Tomas Plekanec

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Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

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

Coyotes are (gasp) on a winning streak

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As of this writing, the Arizona Coyotes have the least standings points in the NHL (11) despite playing a league-leading 22 games.

Things could change for this young team, but for now, it’s about small victories, which makes actual wins that much bigger. Perhaps what they really needed was this road trip through Canada?

After losing to the Jets in Winnipeg 4-1 on Nov. 14 (no real shame, really, as everyone’s losing to the Jets lately … just ask the Devils), the Coyotes left Claude Julien and the Montreal Canadiens fuming by getting their first regulation win of 2017-18 by a score of 5-4.

Arizona couldn’t make it consecutive wins in regulation, but when Anthony Duclair completed a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, they did something rare: the Coyotes won back-to-back games. Yes, gang, those scrappy kids now have their very own winning streak after today’s 3-2 OT win against the Ottawa Senators.

They wrap up this run of Canadian games by facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday.

Just like any self-respecting sports team, the Coyotes get to participate in a ceremony after wins.

One would guess that Zac Rinaldo got the “championship belt” stemming from the rough stuff between the Coyotes and Canadiens, which included a Rinaldo fight (no surprise) and Tomas Plekanec‘s first NHL bout (in his 941st career game).

The Coyotes want to bounce back from their bad start, while Duclair hopes to shed the weight of a lousy 2016-17 season.

At 4-15-3, Arizona might already be in too big of a hole to make any waves. Even so, they can gain some respect, and show that they’re not as bad as their record indicates. Heck, a win in Toronto would give them an undeniably successful road trip, something that’s not always a layup even for established, contending teams.

Now, now, all of that aside … it might be a little too early to take them seriously.

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

Coyotes get first regulation win, Plekanec’s first NHL fight

The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes don’t strike you as natural rivals, but the animosity can build pretty quickly when two teams start, well, striking each other.

The Coyotes currently lead the Canadiens 5-4, but even so, you could see frustrations spilling over at times during Thursday’s action. In some cases, it was pretty run-of-the-mill, as Zac Rinaldo fought with Nicolas Deslauriers.

To be fair, there were at least some hard punches thrown, with Rinaldo getting the worst of it, seemingly:

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, there was a truly startling fight, as Tomas Plekanec dropped his gloves for his first bout in his 941st game. Granted, there were times when he didn’t seem like he was totally on board with the fight against Brad Richardson.

You’ll note that there was blood, possibly from Plekanec? It was also that rare fight where a combatant was allowed to return to his feet.

Two questions remain: can the Coyotes hold on for a regulation win, and will Plekanec nab a “Gordie Howe hat trick?”

Update: No Howe hat trick for Plekanec. Instead, the Coyotes protected that 5-4 for their first regulation win of 2017-18. They improved to 3-15-3 on the season.

Here’s hoping Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher is OK:

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

Best NHL trade targets with Duchene off the market

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Fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, and other teams must feel a little left out after this weekend.

While those GMs either were afraid to pay the sticker price or weren’t in the conversation, the bottom line is that the Ottawa Senators got Matt Duchene, the Nashville Predators added Kyle Turris, and the Colorado Avalanche’s future looks brighter.

[Breaking down blockbuster Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris trade]

So, what’s next for teams hoping to add that missing piece?

As Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (sub required), “some stuff will always come up.”

With that in mind, let’s consider some of the best trade targets post-Duchene. For the sake of brevity, we’ll stick to forwards; maybe there will be a time to discuss the Keith Yandles of the world some other day. The likelihood of possible moves varies, and will likely change dramatically as the season goes along.

(Note: As usual, Cap Friendly was a glorious resource for this.)

Mandatory, especially unrealistic mentions

John Tavares: Even if they’re more worried about letting him go than they’re letting on, it’s very difficult to picture New York Islanders GM Garth Snow actually trading the face of the franchise and a guy who is, during the bleakest moments, the only bright side to look on.

Still, I’d have to turn in my blogger’s badge if I didn’t at least mention Tavares, because a team would offer up its vital organs if JT actually did go on the market.

The Sedin twins are unlikely as well, though in wildly different ways. Throw Joe Thornton here, too.

A bucket of Golden Knights

Even if the Vegas Golden Knights remain competitive heading into the trade deadline, GM George McPhee could be forgiven if he jumps on a good offer. It’s possible they can have their cake and eat it too, really.

  • James Neal: You can go in circles talking about the negatives (he’s 30, can sometimes go invisible for a while, takes bad frustration penalties), but getting a big, prime-ish-age sniper could be huge for a contending team. If Vegas decides he’s not a part of the future, why not sell high?
  • David Perron: A lot like Neal – they even both had stints with the Penguins – except a lower ceiling, one year younger, and a smaller cap hit. His slick mitts give him the potential to be a gamebreaker if a team doesn’t ask for too much.
  • Jonathan Marchessault: The 26-year-old carries just a $750K cap hit, and he’s at a fascinating fork in the road for his career. Vegas might want to keep him, but what kind of raise is coming? And what if a contender tight against the cap presents a war chest of assets for him, considering that cheap 2017-18 mark?

Lightning round

Alex Galchenyuk: Free Alex.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Could the latest $6M Oilers forward be gone?

Jesse Puljujärvi: Would Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers really cut ties with another high draft pick?

Patrick Maroon, Ryan Strome: Two guys on expiring contracts. Bargain-hunting GMs might as well keep Chia on their speed dial, right?

Phil Kessel: Ugh, it’s irksome to mention, but it feels required. There’s at least some merit to the murmurs.

Rick Nash: See more on how Nash could fit into a mini-Rangers rebuild here. Nash is tantalizing, but the Rangers would need to find a way to make things work for a trade partner considering his Nash-sized cap hit.

Evander Kane: Has his issues, but he’s a power forward in his prime, and the 26-year-old seems like he’s playing at a high level. Manageable cap hit at $5.25M, especially since the trade deadline tends to make guys like him easier to get under the ceiling.

Gabriel Landeskog: Tough to imagine the Avalanche making such bold moves in succession, but then again, why not at least gauge the market? With four years remaining at about $5.57M per, it would require a major undertaking. What if Sakic offered to take, say, Ryan Callahan‘s problem deal on for Landeskog in exchange for a boatload of assets? Just saying.

[Sakic’s patience pays off in Duchene trade]

Gustav Nyquist, various Red Wings: Gotta pull off the rebuild Band-Aid sometime, right? Maybe?

Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk: Two affordable Maple Leafs forwards who are likely to get lost in the shuffle when Auston Matthews & Co. burn through their rookie deals. JVR is a chronically underrated winger.

Patric Hornqvist: The scorer of the 2017 Stanley Cup-clinching goal is an old 30 considering all of his battles in front of the net. Maybe he’d go the other way if the Penguins wanted to make a move or a series of moves?

Tomas Plekanec, Thomas Vanek, etc.: There are a handful of aging, reasonably useful forwards on expiring deals. Imagine them all listed here; check Cap Friendly for even more options.

***

That’s quite the list, and some of those players are even worth trading for. Maybe Blue Jackets and Hurricanes fans can daydream about better days, too?

Feel free to add any names you believe are missing in the comments, emails, or via Twitter. You can even embrace the freedom to be more out-there than the idea of trading Tavares. Have fun.

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

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.

***

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.