Should Canadiens worry about bad start, Bergevin’s future as GM?

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With his team off to a discouraging 0-4-0 start (three goals for, 15 against), Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin addressed the media on Wednesday.

You can watch Bergevin’s press conference in the video above. Overall, the two most pertinent takeaways were:

  1. Bergevin said he doesn’t plan on making moves just to make moves after the Canadiens’ rough start.
  2. “In a perfect world” Bergevin would sign a new contract with the Canadiens. (He’s currently on an expiring deal as Habs GM.)

Let’s examine the state of the 0-4-0 Canadiens in terms of this season, and also the future. We’ll also ponder if Bergevin should steer the Canadiens’ ship — and how difficult it would be for a replacement to remove Bergevin’s imprint, even if Montreal did make a change.

How worried should the Canadiens be about their 2021-22 season?

During Bergevin’s run, the Canadiens are no strangers to regular season struggles. When Claude Julien was coach, the team often hogged the puck in promising ways. The lack of saves and goals that resulted? Less promising. But you could still see a lane where Montreal might jump to a more consistently competitive level.

So, there’d be comfort if the Canadiens were 0-4-0 mainly because of bad luck. And, when results are this extreme, there has been some bad luck.

[PHT’s Atlantic Division predictions]

In the big picture, their 5-on-5 numbers (via Natural Stat Trick) mostly match their 0-4-0 record.

  • They rank sixth-worst in the NHL with 40.74-percent of high-danger chances in their favor (22 for, 32 against).
  • Their 45.21-percent expected goals rate ranks 10th-worst.
  • Montreal also ranks seventh-worst with 44.44-percent of scoring chances.
  • In volume stats like shots, Corsi, Fenwick, they generally sit in the bottom half of the NHL.

Not great, but four games is a molehill compared to the mountain of an 82-game season. Andrew Berkshire’s tweet captures the Canadiens’ dilemma: worry, or don’t worry?

The extreme nature of this bad Habs start is surprising. But plenty questioned whether their 2020 Stanley Cup Final run was “for real.” All of PHT’s staff predictions placed the Canadiens outside of the playoffs.

So, yes, it’s too early to panic. It’s not too early to wonder if the Canadiens will miss the playoffs, though.

Should Canadiens keep Bergevin as GM? If not, would a replacement have wiggle room?

Despite those doubts, Bergevin is right: the Canadiens shouldn’t make a panic trade.

Unfortunately, that’s because the Canadiens don’t look like they’re a tweak or two from solving their problems. Ultimately, they’re the sum of the mistakes and successes of their GM. Which brings us to a burning question: should Bergevin remain as Canadiens GM?

[The Canadiens are wondering if they should worry. Should these teams be excited?]

Again, it circles back to a tougher thought. Would a new GM really have much room to operate if the Canadiens replaced Bergevin? Plenty would feel stuck with what’s already committed in long-term deals.

  • Nick Suzuki, 22, recently signed a big (mostly understandable) extension. From 2022-23 to 2029-30, he’ll carry a $7.875M cap hit.
  • Carey Price, 34, carries a $10.5M cap hit through 2025-26.
  • Yes, it’s true that Shea Weber may be done at age 36, possibly permanently moving his $7.857M cap hit to LTIR. The deal technically runs through 2025-26, and may or may not involve some cap recapture. It’s at least something to possibly deal with.
  • Brendan Gallagher is easily worth more than $6.5M now. At 29, with injuries piling up and a style that hinges on taking punishment, will that deal age well through 2026-27?
  • Josh Anderson, 27, costs $5.5M though 2026-27.
  • Jeff Petry mirrors Gallagher: worth far more than his $6.25M cap hit. Petry’s already 33, and that runs through 2024-25.
  • Beyond core-type players, Bergevin loves to indulge in meaty deals for depth players. David Savard, Mike Hoffman, Joel Edmundson, Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak, and Tyler Toffoli are all locked up for at least three years apiece. That’s a mix of older and younger players. Some are bargains; others look dicey. They all add to a picture that Bergevin’s decisions will reverberate even if he’s off to pump iron somewhere else.
  • Jonathan Drouin (two years left at $5.5M) and Jake Allen ($2.875M) could clear up some space after 2022-23, but only so much.

[Catch up on what happened in the NHL on Tuesday]

As far as future decisions go, one looms large.

After the 2022-23 season, Cole Caufield’s rookie contract expires. After the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet and Suzuki extension, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bergevin wanted to be proactive with the small sniper — assuming the Canadiens don’t make a GM change.

Would a different GM find a better balance? Would that same GM be more likely to move out a problem contract or two? Bergevin’s rarely been shy about changing directions in dramatic ways, but maybe he simply is too close to decisions like signing Armia? Or he’d fight a rebuild for too long?

Those are the questions that linger regarding Bergevin’s status as Canadiens GM. Because, in some ways, they’re stuck with what he’s done — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright confusing.

Uncomfortably, the Canadiens might have already missed the best window to move on from Bergevin as their mixed-bag of a GM.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.