Poll: Will the Canadiens win the Atlantic Division next season?

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This post is part of Canadiens Day on PHT…

The Montreal Canadiens had plenty of ups and downs last season, but when it was all said and done, they managed to walk away with the Atlantic Division crown.

Unfortunately for them, that didn’t translate into playoff success, as they were bounced in the opening round by the New York Rangers.

GM Marc Bergevin has made plenty of changes to his roster this summer. To address his team’s lack of scoring, he sent top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Lightning for Jonathan Drouin. Although that move leaves them a little thin in the prospect department, adding a local talent like Drouin is huge for Montreal.

The team also acquired David Schlemko from Vegas and they signed Karl Alzner, Mark Streit, Joe Morrow and Ales Hemsky in free agency.

As much as they’ve added some good pieces, they also lost some really good players too. Alex Radulov signed a big free-agent deal with the Dallas Stars, while Andrei Markov and the club couldn’t agree on a new deal which led to the veteran rearguard signing in the KHL.

They also traded Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo and lost Alexei Emelin in the expansion draft.

We all know about Montreal’s hole down the middle. Alex Galchenyuk spent some time at center last year, but he played as a fourth line left winger in the playoffs. With Tomas Plekanec, Phillip Danault, Torrey Mitchell and Michael McCarron at center, they probably won’t go very far. But if Claude Julien gives Galchenyuk an opportunity to stick there for good, that could pay dividends for the Habs long-term.

Also, the left side of their defense is a bit of a question mark, too. They have Shea Weber and Jeff Petry as their top two options on the right, but a one-two punch of Alzner and Schlemko leaves them a little light at that position.

So, is that roster good enough?

Well, obviously, they still have Carey Price which means anything is possible. But coming away with the division isn’t going to be easy.

Lets size up the competition:

–If the Tampa Bay Lightning can be healthier than they were a year ago (that shouldn’t be too difficult), they’ll be a threat. Having Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov together could lead to a huge jump in the standings for the Bolts.

–The Toronto Maple Leafs’ trio of youngsters (Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner) are all a year older, and that should translate into some form of on-ice success for the team.

–The Ottawa Senators were one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final. Will they take a step back? Maybe, but I’m not counting them out just yet.

–After two years of missing the playoffs, the Bruins played some meaningful games in the spring last year. They’ve got youngsters like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy that are just about ready to become impact players on their blue line. Add Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask, and you quickly realize the Bruins will not be an easy out.

–Like Tampa, the Florida Panthers had a ton of injuries last season. If Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and company can stay healthy, they’ll also make a run at a playoff spot.

–The Buffalo Sabres might not be ready to challenge for the division just yet, but they’ve added Phil Housley as coach and Jason Botterill as GM. They just need to get some good production behind Jack Eichel.

–The Red Wings saw their 26-year playoff streak come to an end last season, and a trip to the postseason appears to be unlikely in 2017-18. Detroit has some interesting young pieces like Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha, but they also have some overpriced veterans.

Alright, it’s your turn to vote. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.