Re-signing Tatar, Danault will be challenge worth exploring for Canadiens

Tatar Canadiens

We continue our look at next offseason’s potential free agent class by trying to project the next contract for some of the top players that could be available. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens and their two biggest pending unrestricted free agents, forwards Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault.

The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the busiest teams in the NHL this offseason, utilizing their massive amount of salary cap space to acquire Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson, and Jake Allen on long-term contracts.

While there are some definite risks there, the Canadiens definitely look to be a better team on paper than they were a year ago, especially if they get a big step forward from young forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki.

Combined with Brendan Gallagher‘s new contract extension that begins in 2021-22, that is more than $20 million per year added to their future salary cap situation. That is a lot, and it could play a role in whether or not the Canadiens are able to re-sign their two biggest pending unrestricted free agents after this season — forwards Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault.

Tatar is part of an absolutely dominant line

They may not be household names around the league, but Tatar and Danault are two of the Canadiens’ best and most impactful players.

Let’s start with Tatar.

They acquired him (along with Suzuki) from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade two years ago and he has done nothing but produce since arriving in Montreal. He’s a 25-goal, 50-point, possession-driving winger and very comparable to Toffoli. His box-score production is good enough to consider him a top-line player, while his underlying possession numbers have been among the best in the league over the past two seasons.

Part of that is no doubt due to the amount of time he has spent alongside Gallagher during those seasons as there has been an obvious connection.

When those two have played alongside each other the Canadiens have controlled more than 60 percent of the total shot attempts that have taken place, dominated the scoring chances and expected goal numbers, and outscored teams by an 83-59 margin.

It is a great line, and one that the Canadiens should try to keep together if at all possible.

When neither player was on the ice the past two years the team’s shot attempt share dropped all the way down to 51 percent (still good, but not great) while they were outscored by 13 goals (191-204). They needed to improve the depth around this group, and there is a strong argument to be made that has happened this offseason.

Danault may have a Selke Trophy in his future

Danault, meanwhile, should be considered one of the league’s most underrated players.

Like Tatar he has posted dominant possession numbers the past couple of seasons, and is already regarded as one of the league’s best defensive forwards. He has finished in the top-seven of the Selke Trophy voting in each of the past two seasons, and the more the spotlight starts to shift in his direction the more votes he is likely to get.

Add in the fact that he’s a 50-point scorer to his defensive presence and you have one heck of a player.

If the Canadiens can get him re-signed, along with the continued development of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi, they have the potential for a pretty strong trio of centers to build around. Yeah, that is a lot of “ifs,” but the potential is absolutely there.

Can they afford both?

This is where it gets tricky.

All of those contracts signed this offseason have already resulted in the Canadiens having $65 million committed to 14 players for the 2021-22 season.

Assuming the salary cap stays put at $81.5 million, that would leave them with just $16 million to fill out the remaining nine spots of the roster.

Along with the pending UFA’s (Tatar, Danault, Joel Armia, and Jordan Weal) the Canadiens will also have to re-sign restricted free agents Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen, and Victor Mete.

Whether they re-sign all of them are not is irrelevant. Somebody is going to have to fill those spots. It’s just a matter of how much the Canadiens are willing to spend on them.

It is a good bet that re-signing both Tatar and Danault would probably cost somewhere around $9-10 million combined (somewhere around $5-$5.5 million for Tatar; maybe around $4 million for Danault), which would leave just $6-7 million for the remaining seven spots for that season. That is not going to be enough.

This is where the riskier contracts this offseason (that seven-year commitment to Anderson; the Edmundson contract) can become a little problematic. On its own one small overpay is not really a big deal to a team’s cap situation. It is when you get multiple overpays that things start to add up.

So how can the Canadiens deal with this now?

For starters, Ben Chiarot‘s $3.5 million salary cap hit comes off the books following the 2021-22 season. That will help.

Then there is the Jonathan Drouin situation.

He still has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $5.5 million per season. He is a very good player, but it is safe to say he has not turned into the player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they acquired him. Drouin also has a modified no-trade clause that kicks in next year. Meaning, if Montreal wanted to move him, this would be the time. That contract off the books would create quite a bit of room and perhaps give Montreal the flexibility it needs to keep two of its best players. They are not likely to find upgrades for better prices on the open market.

Montreal is a fascinating team, because even though it finished poorly in the standings a year ago there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about it this season.

Carey Price and Allen could be an outstanding goalie duo, and when healthy Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are still top-pairing defenders.

Add in the improved depth at forward and the potential of the Suzuki-Kotkaniemi duo and this team might be able to make some noise sooner than expected.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

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    FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

    The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    “Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

    A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    “Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

    Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

    Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

    “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Robertson will finally be there now.

    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.


    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”


    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”


    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”


    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.