Picking Carey Price would be bold, risky (and chaotic) move for Kraken

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Of all the big names to be left exposed for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, none raised more eyebrows than the Canadiens’ decision to leave starting goalie Carey Price unprotected.

Price has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, and just backstopped the team to a stunning appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

For Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, it is a very calculated gamble.

The Canadiens did not want to lose Jake Allen for nothing and could not find a suitable trade for him ahead of the 3 p.m. ET roster freeze on Saturday. Rather than make a bad trade or risk losing him, Bergevin decided to protect him and (at the suggestion of Price) play a rather bold game of chicken with Seattle.

[Related: NHL Mock Expansion Draft, projecting Kraken roster]

The thought process is simple: Montreal is banking on the fact that Seattle will not want to take on the remainder of Price’s contract that counts more than $10M against the cap per season for the next five years, especially as word leaks out that he could need surgery this offseason. When the Golden Knights entered the league in 2017 their expansion draft selections were loaded with players on short-term or expiring contracts to keep their salary cap flexibility in place. Kraken GM Ron Francis has already talked about how salary cap space is their big advantage, and it is hard to imagine they want to eat up too much of it on big-money, veteran players that other teams want to get rid of.

But Price is a very different situation. The Canadiens almost certainly do not want to lose him, and his exposure is entirely strategic based on the idea that they will not lose him.

The problem with that thought process is that if we are to believe reports that have surfaced since the expansion lists were set, Seattle is at least strongly considering the idea and apparently has the OK from ownership to take on the remainder of Price’s contract, even with his newly report health concerns.

It would be the type of move that seemed almost beyond comprehension just a few weeks ago and would be peak chaos for the NHL offseason.

[Related: NHL expansion draft: Best bargains, most interesting available players]

Argument for it: A face of the franchise and potential core building block

The obvious comparison here would be Vegas’ selection of Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguins back.

Fleury was (and still is) a wildly popular player that was an instant marketing attraction for a new team trying to build a following. Price not only has that same sort of big name appeal, but he is also from the Pacific Northwest, just took a team to the Stanley Cup Final, and plays a position that could make him a significant impact player for a franchise just starting out.

It is not a stretch of a comparison.

Price, 33, is the same age that Fleury was when the Golden Knights selected him, and while his play the past couple of years has regressed from his peak, it is still on par with what Fleury was doing when he arrived in Vegas.

[Related: Lessons Kraken, rest of NHL can take from Golden Knights expansion draft]

Price has a .912 all situations save percentage and a .918 even-strength save percentage over the past three seasons, while also being money in each of his playoff appearances.

Fleury has a .918 all situations save percentage and a .922 even-strength mark in the three seasons before he went to the Golden Knights.

A slight edge to Fleury, but not dramatically so. Especially when you consider Fleury was playing behind a better team (a two-time Stanley Cup champion).

Argument against it: That contract carries a huge risk

Here is where the Fleury-Price comparison differs.

When Vegas added Fleury, he had two years remaining on his contract at a $5.5M salary cap hit. It was a low-risk move. Even if Fleury did not pan out as they had hoped, it was not going to be a cap-crushing contract or become an albatross. If anything, it probably would have been a tradable piece.

Price’s contract is an entirely different beast, still having five years at $10.5M per season remaining.

That’s a five-year, $52.5M investment (salary cap investment — it would be $44M in actual dollars) for a 33, and soon-to-be, 34-year-old goalie that might need surgery this offseason.

Even after re-signing Fleury to a three-year contract their overall investment in him was $31M over five years. And it is worth pointing out that by year three they had to acquire and re-sign another goalie (Robin Lehner) to complement him, and who finished each of the past two seasons starting over Fleury.

If Price does not provide what you hope, that is a big contract eating away at your one big advantage (salary cap space) tied to a player that will have a no-movement clause, complete control over where (or if) he goes if you can even find a team willing to take it. You could be end up being stuck.

Should Seattle pick Price?

It is an obviously intriguing idea, and one that Seattle has to seriously consider. A great goalie can completely change your franchise, and Price has a track record of being that type of player and still has the occasional ability to play at that level.

There is also an obvious PR and marketing win here with selecting him and making him the face of the franchise.

At the end of the day though it is still a results-based business based on wins. Is Price, at his age, and at that contract, still capable of playing at that level on a consistent basis? Of the 59 goalies that have appeared in at least regular 50 games over the past three seasons Price is 24th, 30th, and 20th respectively in all situations save percentage, even-strength save percentage and high-danger save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).

Those are certainly not bad numbers, but they are not great, either. And for $10.5M per year against the cap over the next five years you better be expecting greatness.

There are a handful of goalies available in this very expansion draft that have comparable, or even better, numbers over the same time period with considerably less risk financially. It all comes down to how confident Seattle is that Price can be the goalie we saw in the playoffs on a more consistent basis, and how important it is for them to have a big name to build around.

It probably will not outweigh the on-ice risks. So for as bold as it would be, it would probably be best if Seattle went in a different direction with its goaltending position.

Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

Mitch Marner
USA Today
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TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.