Carey Price

Canadiens need to look in mirror before moving forward


The Montreal Canadiens have been a colossal disappointment in 2017-18. Instead of building on their first-round playoff exit from last year, the Habs have bottomed out as one of the worst teams in the league from day one of the season.

The highs have been short and the lows have been long, but it sounds like current general manager Marc Bergevin will get an opportunity to improve his underwhelming roster. As owner and team president Geoff Molson reiterated at a team foundation event on Friday morning, Bergevin isn’t going anywhere.

“It has not been a satisfactory season so far,” Molson told PHT on Friday morning. “Marc and I both know that, the whole organization knows that. And I think if you asked every player, every coach and every person that’s involved, they’d all say the same thing. We have to get better. Marc knows that and I tell him that. He acknowledges that and he agrees with it, of course.

“There’s no question that I think Marc is very capable of accomplishing that, but he and I both know that this season’s been unsatisfactory.”

Don’t be mistaken, Molson also said the team will make adjustments to the way they operate before the start of next season. Someone is going to take the fall for this disaster, but it won’t be Bergevin.

When asked if the Canadiens have to make the playoffs next season, Molson hesitated before saying that he wasn’t sure how he wanted to express himself regarding next season. Those are things he wants to answer closer to next fall, but he also added that it’s important for the team to always do everything they can to be competitive every year.

Like most teams, the Habs will be in the mix for John Tavares if he becomes a free agent on July 1st. Whether or not they rebuild or retool might depend on if they can land Tavares, which has be considered a serious long shot at this point. But if he does decide to join former Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber in Montreal, the Canadiens would once again be seen as legitimate playoff hopefuls.

“Do we need a franchise player? Probably,” said Molson, without ever mentioning the Islanders forward’s name. “And that’s something I see as an opportunity for us.”

Who knows what the plan is if they can’t land Tavares in free agency. All we really know for sure, is that the owner expects everyone to be better heading into next season. Molson isn’t putting the blame on any one particular person, but he acknowledged several times that the way this season unfolded was not acceptable.

“I’m not really going to point any fingers,” said Molson.

“So you can look at players, you can look at coaching, you can look at scouting, you can look at player development, you can look at the general manager, you could look everywhere and say there are areas to improve, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes for those improvements to turn into on-ice success for a that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 25 years.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marc-Andre Fleury aims for 400th win


It was never going to be easy for Marc-Andre Fleury, who could become the 13th goalie in NHL history to reach 400 wins if the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

The perpetually grinning goalie came into the NHL as the first overall pick in 2003, a draft that turned out to be historically loaded. That’s a tough burden for any netminder, especially when you recall that – believe it or not – the Pittsburgh Penguins were in a positively dreadful place at that time.

“MAF” has seen some serious turbulence on his way to collecting three Stanley Cup rings. He became one of Hockey Twitter’s favorite goalies to ridicule, and at times criticisms were certainly warranted; following his first championship with Pittsburgh, Fleury’s save percentage was below .900 in four straight postseasons. Plenty of goalies wouldn’t be able to rebuild their confidence after such struggles, and there were valleys including some tough times that warranted a well-publicized locker room visit from Mario Lemieux.

Fleury’s eventual exit from Pittsburgh was remarkably classy, but it was more than that. The athletic goalie also happened to go out on a high note.

For all the memories of postseason struggles, Fleury was fantastic during the first half of the Penguins’ 2017 Stanley Cup run, posting a splendid .924 save percentage. How many goalies would be this relaxed during a Game 7 of a playoff series, to the point of teasing Alex Ovechkin after a save that … well, few goalies could author?

Fleury then gave way to Matt Murray without making a stink, passed him the Stanley Cup, and then gracefully accepted going to an expansion team. By gestures alone, he deserves serious kudos:

With Fleury, it’s easy to get distracted by the bigger moments. During the time of that Game 7 save against Nicklas Lidstrom, fancy stats people gradually found themselves rolling their eyes at praise of Fleury. Now, his improved work might be slipping under the radar.

Consider this: in 196 regular-season games from 2014-15 through this season, Fleury sports a strong .920 save percentage, matching Braden Holtby. His 111 wins edges the likes of Carey Price. Fleury ranks in the top 10 of both categories during that time frame for netminders with at least 50 games played.

Remarkably, the 33-year-old is in the middle of one of his best regular seasons. Injuries limit his Vezina appeal, but Fleury is 24-9-3 with a .930 save percentage, which would easily rank as his best individual season.

Gerard Gallant deserves a lot of credit for how the Golden Knights play, and the line of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson probably deserve more ink for being one of the more dangerous NHL trios (at least when healthy). It’s easy to lose track of how special a season Fleury is having thanks to injuries and other headlines, but he probably deserves credit as the glue holding a shockingly competitive expansion team together.

Take a look at where Fleury ranks among the 13 winningest NHL goalies (along with a notable name at number 14), and realize that he could really climb this list as his career goes along:

1. Martin Brodeur: 691 wins
2. Patrick Roy: 551
3. Ed Belfour: 484
4. Roberto Luongo: 467
5. Curtis Joseph: 454
6. Terry Sawchuk: 447
7. Jacques Plante: 437
8. Henrik Lundqvist: 430
9. Tony Esposito: 423
10. Glen Hall: 407
11. Grant Fuhr: 403
12. Chris Osgood: 401
13. Fleury: 399
14. Dominik Hasek: 389

Fleury told’s Mike Zeisberger that he’s taken a look at those all-time lists, but he doesn’t necessarily obsess about it.

“Those two guys (Roy and Brodeur) are from the province of Quebec like me and they were guys I grew up looking up to,” Fleury said. “There are other guys on that list too from the 1990s that I used to watch like Ed Belfour (484) and Curtis Joseph (454).

“Now I see their names on the list and to think I’m up there, it’s flattering and kind of unbelievable.”

Fleury may never win a Vezina during his NHL career. He may not win over all his critics, even if he continues his current upward trend.

None of that changes that he’s enjoyed a memorable career, and whether he reaches 400 wins tonight or later on, Fleury’s shown why he was one of the few goalies to go first overall. Simply put, there’s no other goalie quite like “The Flower.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

One brave move could improve Capitals


“Reliably good” might not be the sexiest descriptor in sports, but when an NHL team finds a goalie who delivers such results, they should count their lucky stars. Few goalies beyond Henrik Lundqvist have fit that bill quite like Braden Holtby over recent years.

Still, just about every goalie goes through a crisis of confidence; even Lundqvist hasn’t been immune to questions surrounding certain stretches of play. Holtby was already struggling this season – he came into last night’s game with exactly a 3.00 GAA, a number startling by both its symmetry and its worrisome nature – and only saw it worsen, allowing three goals in just two periods in Washington’s loss to Anaheim.

It can’t be good to see your team literally double the opposition in shots on goal, yet lose 4-0.

The good news, but also the challenge, is that the Capitals have another option in net, and Philipp Grubauer appears to be a pretty excellent one in that. Rather than fighting it, the Caps should give him a real chance to prove himself, and possibly profit off of that ambition.

He didn’t have to do much against the Ducks on Tuesday, stopping all eight shots in relief of Holtby, but that appearance served as a reminder that he’s been quite effective when called upon. That goes for 2017-18 (a sparkling .922 save percentage in 25 appearances) and his career in general (a slightly better .923 save percentage in 91 games). Holtby, meanwhile, saw his 2017-18 save percentage dip to a worrying .907.

As Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post reports, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz & Co. seem to know that they might need to pivot, at least for a while.

“I think just like anything, we’ll make that decision based on that he’s played a lot of games and won a lot of games,” Trotz said. “So because he’s No. 1 doesn’t mean you don’t go with Grubi for a bit just so [Holtby] can settle his game. We’ll sit down with [goaltending coach Scott Murray] just to see what the best thing for the long haul is.”

So, that’s a bit of hedging, which is totally fair. Allow me to lay out a few reasons why the Capitals should embrace Grubauer as a real threat to Holtby, even if it’s only for the next month or so.

Motivation plus freshness

There’s little doubt that Braden Holtby is a highly motivated athlete.

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads all goalies in games played (250), wins (160), and shutouts (21) while maintaining an excellent .920 save percentage. Still, you wonder if that workload might be weighing on him a bit. That’s especially plausible after the last two seasons, when he might have blamed himself at least in part for the Capitals falling heartbreakingly short of a Stanley Cup despite dominant regular seasons.

While Holtby’s $6.1 million cap hit runs through 2019-20, Grubauer’s $1.5M expires after this season, making him a pending RFA.

At 26, Grubauer must be chomping at the bit to get an extended opportunity to show what he can do … and yes, earn himself some money.

If the Capitals are worried about a “Here we go again” mentality, would a goalie who’s only enjoyed 95 games played spread out over six seasons give them a fresh outlook? From a scouting perspective, there’d likely be a lot more “tape” on a guy like Holtby (355 regular season games, 59 playoff appearances) than Grubauer.

Painful firsthand experiences

If nothing else, the Caps have seen how far a team can go while “riding the hot hand.”

Matt Murray is an immediate example, and he might stand as a template for how the Caps could handle things if Grubauer managed to take Washington far. Maybe they’d roll with Holtby and Grubauer for a bit before making a move? Murray helped the Penguins beat the Caps during the 2016 postseason, while injuries and a red-hot Marc-Andre Fleury flipped the script.

The most extreme example goes to the days before Holtby and Trotz.

During the 2010 postseason, the Canadiens went on an unlikely run with Jaroslav Halak, who only allowed three goals during the final three games of that memorable first-round series despite facing a ridiculous 134 shots on goal.

Despite that run, the Habs then had the courage to choose Carey Price over Halak during the ensuing off-season. These examples could show Washington that there’d be multiple routes if they give Grubauer an extended look, rather than giving him a very short leash.

What could have been?

Look, Holtby’s earned the right to be “the guy” in Washington’s net.

That said, the Capitals are already plagued by “What if?” questions. The Capitals won the last two Presidents Trophies, and also snagged one in 2009-10, yet they still lack a Stanley Cup ring. This franchise needs to turn over every stone to try to get Alex Ovechkin that elusive ring, even if it means ruffling some feathers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHLPA 2017-18 poll: Crosby, McDavid dominate; Underrated Backstrom

Getty Images

Between September and the end of January, the National Hockey League Players’ Association polled its members on a number of topics, from best player to worst arena ice to best referee.

Over 500 players participated and some results are what you’d expect while there were a few surprises along the way. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as you’d expect, dominated such categories as “Fastest Skater,” “Most Difficult Player to Play Against” and “Which player would you select to start a franchise?” But there were a few other topics of interest.

Which goalie is the most difficult to score on? Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens won this handily with 41 percent of the vote, and when he’s healthy, it’s tough to argue.

Who is the toughest player? Ryan Reaves, now of the Vegas Golden Knights, was a big vote-getter, earning 44.7 percent of support. He beat out the likes of Milan Lucic (14.8 percent) and Zdeno Chara (4 percent). Reaves is certainly a tough SOB, but it’s hard to imagine Chara not winning this title every year until he retires.

Who is the most underrated player? There was a time when the prevailing thought was that Loui Eriksson was the guy here. But for a long time many in the hockey world agreed with the players this year and chose Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom (8.6 percent). Playing under the shadow of Alex Ovechkin will do that, but maybe this will be the thing to give him a bit more love around the league. Right behind Backstrom was Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues (6.8 percent).

Do you like the way points are currently awarded for a win or a loss in the regular season? A whopping 77.7 percent of players said yes, which makes sense when you think about it. As the league loves to promote parity in the standings, if you’re a player, you should be happy that the loser point exists because it keeps your playoff hopes alive a little longer than the old way of two points for a win and zero points for any loss did.

Who is the best referee? The viral referee, Wes McCauley, was a big winner with 47.8 percent of votes. A willingness to conduct a calm dialogue on the ice during tense times and the ability to let players vent at the right time goes a long way to earning respect. McCauley is one of those officials. (Tim Peel at 4.4 percent, eh?)

Which rink has the worst ice? While Bell Centre earned the title of “best rink to play” in and “best ice,” among players, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida wins worst ice (16.8 percent), followed up by Gila River Arena in Arizona (10.7 percent). In third place, and no real surprise, is Barclays Center in Brooklyn. We imagine most of the New York Islanders chose their own rink considering some of their quotes over the last few seasons.

You can check out the rest of the results at the NHLPA website.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Backes to have disciplinary hearing; Tavares isn’t having fun

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• The Score grades every teams worst contract, which is pretty interesting. Carey Price, Milan Lucic and Brent Seabrook are all on the list. (The Score)

• The Blue Jackets pairing of Ian Cole and David Savard have some solid facial hair, but that’s not what makes them a solid duo. (Columbus Dispatch)

• Bruins forward David Backes will have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his hit on Detroit’s Frans Nielsen. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Some teams give capes or hats to the player of the game, but the Capitals have decided to hand out a motorcycle helmet with LED lights. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• It’s been a tough ride back from neck surgery, but Kris Letang finally seems to be rounding into form. (

• Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will be part of NBC’s hockey broadcast tonight. He’ll be standing inside the glass with hockey analyst Pierre McGuire during the first period of tonight’s game between the Flyers and Penguins. (

John Tavares admitted that he’s not having a ton of fun right now. (Newsday)

• Blue Shirt Blogs takes a deeper look at all the new prospects the Rangers acquired before the trade deadline. (Blue Shirt Blogs)

• You think the Edmonton Oilers regret trading Taylor Hall away? Whether they do or they don’t, he’s made quite a statement over the last few weeks. (Edmonton Sun)

• The Sharks have allowed the first goal of a hockey game pretty often, their fans shouldn’t be worried by that. (NBC Bay Area)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.