Julien, Canadiens under pressure to make offseason risks pay off

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While we rarely know what Marc Bergevin has up his muscle-challenged sleeves, he flips the script like few others in running the Montreal Canadiens. After another significant offseason of changes, it’s fair to wonder how coach Claude Julien feels about all of this.

(It’s also great to hear that Claude Julien is “feeling really good” following the health scare that chased him from the playoff bubble.)

To little surprise, Julien praised Bergevin’s offseason changes for the Canadiens.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Julien said, via the Canadiens’ transcription of his press conference. “I feel like we have a really good, competitive team right now. A lot of these different things that we had looked at to improve our team have been taken care of.”

Of course, Julien is going to say all the right things about the Canadiens’ offseason moves. And being that GMs tend to tailor tweaks and changes to their coach’s style, it would make sense that Julien is on board.

But can Julien and the Canadiens make everything mesh together, and justify the risks? Let’s see.

A quick look at expectations for the Canadiens

For some NHL teams, the 24-team playoff format upended expectations. Consider this: many of us likely forgot that the more optimistic Canadiens (71 points in 71 games played) finished well behind the far gloomier Panthers (78 points, 69 GP) during the 2019-20 regular season.

That’s the power of earning playoff upsets here and there; you set the bar a little higher. In the case of the Canadiens, they likely felt a lot better about things than maybe they should after finishing the regular season ranked 12th in the East.

Bergevin continues to spend as if the Canadiens can contend, whether they’re capable or not.

While Cap Friendly estimates the Canadiens’ actual salary spending at a more manageable $66.3 million, they’re close to the cap ceiling in terms of AAV. This is not a cheap team, particularly with financial uncertainty looming for 2020-21.

If the 2020-21 NHL season sticks with the typical divisional format (not a guarantee amid rumors of an all-Canadian division, among other possible plans), where would Montreal rank in the Atlantic Division? Could they dislodge one of the Lightning, Bruins, or Maple Leafs to grab a top-three spot? Would Buffalo and/or Florida also be in the way?

With Carey Price at 33 and Shea Weber at 35, it feels like the clock is really ticking. Missing the playoffs would sting greatly, so the pressure is on.

Canadiens made several interesting risks during offseason

Moving on from Max

When it comes to trading Max Domi, you can look at two key risks.

Trading Domi for Anderson

Looking at this merely from a player-for-player standpoint, it’s already a gamble. As you may know, Anderson only played in 26 games this past season, and injuries even limited his effectiveness when available (just one goal and three assists). So, the first gamble is that Anderson will be healthy.

The second gamble is whether or not Anderson is really a more valuable player than Domi when both are at full-strength. Granted, you can diffuse some of that by noting how different a player Anderson is than Domi. You could argue that the Canadiens subtracted from a position of strength (speed, skill) to improve a weakness (size, maybe finish?).

On top of all that, the Canadiens made a bigger gamble, contract-wise. While the Blue Jackets only committed two years and a $5.3M cap hit to 25-year-old Domi, the Habs gave Anderson, 26, slightly more money ($5.5M) and far more term (seven years).

Really, the only plus side of that possibly blowing up in Montreal’s face right away is that it appears as though Anderson’s modified no-trade clause won’t kick in until 2021-22.

Could Anderson pay off for the Canadiens, especially short-term? Sure. But it’s a gamble on its own, especially if Domi boosts the Blue Jackets in a bigger way.

Putting a lot of pressure on young centers

During his press conference, Claude Julien explained that trading Max Domi wasn’t really about condemning Domi. Instead, it was about embracing the emergence of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

“It’s not so much that it didn’t work out [with Domi in Montreal],” Julien said, via Sportsnet. “Sometimes this is what hockey’s all about — you end up with a situation where now Max became I guess a little bit expendable, because we had those guys do so well, and at the same time, we’re able to get a big player that we really needed on the wing in Josh Anderson in exchange for him.”

No doubt, Suzuki looked impressive in scoring seven points in 10 playoff games (and enraging Carter Hart). And Jesperi Kotkaniemi seemed to shake off a horrendous sophomore regular season, even if his playoff work was more about his overall play than generating four goals and zero assists in 10 contests.

And beyond that, Domi didn’t seem happy.

But people might forget that if Suzuki, 21, and Kotkaniemi, 20, strain under increased pressure. In hindsight, people might ask: why not sign Domi to a bridge contract, thus giving them a safety net.

Now imagine if Anderson sputters and those two hit a wall, all while Domi soars in Columbus. Triple gulp.

Doing it their way

For better or worse, Bergevin targeted players, and immediately handed them term.

In some cases, that meant going off the beaten path.

If Joel Edmundson, 27, hit the free agent market, how many teams would have offered him a four-year, $14M deal with a no-trade clause? Bergevin ended that discussion before it could start, and paid a fifth-rounder to negotiate with Edmundson (and maybe against himself?).

By bringing in Edmundson, Bergevin puts some pressure on Julien to play the defenseman, which could also take shifts away from underrated blueliners Victor Mete and/or Brett Kulak.

Citing a possibly condensed schedule, Julien praised acquiring Jake Allen to spell Carey Price. On paper, getting Price more rested could increase the $10.5M goalie’s chances of actually performing like a $10.5M goalie.

But the Canadiens handed over a lot of paper to do that.

Allen already carries a $4.35M cap hit for 2020-21, and Bergevin handed the 30-year-old a two-year extension with a $2.875M AAV before Allen made a single start for Montreal.

Now, if the Canadiens get 2019-20 Allen more often than not, it might be worth it — even if it’s a lot to pay for a backup. On the other hand, Allen struggled mightily during his previous two seasons. So, there’s a scary possibility that the Canadiens will sink almost $15M in cap space in Allen and Price and settle for subpar goaltending.

If that happens, Bergevin will take a lot of heat. Yet, so will Julien, who’s in charge of making a hearty meal out of these new groceries.

Will rewards justify the risks?

Again, when you stack it all up, there’s a lot of pressure on Julien and other Canadiens after this bold offseason.

None of this is to say it’s all bad. Amusingly, the most redundant signing might be the best. Tyler Toffoli is great at what many Canadiens already excelled at; Toffoli is a smart, skilled, strong five-on-five player. He also suffers from the team’s malady of sometimes struggling to take advantage of the volume of opportunities he creates.

It would be amusing if Toffoli — more of the same — ended up making the biggest difference for a Canadiens team that went through big changes.

Ultimately, it likely comes down to expectations. If Montreal would be satisfied with a playoff team, there’s probably a path. But to take that extra step and truly contend? That might cause them to buckle under the pressure.

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.

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    Barkov sets Panthers’ points mark in 5-2 win over Red Wings

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    DETROIT – Aleksander Barkov set the Florida franchise record for most career points, Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals, and the streaking Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth consecutive time, 5-2.

    Barkov recorded a second-period assist, giving him 614 points, breaking a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team record.

    Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points over the last five games. Eric Staal and Gustav Forsling also scored for the Panthers, who are 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots.

    Pius Suter and Dylan Larkin scored for the Red Wings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Ville Husso had 20 saves.

    The Panthers led 2-1 after the first period.

    The first Florida goal came after Lucas Raymond‘s turnover in his own zone. Sam Bennett made the steal and passed it to Tkachuk for his 33rd goal.

    Verhaeghe made it 2-0 with a slap shot that got past a screened Husso. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld after a video review.

    Just after killing off the subsequent penalty, Detroit got on the board when Suter jammed in a rebound of David Perron‘s shot.

    Forsling scored on shot from the point midway through the second period to restore Florida’s two-goal advantage. Barkov had the second assist, allowing him to break the franchise points record.

    Larkin scored on a delayed penalty off a pass from Raymond at 7:53 of the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.

    Staal scored on a breakaway off a pass from Anthony Duclair with under four minutes left, and Verhaeghe added a power-play goal.


    Panthers F Eetu Luostarinen had an assist in the 200th game of his career. … Florida is 29-2-3 when leading after two periods. … The last time the Red Wings beat the Panthers was Feb. 20, 2021. … Barkov has 42 points in 38 career games against Detroit. … Andrew Copp notched his 150th career assist on Larkin’s goal.


    Panthers: At Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

    Red Wings: At St. Louis on Tuesday night to open a home-and-home set.

    Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

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    PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

    Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

    The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

    Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

    Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

    Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

    Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

    The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

    Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


    Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

    Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.