Jeff Petry

Long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Canadiens don’t have a lot of players locked up to much term. That seems like a plus, because the bigger contracts also happen to be Montreal’s biggest headaches.

Apologies to Carey Price after already critiquing his 2019-20 season, but you can only be so delicate about his situation. Price has already shown some troubling signs of fatigue at 32. His $10.5 million AAV is frightening now, yet it carries through 2025-26, with a no-movement clause to boot.

Shea Weber didn’t suffer a career-ending injury as feared, yet there’s no denying that he’s banged up. One wonders if the 34-year-old is fated for LTIR; otherwise, his $7.86M AAV (also through 2025-26) could become quite burdensome.

Jonathan Drouin breaks the trend of older players receiving term, but there are already rumors about the 25-year-old getting moved out before his deal ($5.5M AAV) expires (after 2022-23).

Looking at the Habs’ agreed-upon core is a chore. The more interesting questions revolve around who else might be a part of it.

The Canadiens don’t face that many long-term contract decisions this offseason, but pending RFA Max Domi is a key one. Can they find the right price and term for the speedy but flawed forward?

There are some other interesting mid-career players to consider.

Marc Bergevin balked on trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry, two players whose contracts expire after 2020-21. Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault stand out as other noteworthy pieces who need new deals after 2020-21, too. Who stays and who goes?

Granted, a lot of that revolves around how much progress Montreal’s promising prospects make.

Long-term needs for Canadiens

Look, it’s not going to be pleasant for the Canadiens to pay a backup goalie a handsome fee. Not when they already allot $10.5M in cap space to Price.

Yet it seems like Montreal’s committed to at least hovering around the playoff bubble with Bergevin and Claude Julien running the show. Why wouldn’t you try to ease Price’s burden and get a Plan B when the market could include borderline starters like Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and old pal Jaroslav Halak?

Getting some saves would go a long way. So would finishing more chances.

For another year, Montreal clearly suffered for its lack of snipers. This team can hog the puck at five-on-five, and create havoc with skilled forwards. They just don’t really have a ton of players who finish, something that surfaces for a power play that finds itself snakebitten far too often.

The Canadiens could certainly use more NHL-ready help on defense. That’s another question filed under “How ready are these prospects?”

Perhaps more than anything else, the Canadiens need vision.

So far, Montreal’s been trying to build for the future while staying in contention. The first part’s gone pretty well, but the Canadiens have settled for not-quite-good-enough. Are they hurting their chances of having a higher ceiling by trying to prosper now and later? Should they at least do a Rangers-style mini-reboot, selling off the likes of Tatar, Petry, and Drouin (and maybe even Gallagher)?

Oh yeah, and how much would it take to compete in an Atlantic Division featuring the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs?

The answers are tough to come by, but Bergevin & Co. need to soul search on such topics.

Long-term strengths for Canadiens

Again, the Canadiens’ farm system looks pretty good. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked them second overall in February (sub required), and that’s while “graduating” the likes of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Cole Caulfield could indeed parallel Alex DeBrincat as a near-instant draft steal, as many wondered about the spritely sniper.

I wonder if that group could still use the added “oomph” that would have come with a tanktastic, premium high draft pick, but it’s heartening for Montreal overall.

Bergevin’s also seemingly learned from how much the Price contract boxed the Canadiens in by not signing many other long-term deals. The uncertainty translates to flexibility.

Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin went in-depth on the Canadiens’ salary cap opportunities recently (sub required). If the pause squeezes the cap flat, Montreal could take advantage of teams in “salary cap prison.” They could also exploit a free agent situation that may thus be low on buyers. There’s also the possibility that Bergevin could send out more offer sheets.

Bergevin’s patience could pay off … if he makes the right moves.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.

2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.

Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.

Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals [28] and points [72]) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.

Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.

Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?

The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).

This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.

Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.

(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens

Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?

Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:

2019-20 Canadiens draft picks and beyond

Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.

For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.

If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.

After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to individual players. Specifically, the most underrated players in the NHL right now.

We are trying to keep this to players that are legitimately underrated, overlooked, and do not get the proper amount of attention they probably deserve.

So we are just going to put this out here at the front front: You will not see Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom or Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov on this list. They are staples on every underrated list or ranking that is compiled and both have reached a point where everyone knows exactly how great they are (pretty great).

Who does make this list?

To the rankings!

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. While everyone falls all over themselves to talk about how underrated Barkov is, the Panthers’ other star forward is actually still fairly overlooked. Especially when you consider just how productive he has been, and for how long he has played at that level. Huberdeau has been a monster offensively for four seasons now and one of the league’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season he’s in the top-15 among in points per game among all players with at least 100 games played, and has climbed into the top-10 over the past two seasons.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s probably a lot of people that would put him at the top of a most overrated list, and it’s truly one of the more baffling narratives in the league right now. Nylander is a constant lightning-rod for criticism and is always the first player that gets mentioned as being dangled as trade bait. What makes it so baffling is that he is an outstanding hockey player. Outside of the 2018-19 season (disrupted by his RFA saga) he has been a possession-driving, 60-point winger every year of his career, is still only 23 years old, and is on pace for close to 40 goals this season. Here’s a hot take for you: His $6.9 million salary cap hit will look like a steal before the contract expires. 

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have a pretty good core of players that get their share of recognition — Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler specifically. Even Conor Hellebuyck is getting the proper level of respect this season and is going to be a Vezina Trophy front-runner. But Connor just quietly slides under the radar casually hits the 30-goal mark every season. His pace this season would have put him close to the 45-goal mark.

4. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Ellis is underrated in the sense that he seems to be generally regarded as a really good defenseman and another in a long line of outstanding defenders to come through the Nashville pipeline. He is much more than that. He is actually one of the best all-around defensemen in the entire league.

5. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Over the summer I thought the Canucks were insane to trade a future first-round draft pick for Miller given where they were in their rebuild. It is not looking all that crazy right now. If anything, it is looking pretty outstanding. He was always a good player with upside in New York and Tampa Bay, but Miller has blossomed in Vancouver and become a bonafide top-line player.

6. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. As if the Lightning were not already dominant enough, they had another young talent come through their system to make an impact. Cirelli is only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards while also showing 25-30 goal, 60-point potential.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. Klingberg is an interesting case because he’s received some serious Norris consideration on occasion (sixth-place finish two different times), but he still probably doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he has consistently been in Dallas. He is one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league and is much better defensively than he tends to get credit for. Heck, he’s better in every area than he tends to get credit for.

8. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin might be starting to get into that Backstrom-Barkov area of underrated where he’s referred to as “underrated” so often that he is no longer underrated. But he is not quite there yet. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or put up huge offensive numbers, but he is one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league.

9. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. Gallagher is generally viewed as a pest, but he is also on track for his third straight 30-goal season, is strong defensively, and is always one of the best possession players in the league. You may not like him when he plays against your team, but you would love him if he played for it.

10. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. He is a recent No. 1 overall pick and just signed a huge contract extension so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with all of that. Maybe you think he has not matched it. But that is probably setting an unfair bar. Not every top pick is going to immediately enter the NHL and become a superstar at a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid kind of level. Sometimes it takes a few years. In the short-term, Hischier has already proven to have 20-goal, 50-point ability while playing a strong defensive game. There’s a lot more upside here, too. Don’t let the draft status and contract term trick you into thinking he hasn’t been good. He has been. He is also only going to get better.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Brian Dumoulin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Evgenii Dadonov (Florida Panthers), Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens), Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars), Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes), Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals), Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars), Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild)

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.

The Buzzer: Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl gets to 100 points first

Leon Draisaitl first to 100 points in NHL The Buzzer
Getty Images

Three Stars, featuring Draisaitl getting to 100 points first

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Now, this is how you reach a fantastic milestone, particularly before anyone else during a season.

Draisaitl became the first player in the NHL to reach 100 points when he scored a goal on Saturday, but it turned out he was just getting started. Draisaitl scored two goals and one primary assist to lead the Oilers to a 3-2 win against the Jets, pushing Edmonton to second in the Pacific (for now).

Those three points don’t just push Draisaitl to 100; he finished the night at 102, giving himself a massive lead for the Art Ross Trophy. Will Draisaitl combine a potential Art with a Hart? Either way, he’s the author of back-to-back 100+ point seasons, and looks likely to scorch last season’s career-high of 105 points.

(Draisaitl now has 39 goals, so he’ll need to work hard to reach 50 goals again.)

2. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Jones tormented the Penguins on Saturday, pitching a 30-save shutout.

Jones has quietly been heating up lately. While, yes, you can spout out “too little, too late,” it might make the Sharks a dangerous spoiler. (That, and the fact that there’s still serious talent on this flawed, disappointing team.)

Jones now has two shutouts in his last five games, with his previous goose egg being a 39-save affair. He’s allowed just seven goals during a five-game span where he was limited to a modest 3-2-0 record.

3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Keller delivered in a game the Coyotes really couldn’t afford to cough up. He generated two goals, including the game-winner, and also managed a primary assist for a strong three-point performance.

Keller already has more goals in 2019-20 (17) than he did last season (14), while his 43 points encroach on 47 from 2018-19. He’ll need to hustle to match his rookie season back in 2017-18, where he scored 23 goals and 65 points.

Charlie McAvoy (1G, 2A) and others provided Keller with competition for the third star spot on Saturday.

Highlights of the Night

Mike Hoffman showed great anticipation and burst in creating this turnover. After that, Hoffman displayed remarkable poise and skill in finishing the play with such artful skill:

It wasn’t enough to earn the Panthers a win, but they did gain a “charity point” in falling to Chicago via a shootout.

Blake Wheeler made NHL 20-worthy moves for a splendid assist to Kyle Connor:

The NHL rounded up Draisaitl reaching 100, Jeff Petry‘s overtime goal, and more:

Awful news for Stamkos, Lightning

Speaking of in case you missed it, the Lightning announced that Steven Stamkos is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after planned core muscle surgery on Monday.

Factoids for Draisaitl reaching 100, and more

  • Draisaitl crossed the 100-point barrier in his 65th game of 2019-20. It’s a rare feat, especially when you look beyond Nikita Kucherov‘s incredible 2018-19 season. Draisaitl and Kucherov rank among 26 different players to score 100+ points by the 65th game of a respective season since 1993-94. (NHL PR)
  • Draisaitl scored both of his goals on the power play. This gives the Oilers 13 games with multiple PPG, the most of any team in the league this season. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Speaking of Kucherov, don’t assume that he can only score with Stamkos. Kucherov now has 101 points in 112 career regular-season games with Stamkos out of the lineup. That stat is uplifting for Lightning fans in the moment, but the sheer number of Stamkos-less games is sad for fans of the game, not just of Tampa Bay. (NHL PR)
  • As this post notes, the Penguins have lost six games in a row. It’s the first time Sidney Crosby has lost six consecutive games since his rookie season. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • The Avalanche beat the Predators to win their eighth road game in a row, setting a new franchise record.
  • Kyle Connor reached 100 goals in his 245th game. He’s the seventh-fast in Jets franchise history to that plateau. (TSN’s Statscentre)

Scores

BOS 4 – NYI 0
TBL 4 – CGY 3
LAK 2 – NJD 1 (OT)
CHI 3 – FLA 2 (SO)
TOR 4 – VAN 2
MTL 4 – CAR 3 (OT)
OTT 4 – DET 3 (SO)
COL 3 – NSH 2
STL 4 – DAL 3 (SO)
ARI 5 – BUF 2
EDM 3 – WIN
SJS 5 – PIT 0

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.