Max Domi ejected after punching, bloodying Aaron Ekblad

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(UPDATE: The NHL has suspended Domi for th remainder of the preseason.)

Max Domi didn’t take long to make an impact with the Montreal Canadiens, but it might earn him a suspension for when the games actually start to matter.

Domi was ejected from tonight’s 5-2 exhibition loss to the Florida Panthers after landing what many call a sucker-punch on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. As you can see, Ekblad fell and was bloodied by the blow, and did not return to the contest.

The best news is that, so far, it sounds like Ekblad is OK. Being bloodied by such an exchange would already be a concern, but that was especially worrisome since the 22-year-old has a history of concussion issues.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner said that team doctors determined that Ekblad didn’t suffer a concussion or a broken nose, according to The Athletic‘s Arpon Basu. Now, it’s worth noting that sometimes concussion symptoms don’t truly surface until after the adrenaline wears off, so there’s a chance that an additional update about Ekblad could be less positive. Either way, it’s positive that the early word is optimistic.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Whether you think it’s a fair course or not, Ekblad’s relative health could be good news for Domi and the Canadiens, as the Department of Player Safety factors injuries into possible suspension decisions.

Domi, 23, received a one-game suspension back in March 2016 for instigating this fight with Ryan Garbutt:

Whether he’s suspended or not, this isn’t a great start for Domi, although some Habs fans will be happy to see Tie’s son assert himself. So there’s that.

In case you’re wondering, Alex Galchenyuk is making a positive first impression with the Arizona Coyotes, including scoring two goals in a recent exhibition. The hits just keep coming for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, but at least they aren’t in the literal form of Domi’s fists.

Did you note that these two teams are division rivals? They’ll take on each other four times in 2018-19, so we’ll see if Luongo’s warning holds up.

“Bit of a gutless play,” Luongo said, via TSN’s John Lu. ” … We definitely won’t forget about it.”

The Panthers will have a chance to forget about it, or at least let the anger simmer down, as the two teams don’t meet in the regular season until a Dec. 28 contest in Florida.

UPDATE:

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.

Kotkaniemi gives Canadiens something to be excited about

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Montreal Canadiens fans haven’t had much to cheer about lately.

It makes sense, then, that Jesperi Kotkaniemi experienced the sort of ovation he’ll never forget after scoring a goal on his first shot in his first pre-season NHL game.

Kotkaniemi flashed some of the brilliance – not to mention a big, affable smile – that made him the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft on the play. Not only did he manage to handle a rolling puck and send it into the net, but he also showed poise in shaking off a hard hit while making a pass that really got things rolling.

“That was sick,” a giggly Kotkaniemi told the media after Montreal’s 3-1 preseason win against New Jersey Monday night. “I’ve never heard a crowd that loud. It was pretty unbelievable.”

Habs fans clearly relished that moment, lavishing Kotkaniemi with additional praise once he was announced as the game’s third star:

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien underscored the on-ice adjustment Kotkaniemi faces as an 18-year-old with limited exposure to NHL-sized rinks and NHL-sized players (whom he compared to “superheroes”).

“He’s still a junior player to a lot of people’s eyes, and this is North American hockey on a smaller rink,” Julien said, via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “We play a much more aggressive style than they do where he’s from. But, again, I think you have to appreciate the way he handled himself tonight in the game and showed his skill level. He showed his patience. He’s also learning on the fly and I think he’s getting better and better on a daily basis. So it’s encouraging to see how well he’s doing so far.”

[Montreal mismanagement: Canadiens wasted opportunity with Max Pacioretty]

It would be a steep learning curve for any player, but the transition overseas is unlikely to be smooth. The Athletic’s Arpon Basu notes (sub. required) that Kotkaniemi really hadn’t seen on-ice fights until last night, and didn’t really know how to conduct himself during pre-game warm-ups.

Even so, there are those positive moments, and early feedback – including from Julien himself – that Kotkaniemi’s skating might be better than advertised.

So, would the Canadiens (and Kotkaniemi) be better off if the Finnish forward makes an immediate jump to the NHL, or would it be better if he continued to polish his game before burning off a year from his entry-level deal?

Well, it’s complicated.

Center of attention

On Monday, Kotkaniemi basked in the thrill of being the apple of the crowd’s eye.

Still, if we’ve noted anything about hockey-obsessed markets, it’s that the “honeymoon period” can be short-lived in a place like Montreal. Growing pains are probable whenever a young player makes the jump, yet throwing Kotkaniemi into the deep end right off the bat could only expose a lack of polish that much more.

Such a decision would run the risk of shaking Kotkaniemi’s confidence.

There’s another factor not unlike Filip Zadina possibly soothing some pain in Detroit: a reasonably productive and promising Kotkaniemi could give Canadiens fans a sorely needed bright side to look on. The Max Pacioretty trade – not to mention picking third – sent at least a partial rebuild message, so if 2018-19 is as rough on the ice as it is on paper, it might be nice to glimpse some of the light at the end of the tunnel.

The bottom line is that, at some point, the pressure will really rise on Kotkaniemi to be the Canadiens’ long-sought-after high-end center. Considering how short the fuse can be when it comes to Marc Bergevin assessing a player’s usefulness in that regard, it could be a cruel test for the Finn.

Cautionary tales

The modern NHL treasures speed, skill, and smarts. Sometimes that translates into young players managing instant success, as we saw with Nico Hischier being a quick study after a splendid jump from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

There are some examples of the immediate jump going wrong, or at least being handled poorly, and you can look at some recent third picks as warnings for Montreal.

Alex Galchenyuk – Like Kotkaniemi, Galchenyuk was a could-be center (and could be one in Arizona) who Montreal selected third overall. In the case of “Chucky,” it was the third pick in 2012.

Galchenyuk jumped right from that 2012 draft to the 2012-13 season, at least once the lockout dissipated. He played in all 48 regular-season games (and five playoff contests), acquitting himself quite nicely.

Yet, patience wasn’t in great supply for the talented forward, as Bergevin shut the door emphatically on Galchenyuk’s bid to be a center, and the atmosphere sure felt toxic pretty quickly.

Would Galchenyuk’s game been more well-rounded if he didn’t make the jump right away? Was stepping from the draft to the pressure cooker of Montreal hockey an example of “too much, too soon?”

In my opinion, it’s absurd to look at Galchenyuk as a failure. That said, the Canadiens failed to handle his situation properly, and it’s unclear if Bergevin & Co. truly learned from their mistakes. Rushing Kotkaniemi into the NHL could end up being an unpleasant example of history repeating.

Jesse Puljujarvi – While Kotkaniemi was a mild surprise in rising to the third pick, plenty were surprised that fellow Finn Puljujarvi slipped below the third choice, instead going fourth overall in 2016.

It’s far too early for this to be a permanent judgment, but at the moment, the Blue Jackets’ bold decision to go with Pierre Luc-Dubois instead may end up being the correct call.

Either way, it’s been a bumpy ride for Puljujarvi, and a considerable portion of the blame falls on the Edmonton Oilers, an organization that hasn’t exactly developed the greatest track record of handling all but the most can’t-miss of prospects. (They haven’t messed up Connor McDavid, although they’ve blundered spectacularly when it comes to giving him help.)

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Puljujarvi burned a year off his entry-level contract by making an immediate jump in 2016-17, a move that proved to be ill-fated, as he was demoted to the AHL. He’s spent the past two seasons going between the AHL and NHL, with some legitimate concerns about stunted growth.

Even if Puljujarvi pulls out the sort of season that would justify his draft placement, the Oilers have already squandered most of his rookie contract. Edmonton’s essentially written the blueprint on how not to handle Kotkaniemi in the form of his countryman Puljujarvi.

The North American Game

Although the above scenarios inspire some fear of mishandling Kotkaniemi, the Habs could theoretically see some advantages in keeping him around, even if his 2018-19 season isn’t a smash success.

As mentioned before, Kotkaniemi hasn’t experienced much exposure to the North American game. The Canadiens might reason that he’d be better off not returning to Finland for this next campaign, then.

***

With plenty of cap space and a lot of forwards under contract (according to Cap Friendly’s listings), it’s not as though the Canadiens badly need to get solid production from a cheap rookie contract. If expectations are as low in-house as they are on the streets of Montreal, then sliding the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level deal to 2019-20 might be a lot more prudent.

Overall, there are some notable pros and cons to Kotkaniemi making the immediate jump, so the Canadiens better look before they leap.

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.

Karlsson trade caps dream summer of NHL moves

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This is the sort of off-season NHL fans dream about, if they even dare.

Chances are, if you’re reading about hockey right now, you’ve daydreamed about big moves before. Maybe it happened on a message board when you were younger (or now, no judging). Perhaps different scenarios popped in your head while scrolling through Cap Friendly, “Beautiful Mind” style.

Sadly, for fans of splashy moves and novelty in general, reality rarely competes with your imagination. At least, that’s been the case most times for NHL fans, who’ve been pressing up their faces at the storefront window while NBA fans get to revel in the latest whims of Lebron James.

Well, if you ever feel silly about spending such time picturing wild, league-changing scenarios, then take heart. For at least one offseason, NHL fans joined NBA devotees in enjoying the flashy new toys.

It almost makes too much sense that the Dallas Stars extending Tyler Seguin echoed the magic of unboxing an NES (even if, technically, Seguin’s extension falls into the more typical NHL pattern of killing drama before it really boils over):

Let’s review some of the biggest moves. When appropriate, we’ll recall how that sort of thing usually turns out.

John Tavares: In my eyes, Tavares joining the Toronto Maple Leafs is the move that stands out the most. He left the team that drafted him (rare) by choice (also rare), with money not being lone factor, and joined his boyhood team despite the immense pressure that will come from playing in Toronto (again, rare).

Depending upon who you believe, plenty of other prominent players would much rather go to a sunny, tax-lenient market, rather than the most hockey-obsessed place on the planet.

Tavares broke the pattern set by Steven Stamkos, in particular. Stamkos was the Great Toronto Free Agent Hope before Tavares, going as far as to tease such passions by liking a Tweet about his possible departure from Tampa Bay. Naturally, that did not happen.

(It’s not a 1:1 thing as the Lightning are and were in a much better situation than the Islanders find themselves in, Lou’s bluster notwithstanding, but the parallels are pretty close.)

Most directly, the Tavares signing is a win for Maple Leafs fans. You can see it in how many Twitter accounts double as months-long victory laps.

It’s a lot of fun for anyone who isn’t preoccupied with worrying about the Maple Leafs too, though. The team will face a lot of pressure to win it all over the next few years, but either way, it’s wildly refreshing to see a scenario that usually only opens in EA NHL video games: a superstar free agent becomes available, and goes to an already-loaded team.

The Maple Leafs were already a lot of fun. Now they’re must-see TV.

Erik Karlsson: The Senators loaded up on quantity in trading away their all-world defenseman and captain, but time will tell if they can successfully complete a rebuild from the wreckage – er, Dumpster? – they find themselves in.

However that goes, the Sharks didn’t give up a ton in present-day value (apologies, Dylan DeMelo and Chris Tierney), considering that Karlsson is a Norris-level defenseman still in his prime.

The Sharks were formidable last season even without Karlsson and with Joe Thornton on the shelf. Adding those two in the mix should make them a serious contender.

But more than that, they’ll be so much fun to watch. As this post details, making this defense corps fit together in the best possible way could be a challenge for head coach Peter DeBoer, yet it’s also a chance for him to engage his inner mad scientist.

It could be highly entertaining even if it doesn’t always work out as well on the ice as it does on paper.

Karlsson finally being traded feels like a relief, and is a reminder of all of those times when a move didn’t happen. There was no swap during the trade deadline or draft weekend, to the point that it almost felt like a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation. Until the wolf showed up, and now the Sharks should be outrageously fun.

Marc Bergevin continues to entertain, for better or worse: During the more barren times, hockey fans could thank – if not exactly respect – Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin for at least one thing: he kept things interesting.

Granted, Bergevin’s version of keeping things interesting is a lot like starting a fire and then gleefully running away, but it’s been quite the spectacle to behold.

The Max Pacioretty trade could very well maintain the Vegas Golden Knights as at least a playoff-viable team, and if more Vegas in your life isn’t exciting, then you’re probably an extremely grumpy person. (Or you just really dislike Imagine Dragons and “Medieval Times.”)

Thanks to the past week’s trades involving Pacioretty and Karlsson, the Pacific Division goes from being the weak link division to an arms race. The hapless drama surrounding Montreal trying to save face while moving Patches was just gravy on top, really.

Actually, the Patches situation was so overwhelming, you kind of forget that the Alex GalchenyukMax Domi trade happened during this same offseason. Bergevin is the gift that keeps giving … except if you’re a Habs fan.

(Sorry gang.)

Plenty of other teams making big changes

Karlsson, Pacioretty, and Tavares are grabbing a lot of the headlines, yet this summer saw some big changes in plenty of spots, which should make things really interesting for plenty of teams.

  • Winds of change: The Hurricanes changed their GM, head coach, and saw some big personnel alterations. Dougie Hamilton‘s now free to visit museums around Raleigh, while Jeff Skinner is gone. Andrei Svechnikov could make an immediate impact. Carolina’s a team to watch in 2018-19.
  • Going in with a roar without ROR: Buffalo enjoyed a fascinating summer, too. They landed Skinner, while trading away Ryan O'Reilly in the first big trade of the summer. Carter Hutton is the new guy in net, while they added some interesting pieces such as Conor Sheary. Of course, the biggest addition is landing top pick Rasmus Dahlin; for all we know, he could be worth the price of admission right off the bat.
  • Deep Blues: The Blues may enjoy a serious rebound after adding O’Reilly, particularly if Robby Fabbri can stay healthy and Robert Thomas proves to be a tuneful call-up. Bringing back David Perron opens the door for this to be a versatile Blues attack after St. Louis was too top-heavy last season.
  • He’s back: It feels like an afterthought, yet the Kings could be a lot more fun to watch late at night if Ilya Kovalchuk ends up being, well, Ilya Kovalchuk. Los Angeles would also enjoy a big boost in watchability if Jeff Carter‘s healthy.

(Also under the “he’s back” heading: James van Riemsdyk returning to the Flyers, giving that team a boost in the “fun” category, as well.)

***

This post brings about some fun questions, yet one lingers: is this the beginning of a trend of more regular, impactful offseason movement in the NHL? That remains to be seen, particularly in a league where the CBA makes it relatively easy for teams to keep their core players together.

On that note, Taylor Hall wonders if the next CBA might open the door for more excitement and less stability, as he told The Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required) a week ago:

“It’s becoming more accepted in basketball for players to just pick teams,” Hall said. “I have a feeling in the next CBA that the owners are going to push for shorter contracts and I think if they do that, that’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to cause players to do whatever they want with contracts.”

With Seguin, Drew Doughty, Ryan Ellis, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson ranking among the outstanding players who’ve already hashed out extensions instead of playing through contract years, it’s possible that this summer might be an aberration. At least as far as the current CBA goes.

(One would assume that Karlsson’s likely to sign an extension with the Sharks, possibly very soon.)

Still, that doesn’t mean there is no room for drama. Just look at the Columbus Blue Jackets, who need to figure out what to do with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Either way, the true excitement will come when the action starts for the 2018-19 season. If we’re lucky, these new combinations of star players will make plays we couldn’t even dream of.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Non-playoff teams most likely to make postseason return

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It is the summer and with no games being played at the moment it is awfully difficult to rank the NHL’s 31 teams on a weekly basis. So the PHT Power Rankings will spend the next month taking a look back at some of the best (and worst) developments in the NHL, both past and present. Best trades. Worst trades. Best all-time teams. Any other random things we feel like ranking. This week we look at which of the NHL’s non-playoff teams from this past season that are most likely to make a return to the playoffs.

There were 15 teams in the NHL that missed the playoffs during the 2017-18 NHL season and you can guarantee that at least one or two from that group will bounce back and make the postseason this year. There were five such teams a year ago with the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Winnipeg Jets all making a return to the playoffs, with the Jets going all the way to the Western Conference Final.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we rank all 15 non-playoff teams from a year ago in order of which one of them is most likely to see a similar turnaround.

1. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were right there in 2017-18, falling just one point short of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference even after trading Paul Stastny at the deadline. They bolstered their lineup this offseason by trading for a great two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly, bringing back David Perron off a career year in Vegas for yet another stint, and signing Tyler Bozak in free agency. That is suddenly a pretty good looking offensive lineup to go with a team that was sixth in the league in goals against last season. Honestly, it would probably be a surprise if this team did not make the playoffs in 2018-19.

2. Florida Panthers –– The Panthers were one of the best teams in the league over the second half of last season, finishing on a 25-8-2 run over their final 35 games, and like the Blues, ended up falling just a single point short of the second wild card spot in their conference. With Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad, they have a really good young core in place, while Evgenii Dadonov proved to be an outstanding pickup last summer. They added another top-six winger to the mix with the trade for Mike Hoffman. Whether that is enough to close the gap on the top-three in the Atlantic Division remains to be seen (all of Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston were at least nine points ahead of Florida in the standings last year), but they should be right in the thick of the wild card chase. They’re not going to maintain the pace they played at over the second half of the season, but they’re also probably not as bad as they were in the first half.

3. Carolina Hurricanes — Trading Jeff Skinner is going to hurt the offense, but they have high hopes for 19-year-old Martin Necas and No. 2 overall draft pick Andrei Svechnikov. The real hope for optimism here though is on defense, a unit that looks to be absolutely loaded on paper after the offseason additions of Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, while still (for now) holding on to Justin Faulk. The Hurricanes were already one of the best shot suppression teams in the league and just need to figure out a way to get respectable goaltending (and let’s be honest, Scott Darling can not possibly struggle more than he did a year ago). Yes, we say this stuff about them every year, but one of these years it finally has to happen.

4. Dallas Stars — Even though the Stars did not make a big splash move during the offseason (they are, however, one of the teams rumored to have had interest in Erik Karlsson) they still made a pretty significant change to the team when they brought in Jim Montgomery to replace Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. The Stars have been one of the league’s most consistently disappointing teams given the high-end talent they have at the top of the roster (currently with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Alexander Radulov) and the blockbuster moves they make every offseason. Yet every year they always seem to just settle in around the playoff bubble as a 90-92 point team. They are always so close, yet seemingly so far.

5. Chicago Blackhawks — The success or failure of the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks likely hinges on whether or not starting goalie Corey Crawford is healthy and able to play. When he was in the lineup last season, the Blackhawks were pretty good. When he went out of the lineup with a still mysterious upper-body injury they were of the worst teams in the league. Given the decline of the Blackhawks’ defense and their forward depth they are going to have to rely on goaltending quite a bit to carry them. A healthy Crawford might be able to do that. Their Plan B in net may not be able to.

6. Edmonton Oilers — It is stunning that the team with the most dominant offensive player in the world missed the playoffs by nearly 20 points last season. Also stunning that we are still not sure if they are good enough to be a playoff team this season. While it was the special teams units that mostly sunk the Oilers’ chances in 2017-18, this was still a pretty mediocre 5-on-5 team and they really didn’t make any significant changes to that roster. Given what has happened in previous years when they tried to make significant changes (Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson; signing Milan Lucic; Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome) maybe that is a good thing. Flawed as this team is, they do still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of the lineup and there is always a chance they could go off and carry the team back to the playoffs.

[Related: 10 NHL people that need to have a better season in 2018-19]

7. Calgary Flames — The 2017-18 season was a giant disappointment for the Flames after there were such high preseason hopes. They were bringing back a really good young core with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, and spent a ton of money and assets to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith to shore up the back end. Even though the three young forwards all played well (and Gaudreau was fantastic) everything else just kind of fell flat. James Neal is a nice addition up front, but trading Hamilton is a big blow to the defense even with Noan Hanifin and Elias Lindholm coming back in return. Smith was okay in his first year as their starting goaltender, but he is entering his age 36 season and just being “okay” may not be good enough.

8. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes finished with the worst record in the Western Conference and the third worst record overall, but they finished really strong, beat a lot of really good teams, and have a ton of young talent in place. When healthy, Antti Raanta was as good as any goalie in the NHL last season and if he can come close to duplicating that performance over a full year he could be a game-changer for the Coyotes. Another potential game-changer: Dylan Strome, the third overall pick from 2015. After dominating the OHL and AHL the past couple of years he showed some of that ability at the NHL level down the stretch run of the regular season. He is still a big-time talent. They also have what should be a strong 1-2 punch down the middle with Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk. They are not all the way there yet, but if a few things break their way (Raanta being as good as he showed last year; Strome taking a big step forward) they could be a big surprise team in the Western Conference.

9. Buffalo Sabres — A lot was made over their return for O’Reilly, but other than Tage Thompson, that was very much a quantity over quality deal and is not something that is likely to change for the fortunes of the team anytime soon. If anything, it made them a little worse. Fortunately, that was not the only trade they made over the summer. Conor Sheary will not have Sidney Crosby next to him in Buffalo so he remains sort of a mystery, but they ended up getting Skinner from Carolina for a really good price. In the end, they lost one big-time player, picked up another, and have a bunch of question marks including Carter Hutton, their new starting goalie. Jack Eichel will still be great, though. So, honestly, probably expect more of the same.

10. New York Rangers — The rebuild is well underway and it is very likely that even more veterans will get moved before the trade deadline this season (Mats Zuccarello? Kevin Hayes?). Playing in a division that is absolutely loaded at the top it just seems like the playoffs are a real long shot, even with Henrik Lundqvist in net.

11. Montreal Canadiens — Their best and probably only hope is that Carey Price plays like the 2014-15 version Carey Price. Since that is still always a possibility that probably puts them ahead of a few other teams in the league that do not have Carey Price.

12. Vancouver Canucks — Vancouver spent the offseason acting like a team that is a playoff contender by spending big money on its bottom-six. This is not a playoff contender. Brock Boeser looks great, Bo Horvat is pretty good, they have some intriguing prospects, but it is still not a very good team overall. And something that seems to get overlooked is that Henrik and Daniel Sedin were still pretty solid last season (two of their top-three scorers), and they are not coming back.

13. Detroit Red Wings — They got a gift in the draft when Filip Zadina fell to them at No. 6 overall, but this situation is still very bleak as they are spending a ton of money on a team that is just not very good. They accumulated a lot of draft picks, but this is going to be a long, painful rebuild.

14. New York Islanders — They lost their best player (John Tavares) in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs and spent the entire offseason replacing him with fourth-liners to go with all of the other fourth-liners they already had. Mathew Barzal is a worthy franchise cornerstone, but he will not be able to do it all by himself.

15. Ottawa Senators — There is absolutely nothing to be excited about here This was one of the worst teams in the league a year ago, has already lost one of its top scorers this offseason, and it only seems to be a matter of when, and not if, Erik Karlsson gets traded. Matt Duchene and Mark Stone are also entering the final year of their contracts so they, too, could be on the move at some point. This looks like a lottery team.

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

Max Pacioretty – Habs trade/contract drama gets another wrinkle

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The hits just keep coming as far as Max Pacioretty, the Montreal Canadiens, a potential trade, and his next contract goes. You won’t need to sit down for this easy-to-foresee spoiler: it’s another case where the headaches only get worse for GM Marc Bergevin and the Habs.

Here’s the latest: sources say that Pacioretty won’t negotiate a contract extension once the 2018-19 begins, even if he’s a member of a team other than the Canadiens, according to Le Journal De Montreal’s Marc De Foy (via Eric Engels) and TSN’s Gino Reda.

Yikes.

As a reminder, this continues the trend of the Canadiens … not exactly winning the “PR battle” when it comes to the Pacioretty situation. During this increasingly tense offseason, word surfaced that the Canadiens have not discussed a contract extension with Pacioretty. There were also rumblings that a trade to the Los Angeles Kings fell through because an extension couldn’t be reached, arguably prompting Pacioretty to change to agent Allan Walsh, who then accused the Habs of leaking the information about the failed trade.

Out of context, it’s easy to see why this isn’t a simple situation for Montreal.

No doubt, Pacioretty’s an excellent scorer, and he’s almost certain to play at a higher level than last season if he’s reasonably healthy.

Still, there’s logic to the Habs saying goodbye, even if part of that argument would hinge on a rebuild Bergevin might not be crazy about overseeing (particularly since Montreal’s paying Carey Price $10.5 million per year to be more than a cellar dweller). After all, Pacioretty will turn 30 on Nov. 20, so if he – understandably – wants serious term, his next deal would kick in when he’s 31. If the team giving him a much-deserved raise also provides the security of a lot of years, they’ll be taking a huge risk.

The Canadiens are hurting their side of the perception battle by doing a poor job of making it look like they’d keep Pacioretty in a different system. Merely stating “Boy, we wish we could keep him, but the salary cap dictates tough decisions” might mend a fence or two. Or, hey, they could have at least given negotiations a token effort to save face.

Instead, it seems like they’re pushing Pacioretty away, and risking an even larger mistake by allowing his trade value to plummet. This unofficial deadline for extension discussions only make matters worse, yet it’s a tactic Montreal opened itself up to by letting things get nasty.

It’s not just us around-the-clock hockey fanatics who are giving Montreal the thumbs down, either.

Observers seem to be siding with Pacioretty, from former teammates such as Lars Eller:

To the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan, who wrote today about an increasingly ugly divorce:

Bergevin stuck a knife in his captain’s back at the end of last season when he said attitude was the team’s biggest problem. Somehow, I thought P.K. Subban was supposed to have been the problem … or maybe it was Michel Therrien? The former defenceman and coach are gone, but there is still a problem and Pacioretty seems to have become the latest scapegoat.

But it’s Bergevin who should be looking in the mirror.

Uh oh.

No doubt about it, Bergevin’s painted himself into a corner. Some of that comes from these specific dealings with “Patches,” while the rest revolves around other gaffes. Subban was essentially run out of town, and now he’s racking up playoff runs along with accolades such as another Norris nomination; meanwhile, Shea Weber‘s run into health issues and wasn’t enough to solve Montreal’s defensive woes when he was there. There are parallels in what happened with Alex Galchenyuk – right down to a trade of immediately questionable value – and the (seemingly?) less character-related Jonathan DrouinMikhail Sergachev swap looks rough after one season.

Again, it’s not just “losing” trades, either. It’s fairly common to see a player absorb criticism on their way out the door following a trade (even when it’s bizarre stuff like the Dougie Hamilton museum rumors), but there have been multiple times in which this Montreal regime seemed to handle delicate situations with the precision of wild sledgehammer swings.

There’s still a chance that Bergevin will time this all perfectly and extract the perfect package of assets for Pacioretty. Snipers of Pacioretty’s caliber don’t grow on trees, and for all we know, the best deal may – against steep odds – really lie in the future, possibly even during the 2018-19 season.

Recent history suggests otherwise, and those unforced errors didn’t really come with Bergevin’s back truly against the wall.

Right now, this has “nightmare” written all over it, and a recurring one in that.

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.