Alex Galchenyuk

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Canadiens will start Galchenyuk on wing, experiment with Drouin at center

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin met with the Montreal media on Monday morning and offered a look his team’s lineup could take shape this season.

The big question that always seems to be on the mind of Canadiens fans these days is what the team plans to do with talented forward Alex Galchenyuk — is he a center? Is he a wing? What exactly is the plan?

Well according to Bergevin on Monday the plan is to start him on the wing this season until further notice. Along with that, Bergevin also said that newly acquired forward Jonathan Drouin will get a shot at center, an experiment the team has been wanting to try ever since they traded for him from the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer.

But the big story here is probably the Galchenyuk news because the Canadiens seem absolutely convinced that he can not play center. He has spent the first part of his career bouncing back and forth between the two positions and has had a lot of success down the middle offensively, but the team doesn’t seem to trust his play away from the puck.

Given the Canadiens’ need for a top-line center it still seems like it would be worth a shot to see if he can develop that aspect of his game, especially if they are willing to experiment with Drouin at the position given how little experience he has there beyond his last year of junior hockey. He is almost certain to have some growing pains as well, and if the Canadiens treat him the way they did Galchenyuk with such a short leash every time a mistake gets made they may never find an answer at the position.

In Galchenyuk and Droin the Canadiens have two outstanding young forwards that can be potential difference makers in their lineup.

They just don’t seem to have a position at this point for either one of them.

Habs have available cap space to help remedy pressing roster needs

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This post is part of Canadiens Day on PHT…

It’s been a particularly interesting time for Marc Bergevin as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.

It really snowballed in June of 2016 with the P.K. Subban trade and the fallout from that, and has continued this offseason with a trade for Jonathan Drouin to help bring additional scoring to Montreal, the loss of Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov, and signing goalie Carey Price to an eight-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in for the 2018-19 season.

Losing Radulov takes an offensively gifted player out of the lineup, while the club paid a massive amount of money to keep Price in Montreal through 2026.

There were many question marks for Bergevin and the Habs this summer. As discussed earlier today at PHT, one of the biggest dilemmas they may face is up the middle and much of that may depend on the continued development and usage of Alex Galchenyuk.

Yet, Bergevin may still be able to address that before the start of the regular season.

Montreal has about $8.46 million available in cap space, not to mention an additional second-round pick previously belonging to the Chicago Blackhawks, according to CapFriendly.

On the prospect of Bergevin perhaps making another move, Elliotte Friedman recently had some interesting comments to the NHL Network, according to FanRagSports:

“I think you guys a few minutes ago played the key clip, and that is that (Markov) was asked to wait until September or October,” said Friedman. “I get the impression that you’ve got Marc Bergevin sitting here with a lot of cap space and I think he’s sitting on something, or some ideas. And I’m not necessarily saying that he’s going to do something big, but I think he’s dreaming big.

“You talked about the trade earlier this year – the Sergachev-for-Drouin deal – I don’t think that trade happens if they aren’t trying to do something after what was a nightmare year for them last year to change the impression of the organization in the province.”

The Habs will enter next season after a first-round playoff exit to the New York Rangers. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, Montreal had the third worst scoring average, at 1.83 goals-for per game.

This season is likely to come with added pressure for both the Canadiens and Bergevin.

Price, who turns 30 years old next Wednesday, is in the final year of his current contract that has a still reasonable $6.5 million cap hit. When his new deal kicks in, his cap hit will rise to $10.5 million, which means him and Shea Weber will account for $18.35 million against the cap. That amounts to 24 per cent of the current $75 million ceiling in place for the 2017-18 campaign.

“There’s a saying we use: Goalies are not important until you don’t have one,” Bergevin told the Montreal Gazette last month.

“I’ve seen what’s going on around the league with teams who are looking for goaltenders and it’s really hard to do. So it’s a position that’s hard to find and we have in my opinion, in our opinion, one of the best in the business if not the best, so we’re going to keep him and make sure he’s here for the rest of his career.”

That took care of one long-term need.

The Habs still have others heading into the upcoming season, like possibly having to find a No. 1 center, or finding another talented player to improve this team offensively. The available cap space adds another level of intrigue.

The good and bad of Canadiens’ cap situation

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Whether you view Mark Streit as Andrei Markov’s replacement or not, the bottom line is that the Montreal Canadiens didn’t bring Markov back.

That decision closes the book on one of the Habs’ biggest mandatory decisions, though with a Cap Friendly estimate of almost $8.5 million in cap space, GM Marc Bergevin’s work may continue.

Even so, saving money on Markov seems like a decent excuse to examine the team’s salary cap situation as a whole, so let’s do just that.

A cheap, impressive group of forwards

Alex Radulov will be missed; there’s little doubting that.

Even so, handing that much term to an aging forward doesn’t seem to be Bergevin’s M.O. If nothing else, the best thing about his work is how affordable Montreal’s high-quality forwards are.

That’s especially true if Bergevin resists the urge to trade Alex Galchenyuk, who still has room to grow at 23, and who’s likely to be a bargain at $4.9 million for three seasons. Along with providing serious talent, Galchenyuk could take some of the heat off of Jonathan Drouin, who carries a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old making $5.5M through 2022-23.

Personally, those two seem like prime candidates to parallel Max Pacioretty‘s sublime steal of $4.5M, though maybe not to the same splendid degree.

Pacioretty’s contract began in 2013-14, and the fun continues until it expires after 2018-19. He’ll be 30 and a UFA by then, so that could be quite the headache for Montreal … but at least they’re enjoying huge savings before that problem comes.

And, hey, maybe it will be time for “Patches” to step into a calmer atmosphere by then, anyway …

The Habs feature two other significant forward contracts: Andrew Shaw (26 years old, $3.9M through 2021-22) and Brendan Gallagher (25, $3.75M through 2020-21). While Shaw has the rings, Gallagher is the most enticing of the two, at least as far as how high one’s ceiling can go.

A void down the middle?

Looking at shorter-term deals, Tomas Plekanec‘s $6M expiring after 2017-18 is especially fascinating.

Center is a weak spot for the Canadiens, and that could linger if Claude Julien can’t make things work with Galchenyuk and/or Drouin. Plekanec is already 34, so what would the future hold, especially if he wants something close to his current salary again?

Again, while there are certainly questions to answer, the Habs have done a commendable job putting together an affordable fleet of quality forwards.

Now to the scarier stuff.

On Aug. 16, Carey Price turns 30. The 2017-18 season represents his last at a relative bargain clip of $6.5M. After that, the Canadiens are betting big that he can remain an all-world goalie; he carries a $10.5M cap hit from 2018-19 to 2025-26. Yikes.

Oddly enough, Shea Weber‘s birthday is Aug. 14, when he’ll turn 32. Weber’s 14-year pact still has long legs, as he’ll carry a $7.857 million cap hit through 2025-26. Yikes again.

Slow burn

When it comes to the defensive side, the Canadiens might not be the most … mobile bunch, especially after parting ways with solid depth guy Nathan Beaulieu and prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

At 39, Mark Streit doesn’t exactly add fresh legs to a group that could get old in a few years. Your mileage will vary regarding how positive an impact you expect from Weber and new signing Karl Alzner. If things go awry, one would expect some serious griping about the exits of Markov, Alexei Emelin, Beaulieu, and even Sergachev.

(At least there’s Jeff Petry, who seems to gain approval from just about everyone. Just about.)

For the next three seasons, the Canadiens are on the hook for Weber, Petry, Alzner, and David Schlemko for about $20 million combined. Beginning in 2018-19, that defense and Price would cost about $30.5 million.

That combination could turn into a real problem, really fast.

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Then again, it’s not as bad if you look at the situation in a more “instant gratification” way.

Weber still has value now, and Alzner adds experience at a reasonable age. Few coaches can optimize such a defense like Julien can, and things could really cook if Price is Price and those forwards get at least some room to breathe.

And, hey, that $8M and change could be put to interesting use. Did you hear that Jaromir Jagr wanted to be a member of the Habs not so long ago?

It’s easy to see gloom and doom in the forecast, yet for next season, the outlook is fairly sunny. Bergevin’s made his mistakes, but this should be a fascinating team to watch in 2017-18.

Markov, Habs officially part ways

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Andrei Markov‘s run of 17 consecutive seasons in Montreal is over.

On Thursday, the Habs announced that Markov — who’s played all 990 of his career NHL contests with the Canadiens — wouldn’t be brought back for the 2017-18 campaign.

The news comes after months of rumblings about Markov’s contractual status. It was initially believed the 38-year-old UFA was looking for $12 million over two years, and there was a brief flirtation with the Flyers (which, it later turned out, was simply Markov’s interest in going to Philly, not the Flyers actively pursuing him).

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin stated on several occasions he wanted to bring Markov back, but only at the right price and term. That’s because Bergevin knew Markov still played an important role — despite appearing in just 62 games last year, the Russian rearguard was offensively productive, with six goals and 36 points, and averaged nearly 22 minutes per night.

That said, Bergevin also knew the financial realities. He dished out big bucks this offseason — a combined $154.8 million for Carey Price, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk and Karl Alzner — and just didn’t have the money left to give Markov a big ticket.

Instead, Bergevin played it conservative in rounding out his defense, which included Tuesday’s one-year, $700,000 deal for Mark Streit. Some saw that deal as the writing on the wall for Markov in Montreal.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see where Markov ends up. If he lowers his asking price, there’s no doubt an NHL team would be interested. If he doesn’t, he could angle for a KHL deal and the opportunity to represent Russia in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Jonathan Drouin goes undercover — which he won’t be able to do much longer in Montreal

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There is a video making the rounds online right now of Jonathan Drouin interviewing Montreal Canadiens fans about Jonathan Drouin.

His disguise of choice? A black T-shirt. Equipped with a Habs microphone, Drouin goes around asking folks in both English and French what they think of the team’s new additions this offseason and about how many points their recently acquired and signed 22-year-old skilled forward may get — among other hard-hitting inquiries.

Based on the video evidence, some fans seem to recognize him after a short conversation. Others don’t before the big reveal is made.

One fan’s advice: “Don’t take Montreal too seriously.”

While the premise of the video is for Drouin to be right out in the open acting as a team reporter yet incognito at the same time, it would be foolish to think the pressure on him next season won’t be anything short of immense. He was born in Ste-Agathe, Quebec, which is just a short drive northwest from Montreal. Per the Montreal Gazette, he grew up spending summers on the West Island of Montreal. He’s a hometown player for the Habs.

As to be expected in a trade of this magnitude, the Canadians paid a price to land Drouin from the Lightning, parting ways with prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, selected ninth overall last year. The Habs then signed their new acquisition to a six-year, $33 million contract following his breakout 21-goal, 53-point season in Tampa Bay.

The Habs have bulked up on defense over the last few years, acquiring Shea Weber and then signing Karl Alzner this summer. Their success has hinged mostly on the play — and health — of their goalie Carey Price, who was in turn paid a historic amount in his latest contract extension.

For all their efforts to bolster that element of their game, the Habs need dynamic offensive players. They sent that type of player in P.K. Subban to Nashville last year to get Weber. Montreal’s offensive attack during the regular season was middle of the pack for the NHL, 15th in goals-for per game at 2.72. In the playoffs? In six games, they averaged just 1.83 goals-for per game against the Rangers and were eliminated.

Keep in mind, as well, that they lost Alex Radulov during free agency. Back in the NHL after a four-year stint in the KHL, Radulov was responsible for 18 goals and 54 points, before he cashed in with the Dallas Stars.

There are others that can help carry the burden of offensive production. If Paul Byron could duplicate — or come close to duplicating — what he did a year ago, that would be a huge boost. Alex Galchenyuk is only 23 years old but has a 30-goal season under his belt already. Max Pacioretty has five 30-goal seasons, including four in a row.

But the Habs were in need of another highly skilled and speedy forward and that’s what they have in Drouin. He’s young, which is also a plus. He’s coming off a solid year with the Bolts, with the promise for greater things in the future. He has already discussed the pressure he’ll face playing in Montreal. He believes he will “thrive” in this situation.

Playing for the Habs, it will be impossible for Drouin to remain anonymous.