Jonathan Drouin

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Will Rangers fans warm up to Vigneault this season?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

From the way many New York Rangers fans discuss Alain Vigneault, you’d think he was presiding over the era of 1997-98 to 2003-04, when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

Impressive results

From a sheer win-loss standpoint, Vigneault’s been a success, even if the Rangers haven’t been able to win it all. The Rangers’ points percentage has been at .628, almost as strong as his .632 mark with the Canucks, when AV took Vancouver within one win of that elusive Stanley Cup title.

(Breaking: things haven’t gone so smoothly for Vancouver since he left town.)

The Rangers are 192-108-28 under Vigneault. They made an unexpected run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and also brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Plenty of critics

Of course, Vigneault wasn’t on the ice winning those games, and many would (understandably) attribute the Rangers’ successes to the players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist. In the eyes of many, this team’s successes come despite Vigneault.

Again, the criticisms are often as harsh as they are widespread.

Sometimes people find his defensive pairing decisions maddening. If you want to make some Rangers fans wince, just utter the name Tanner Glass. SBNation Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter provides a portal into such angst, with headlines like “Rangers demise started at the top” and failing grades for his playoff maneuvering.

Twitter can honestly get a little weird with the AV vitriol, although … maybe that’s to be expected? Consider this a random example that’s on the more, well, SFW spectrum:

Not everyone is bashing Vigneault, mind you, but his critics can sometimes resemble a chorus.

Glass floor

Of course, any passionate fan base will have its qualms with coaches. People have been discussing “the pros and cons of Alain Vigneault” for ages.

It’s easy to get caught up in your favorite team and ignore the notion that virtually every coach has “their guys.”

In this case, “their guys” means marginal players whose elevated roles leaves fans shaking their heads. Jon Cooper seemingly favored Andrej Sustr and arguably never really trusted Jonathan Drouin. Maple Leafs fans weren’t always thrilled to see, say, Roman Polak getting serious minutes. The list goes on and on.

A turning point?

With that in mind, the 2017-18 season could be an especially fascinating chapter in the love-hate affair between Rangers fans and Vigneault.

Frankly, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took measures to protect Vigneault from himself, and those changes might just leave fans begrudgingly agreeing with more AV moves than usual … or it might send some over the edge if old habits die hard.

As much as people criticize individual moves, Vigneault made a strong argument that he’s a versatile coach in 2016-17, taking a more modern approach with the Rangers. It mostly worked, and now this team has better tools to improve their transition game.

To an extent, it’s addition by subtraction, as Dan Girardi‘s time mercifully ends, and with it the motivation for AV to give him big minutes. This opens the door for more mobile defenders to get time, such as promising young blueliner Brady Skjei.

The actual additions are most important. Kevin Shattenkirk stands, on paper, as a massive upgrade, especially if he slides into a pairing with Ryan McDonagh (who some believe has been dragged down by Girardi for years).

Another key will be how Marc Staal is used. If the emphasis shifts from Staal to Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei, Brendan Smith and maybe even Anthony DeAngelo, stats-minded Rangers fans might be pleased.

Maybe most importantly for the mental health of some fans, that lure to put Glass in the lineup is also gone.

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To some extent, criticisms are just the nature of the beast for coaches in professional sports. Vigneault’s been around long enough to realize that.

Even so, the highs and lows of Vigneault can sometimes be quite dramatic, making him a polarizing subject for fans. This season should be especially interesting to watch from the perspective of Rangers fans, whether AV makes changes or continues to frustrate them in familiar ways.

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

Mikhail Sergachev, the talented defenseman Tampa Bay acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade with Montreal, is ready to play in the NHL.

But circumstances beyond his control might keep him back.

On talent alone, Sergachev should push for a roster spot. The 19-year-old wowed in a four-game cameo with the Habs last season, and was a dynamic offensive force in junior with OHL Windsor. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound rearguard put up 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games for the Spits and, in January, starred on the international scene by helping Russia capture bronze at the World Juniors.

Sergachev says he’s ready to make the next step.

“I’ve played a lot in juniors and I learned a lot in those years,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I feel like this is my time to play in the NHL and I’ll do my best and play my best to make the Lightning roster.”

But there are those aforementioned circumstances at play.

If Sergachev doesn’t play 40 games for Tampa Bay this season, then the Lightning will receive the Canadiens’ second-round pick in 2018, and the Canadiens will receive the Lightning’s sixth-round pick.

So in a roundabout way, there’s an incentive for the Lightning to return Sergachev to junior for another year. The Bolts would get a second-round pick for a sixth-round pick, and that’s a good trade.

There’s another factor to consider as well. The Lightning have Stanley Cup aspirations. As such, they’re not in a position to gift anyone a roster spot — especially if it costs them a second-round pick.

Right now, the club projects to ice a top-six defense of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr. Jake Dotchin is firmly in that mix as well, and Ben Thomas — a key part of the Syracuse team that made the Calder Cup Final last year — could also push his way into the conversation.

Still, the allure of getting Sergachev into the lineup is high.

His puck moving skills and creativity would be a boon for the power play, especially on a back end that’s essentially carried by Hedman. To that point: Hedman led the team in PP assists last year, with 29. The next closest blueliner was Stralman, who had six.

In the end, this decision could come down to the preseason. If Sergachev plays like a guy Tampa has to keep in the lineup, the club will probably respond accordingly. And if not? Well, the consolation prize is a second-round pick, which isn’t too bad.

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.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

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It was another summer of change for the Montreal Canadiens.

Following a mostly successful regular season and then a disappointing first-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the New York Rangers, general manager Marc Bergevin had an eventful summer re-tooling his team.

The Canadiens said goodbye to their longest-tenured member (Andrei Markov), one of their best players from a year ago (Alexander Radulov) and a couple of other role players (Alexei Emelin, Nathan Bealieu). In their place will be an exciting young forward (Jonathan Drouin), a couple of lottery tickets on veterans Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit, and a risky big-ticket free agency in Karl Alzner.

They also made starting goaltender Carey Price one of the highest paid players in the NHL.

Are those the changes the Canadiens need to get over the hump?

Or will it be more of the same in 2017-18 where they only go as far as Price can take them?

Today at PHT we will focus on all of the key storylines impacting the Montreal Canadiens as NHL training camps get closer.

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.