The Canadiens’ short-term outlook hasn’t changed much: It’s still all about Carey Price

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There is no team in the NHL that has received as much criticism for its roster construction this summer as the Montreal Canadiens. From a PR perspective, the whole thing has been a nightmare and it only seems to be getting worse with each passing day.

Whether it’s been what appears to be an obvious push to trade skill for grit (Lars Eller out, Andrew Shaw in), trading P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, or the reports that they may have parted ways with their analytics consultant due to disagreements over the Subban trade, everything about this offseason seems to be a runaway freight train of doom-and-gloom when it comes to their chances for this upcoming season. It’s almost as if the whole thing is going to inevitably end with complete failure.

The crazy thing about all of this is that the short-term outlook of the team, at least as it relates to the 2016-17 season, really isn’t all that different than it was before all of these moves started to happen. They are a highly volatile team that could end up being anything from a playoff team that has a chance to contend in the Eastern Conference, to a lottery team that has a chance to contend for the top pick in the draft lottery.

Where they finish is going to be determined by one thing, and one thing only: The health and performance of goaltender Carey Price.

Related: Carey Price declares himself 100% healthy

That was going to be the case before Shaw was acquired and Subban was traded, and it is still going to be the case now with the new-look roster.

At this point the Subban-for-Weber trade has been analyzed from every possible angle, and the long-term ramifications are obvious. Weber is four years older, has a massive contract that will at some point be an issue, and given the fact he is going to be 31 years old this season, his performance will only decline in the coming years. That is a shaky bridge the Canadiens will eventually have to cross. It is going to be a significant issue in the future, and criticism of the trade is absolutely justified for those reasons alone.

Especially when the team itself can’t even fully explain why it had to happen.

All of that has made it pretty easy to overlook the fact that Weber is still a pretty good player right now. He may not make the same type of impact Subban does (or even be as good right now — and that is a concern) but he is not a terrible player and he is not completely done yet. He is still a top-pairing defender that can still make an impact on a team, especially offensively.

The bigger issue with the Canadiens in the short-term is still the way the team plays and the level to which it relies on its goaltender to win games.

With Price sidelined for most of the 2015-16 season, the Canadiens received one of the worst goaltending performances in the league, finishing with a .906 team save percentage, placing them 26th in the NHL. Even a league-average performance in net would have shaved more than 20 goals against off of their season total on the same number of shots. And you can probably bet that a healthy Price will be significantly better than league average and the Canadiens are going to be a better team because of it.

This is simply what they do.

This doesn’t mean the Canadiens haven’t taken a flawed approach to building their team or made moves that could backfire in a big way in the future (committing a six-year contract for a third-line player, as one example; trading P.K. Subban(!) as a bigger one). It also doesn’t excuse the approach.

But the Canadiens under Michel Therrien’s watch have been a team, no matter how much talent exists on the roster, that has relied on its goaltender more than any other team in hockey to win games. When Price plays, the team wins and has a chance to compete. When he doesn’t play (or doesn’t play well), the team has virtually no chance to win.

They go as he goes, and these moves do nothing to change that reality.

Price has been masking the flaws in the team’s approach on the ice for three years now.

Now that responsibility is going to have to expand to covering up for the decision making of the front office as well.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.