Jonathan Drouin

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 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 surprises and disappointments for the Montreal Canadiens.

Carey Price couldn’t sustain last season’s rebound

Few goalies dominate like Price did from 2013-14 through 2016-17. At least in the modern NHL, where steady and elite goaltending is hard to come by.

The downside to that dominance is that the Canadiens paid for the Price of that run, while they’ve instead received a fading talent.

Then again, after a disappointing 2017-18 season, Price showed plenty of flashes of his elite self in 2018-19, going 35-24-6 with a .918 save percentage. That .918 mark actually slightly exceeds Price’s career average of .917. Unfortunately, Price fell in the middle in 2019-20, producing a .909 save percentage with a middling 27-25-6 record.

Placing all the blame on Price is unfair. Yet, when you hand a goalie a contract that carries a $10.5 million AAV (and whopping $15M salary this season), people are going to expect outstanding netminding. Considering how much cap space that eats up on a team with quite a bit of quality but not much true star power, you kind of give yourself little choice but to demand star-level work from Price.

It’s probably a wise idea for the Canadiens to end this stretch of trying to get their money’s worth by sheer volume, though.

Price has already shown signs of wear and tear at age 32. Leaning on Price for 58 appearances in 71 games isn’t exactly ideal in an age of load management. Price tied Connor Hellebuyck for the NHL lead with 58 games played, and Hellebuyck is 26.

The Habs would be wise to dip into what looks like a strong goalie market to give Price some help — and competition.

Drouin ranks as one of the (other) biggest disappointments for Canadiens

GM Marc Bergevin’s reputation as a shrewd trader rises to the point that executives might not want to return his calls. Flipping Marco Scandella and others already seemed strong. Winning the Max Domi trade keeps looking better with every subsequent Alex Galchenyuk trade. Even the Shea WeberP.K. Subban swap looks a lot more reasonable with Subban’s sad slippage.

But they weren’t all homers, and things seem grim regarding Jonathan Drouin, who Bergevin landed for still-intriguing defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

Not all of Drouin’s struggles were his fault, as injuries limited Drouin to 27 games played in 2019-20.

It would be overly optimistic to chalk up Drouin being in trade rumors to injuries alone, though. As exciting as Drouin’s skills can be, he gives up as much — if not more — than he creates. Just look at this rather unsettling even-strength comparison between Drouin and Galchenyuk, via Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts.

Keeping it even-strength is actually kinder to Drouin, too, as Galchenyuk’s generally been more effective on the PP.

(Speaking of the power play, Montreal’s unit was better than the 2018-19 version, but that’s damning with faint praise because that group was a disaster.)

Suzuki among rare positive surprises for Canadiens

PHT will break down some reasons for optimism regarding the Canadiens’ future. Of course, with any such endeavor, a lot of that talk hinges on projections. The more you dive into hypotheticals and subjective measures, the less you know.

So it’s often nice to see a young player deliver at the NHL level, right now.

The Canadiens continue to make lemonade from the lemons of trading Max Pacioretty. While Tomas Tatar led the team with 61 points, Nick Suzuki ranked fifth with 41. Tatar was an outlier for the Habs points-wise, as Suzuki really was far behind Phillip Danault (47 points), Max Domi (44), or Brendan Gallagher (43).

Suzuki climbing the ranks is especially soothing since Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a significant step back as a sophomore.

With Cole Caulfield highlighting a widely-praised farm system, the Canadiens could close their eyes and picture things all coming together. Seeing Suzuki actually deliver makes those dreams seem more feasible, too.

Maybe the Canadiens can pull off more positive surprises around the 2020 NHL Draft?

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 GMs propose small change to offside rule that could save big headaches

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The NHL’s GMs reportedly proposed a subtle but potentially headache-preventing change to the offside rule during recent meetings.

The amended rule would parallel “breaking the plane” in football.

NHL Network’s EJ Hradek summarizes the minor-yet-potentially-helpful tweek pretty well:

Note that this proposal needs to go through a few layers before the change is complete. It needs to be approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors and Competition Committee for this tweak to happen.

“When we met with our breakout group [Monday], the group thought that it was tough watching a game, especially with our skilled players, when we see a nice goal being scored and there’s a delay and there’s a challenge and we’re taking down good hockey goals because the guy’s toe is slightly off the ice or he’s in a crossing over motion where the majority of his body is still in the neutral zone but his skate is not touching the ice,” NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Kris King said via NHL.com. “They felt a lot of times the guy that is offside isn’t even involved in the rush. They just felt the skate in the air really didn’t have a lot of bearing on any of these goals.”

NHL.com’s Dan Rosen shared some interesting numbers:

The NHL reported that 18 coach’s challenges through 1,015 games played this season have been for skate in the air plays, and of those 14 led to goals being removed. There were 26 skate in the air challenges through 1,015 games last season leading to 16 goals removed.

Chances are, there will still be plenty of instances of eye-roll-worthy reviews, as offside vs. onside could still be up to plenty of debate. Even so, any tweak that might not force officials and telecasts to study small differences with Zapruder-film rewinds would be good for our collective mental health.

Er, although, fans griping about how goals A-Z should have counted (and so on) might destroy any would-be regained mental health so … *sigh* what can you do?

NHL GMs discussed a tweak like this in late March 2017, but it didn’t get off the ground/break the plane.

That point is a reminder that, much like offside reviews, these processes can often feel a little marginal. Giving a little more leeway for players to avoid going offside feels like it would be more in the “spirit of the rule,” but baby steps are better than no steps at all.

We’ll see if this small change to the offside rule makes it to fruition, and that the NHL continues to find ways to simplify its rules.

Some controversies over the years, whether this will address them all, or not:

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Zucker, van Riemsdyk among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW: Edmonton summoned Yamamoto on Dec. 31st and they’ve never had any reason to look back. He has seven goals and 14 points in 16 games while playing primarily with Leon Draisaitl. He had some false starts earlier in his career, but he’s a talented young forward who should be a significant part of the Oilers’ offense from here onward.

Jason Zucker, Penguins – LW/RW: Zucker is owned in 58% of Yahoo leagues at this point and normally I wouldn’t highlight a player whose already been scooped up in that many leagues, but I wanted to make an exception in this case because he’s a great addition if he’s still around for you. Being acquired by the Penguins significantly boosted his fantasy value. He’s averaging 17:14 minutes since joining and, more importantly, is playing alongside Sidney Crosby. He’s an already established, skilled winger who is now playing with one of the best players in the league. This should go well and there’s already evidence that it will with him recording three points in three games with Pittsburgh.

Alex Galchenyuk, Wild – C/LW: While I see Zucker as a must-add, Galchenyuk, who was part of the same trade, is a big gamble. Like Zucker, the trade has boosted Galchenyuk’s value, but in Galchenyuk’s case, he was hovering around zero prior to this trade. While Galchenyuk was a capable top-six forward with Montreal and to a lesser extent with Arizona, he didn’t work out at all with Pittsburgh. Galchenyuk’s role steadily dropped throughout his tenure with the Penguins to the point where he was averaging just 7:21 minutes per game. In Galchenyuk’s first two games with Minnesota he logged 12:26 minutes and then 13:44 minutes – so better, but not great. Still, what makes me tempted to keep an eye on Galchenyuk is the Wild’s decision to pair him with Mats Zuccarello when he has been on the ice. This is an opportunity for Galchenyuk to re-establish himself as a top-six forward and he has all the motivation in the world given that his contract is up at the end of the season. Maybe it’s a stretch to pick him up this minute, but I would keep him in mind this next week and if it appears that he is working out in Minnesota, scoop him up.

Miles Wood, Devils – LW: Like Galchenyuk, Wood is someone to keep a close eye on for now rather than pick up right away. Wood has 10 goals and 20 points in 57 games, so he hasn’t been worth owning in standard leagues, but he’s also only been averaging 12:42 minutes. He has three goals and four points in his last six contests though while logging an average of 14:34 minutes over that span. That increase is encouraging and with Blake Coleman now in Tampa Bay, Wood’s role could increase further. On Sunday, with Coleman no longer in the lineup, Wood took his former spot on a line with Nikita Gusev and Travis Zajac. Wood also has 89 hits, so he can contribute in that regard and if your league values PIM instead, he’s noteworthy there too with 51 minutes.

James van Riemsdyk, Flyers – LW: van Riemsdyk is a hot-and-cold player who is producing right now. He has five goals and 14 points in his last 13 contests and is currently on a four-game point streak. Overall this season he’s a somewhat borderline fantasy asset in standard leagues, but at the least he’s worth considering in the short-term.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist isn’t someone that makes sense to have on every fantasy team, but for those in need of a reliable right winger due to injury, he’s a good stopgap measure. He has 14 goals and 26 points in 40 games while posting a solid plus-eight rating and contributing 87 hits, so he’ll help you across the board. He’s also been performing particularly well lately with three goals and seven points in his last seven games.

Jonas Brodin, Wild – D: With two goals and 24 points in 58 games this season, Brodin is just a point shy of his career-high. That’s not enough to warrant his inclusion on the vast majority of standard league fantasy teams, but he’s not too far behind the curve. He’s at least worthy of consideration during hot streaks like the one he’s currently on. He has a goal and four points in his last five games.

Brandon Sutter, Canucks – C/RW: Sutter has never been a major offensive threat and injuries during his tenure with Vancouver have further obscured him. This season he’s appeared in just 34 games, though he has a respectable eight goals and 16 points over that span. He’s hot right now with two goals and five points in his last three games, but what makes this a little more interesting is the fact that Vancouver has given him a bigger role over that stretch. He’s averaged 14:55 minutes this season, but he’s logged between 16:05 and 19:02 minutes in each of those three games. Even if Vancouver continues to lean on him like that, he might not be a great addition in the long run, but if nothing else, he’s an okay gamble for the moment.

Craig Smith, Predators – RW: Smith has been clicking lately, scoring an incredible six goals over his last five games. With 17 goals and 28 points in 58 contests, he’s not a great player to hold onto at all times, but as long as he’s hot, he has some value. Just don’t hesitate to swap him out for someone else after he stops scoring.

Nick Bonino, Predators – C: If a center is a better fit for you right now than a right winger, than you might want to consider Smith’s linemate, Bonino. He’s been hot right alongside Smith, scoring three goals and eight points in his last 11 games. Bonino is up to 17 goal and 34 points in 58 contests this season, so he’s been a better offensive contributor than Smith, but because of how deep the center position is, Smith is owned in 12% of leagues to Bonino’s 10%.

Players You May Want To Drop

Erik Karlsson, Sharks – D: Karlsson is still owned in 75% of Yahoo leagues at the time of writing and no active owner in a single season league should have him on their team. It’s painful, but he’s already been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a broken thumb sustained on Friday, so there’s no benefit to him occupying a spot on your team. If you are in a keeper league though, there’s certainly reason to still hold onto him. Although injuries have limited Karlsson in each of the last two seasons, when he’s healthy, he’s still one of the league’s top offensive defensemen.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Canadiens – LW/RW: When Kovalchuk first joined Montreal, he seemed revitalized with four goals and eight points in eight games. He’s slowed down dramatically since then though with two goals and four points in his last 11 contests. He’s still getting big minutes in Montreal, which makes him an interesting forward to keep an eye on and there’s also the potential that the Canadiens might opt to trade him given that they’re eight points behind Toronto in the playoff race despite having played in one extra game. A trade involving Kovalchuk is more likely to hurt than help his fantasy value because it will likely result in him getting fewer minutes, but you never know. Even if you do drop him now, he’s still worth keeping a close eye on.

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier has a solid 17 goals and 36 points in 57 games this season, but a big chunk of that production came from a recent hot streak. He had seven goals and 13 points in 10 games from Jan. 14-Feb. 10. If you had him during that time, you reaped the benefits, but he’s also had some long cold stretches and we might be witnessing the start of another after he was held off the scoresheet in his last three games. 

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: DeBrusk scored seven goals and 14 points in 13 games from Jan. 7-Feb. 8, but that hot streak is behind him. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of the Bruins’ last four contests. Overall this season, he has 18 goals and 34 points in 55 games, which is decent, but not quite enough for most fantasy owners to justify holding onto him all-year-round.

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin has an ankle injury, but it’s not clear yet if that’s a big issue. So far it doesn’t sound like it is. He sustained the injury on Wednesday, tried to play through it Friday, and then sat out Saturday’s game after participating in the pregame warmups. For Drouin though, this recommendation has very little to do with the injury and far more to do with his recent play. He has been limited to three assists in his last 10 games and hasn’t recorded a point in four contests since he returned from a wrist injury that cost him most of the campaign. It might be a matter of rust and if given enough time he might be able to move past it, but there’s not a ton of time even left in the campaign for him to regain his rhythm.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.