Wednesday Night Hockey: How quickly can Habs turn things around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Canadiens are well on their way to missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2017 and that year they got bounced in the first round. Why are the Habs in this situation and how quickly can they fix this? Let’s take a look.

Montreal got off to a strong enough start this year, but things fell apart once Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron got hurt in mid-November. Once those two went down, the Canadiens proceeded to go on an eight-game winless streak. Joel Armia also missed a stretch of games and Jesperi Kotkaniemi was injured on two different occasions.

Sure, it helped when general manager Marc Bergevin signed Ilya Kovalchuk and traded for Marco Scandella in early January, but the damage had already been done. That’s why the Habs are in a tricky spot. Their team has veterans like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher on the roster, but they’re not willing to part with future assets for immediate help.

Now that Weber (lower body) is out indefinitely and the team is seven points out of a playoff spot, there isn’t much hope left for this season.

So what do they do?

Bergevin can sell off expiring contracts at the deadline. Kovalchuk, Scandella, Nate Thompson and Nick Couins could all be on the move. All four are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Maybe they hang on to Kovalchuk because he’s been that good and maybe Scandella, who is from Montreal, wants to continue his career at home, but if the right offers come along, those guys could be moved.

Things get way more interesting when you consider whether or not they’d move key players with term remaining on their contracts. For example, Petry and Tatar both have one-year remaining on their deals after this season. Would Bergevin consider moving those guys? When you look at the haul that Minnesota got for Jason Zucker, who has more years remaining on his deal, it might be tempting for Bergevin to make a similar deal.

It all comes down to how close they think they are to being a playoff team as soon as next season. What we know is that Bergevin isn’t interested in trading Weber and Price. If that continues to be the case, they almost have no choice but to go for it because those two aren’t getting any younger.

They tried landing Sebastian Aho with an offer sheet last summer, but that didn’t work. Typically, Montreal isn’t a free-agent destination of choice, so it’ll be difficult to add quality players that way. What it comes down to is whether or not they can land a high-end talent via trade. And would they be willing to part with certain young assets to make that happen before Price and Weber are no longer cornerstone players?

Assuming Bergevin gets to keep his job, this will be a massive period for him. Not only does he have to trade/acquire the right players, he has to make sure he’s taking the right approach with this team.

John Forslund will call the matchup alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury. Liam McHugh hosts the night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

With Alex Ovechkin just two goals shy of reaching 700 goals for his NHL career, NBC Sports has flexed into its second Capitals game this week, adding Washington’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo, on Thursday night.

Thursday night’s coverage of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

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.

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