyck to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

The two sides were scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Aug. 1, but as expected, they were able to hammer out  a deal before reaching that point.

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Hellebuyck quickly became one of the best prospects in the Jets’ system.

The 24-year-old made his NHL debut in 2015-16. He posted 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage. In 2016-17, he appeared in 56 games and finished with a 26-19-4 record, a 2.89 goals-against-average and a .907 save percentage.

Even though Hellebuyck will be back next season, the Jets will have a different look between the pipes. On July 1st, they inked Steve Mason to a two-year contract worth $8.2 million.

As has been the case over the last couple of seasons, Winnipeg will continue to have a crowded crease. On top of having Mason and Hellbuyck under contract, Michael Hutchinson still has one year left on his deal at $1.15 million.

It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Paul Maurice divides starts between Hellebuyck and Mason (assuming both are completely healthy).

Mason played in 58 games with the Flyers last season and he’s making almost double what Hellebuyck is making for now.

PHT Morning Skate: Should the Flyers be worried about Claude Giroux?

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–Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had his day with the Stanley Cup, and he decided to bring it to a children’s hospital in the Montreal area. Even though he missed the playoffs with an injury, the hospital visit put things in perspective for him. (Canadian Press)

Jordan Eberle may not be a member of the Edmonton Oilers anymore, but that didn’t stop him from having a good time at his wedding with some of his old teammates. Country music star Brett Kissel also made an appearance during Eberle’s big night. (Sportsnet)

–Flyers center Claude Giroux has seen his production decrease over the last three seasons, and CSN Philly is wondering if it’s time to worry about the captain. Some of the CSN Philly writers are a little more optimistic about his odds of bouncing back than others. (CSN Philly)

–The Montreal Canadiens want fans to stop using printed tickets, so they’ve decided to charge season-ticket holders a $150 plus taxes fee to have a ticket booklet sent to them. Obviously, some fans aren’t thrilled about the additional charge for “hard” tickets. “They don’t think about this stuff. And if you read the letter, you’ll see that they just jammed it at the bottom of the letter with this nice little surprise. (Montreal Gazette)

–CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty looks at which available free agents would be the best fit for the Boston Bruins. Haggerty believes that taking a chance on Eric Gelinas could be worth the risk, but he also feels like a reunion with Jarome Iginla or Jaromir Jagr could make some sense. (CSN New England)

–The Chicago Blackhawks held a press conference on Saturday, but there was a catch. Only children were allowed to ask questions to players like Patrick Kane, Connor Murphy and Nick Schmaltz. Questions ranged from “How do you feel with the other team on the ice?” to “What is the best prank you did on a player?” Cute stuff. (Chicago Tribune)