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Marc Bergevin was ’90 percent sure’ Canadiens were getting Sebastian Aho

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Despite what you may believe, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was fairly certain that he was going to land Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent Sebastian Aho over the summer.

When the Canadiens dropped a five-year, $42.270 front-loaded contract on Aho’s lap, he signed it. At the time, many doubted that the Hurricanes wouldn’t match. Bergervin saw things differently.

“You’re never 100 percent sure of anything,” Bergervin told La Presse (quotes have been translated). “But I had conversations with his agent and he had some with the other general manager. We were 90 percent sure (we were going to get Aho). I didn’t just make an offer for the sake of making an offer. We looked at their organization and the way they manage their dollars, so we decided to front-load the first year of the contract. For us, it was a real possibility. We believed it was going to get done.”

We all know how the situation played out. The Hurricanes ended up matching the offer and the Canadiens didn’t end up making a significant move after that.

Could they opt to go after another one of the restricted free agents that still hasn’t signed with their respective teams?

“Anything is possible,” added Bergevin. “But there’s a reason why we haven’t seen another offer sheet this off-season. The contract (demands), the compensation, the salary cap. But in the league, anything’s possible.”

Landing a player like Aho would’ve changed the game for a team like Canadiens, who need some help offensively. The pressure is always “on” in Montreal, but the management staff have to feeling it a little more heading into this season. Last year, they were coming off a dismal season. This year, they’re coming off a year where they didn’t make the playoffs, but they still finished with 96 points and restored a positive feeling around the group.

You’d have to think that, internally, they’re feeling the heat this year. They can’t not make the playoffs, can they? They’ve missed the postseason in back-to-back years and in three of the last four. The last time they made the playoffs (2017), they were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers.

Since the Canadiens didn’t make a splash this summer, they’ll have to hope that some of their young players improve significantly if they’re going to make the playoffs. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who had an impressive season as an 18-year-old, will have to take a big step forward offensively. The Canadiens could also use some added production from depth players like Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia and Jordan Weal. Jonathan Drouin will have to surpass the 53 points he scored last year, while Max Domi will need to build on his 72-point outburst from one year ago.

Oh, and Carey Price and Shea Weber absolutely need to stay healthy if this team is going to make a dent in the Eastern Conference standings.

It should be an interesting year in Montreal. If they fail to make the playoffs, again, is Bergevin’s job still safe? Would his job security depend on how the team misses the playoffs?

The Habs are never boring.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Montreal Canadiens Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens. 

2018-19
44-30-8, 96 points (4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Ben Chiarot
Nick Cousins
Keith Kinkaid

OUT:
Jordie Benn
Andrew Shaw
Nicolas Deslauriers
Antti Niemi

RE-SIGNED:
Christian Folin
Artturi Lehkonen
Joel Armia
Charles Hudon
Jordan Weal
Mike Reilly
Brett Kulak
Nate Thompson

2018-19 Summary

Close but no cigar. Despite putting up 96 points in 2018-19, the Montreal Canadiens failed to make the playoffs. It was close, but they were eventually eliminated on the final Friday of the regular season when the Columbus Blue Jackets clinched the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, last season wasn’t a total failure for an organization that appeared to be in shambles the previous year. Habs general manager Marc Bergevin moved captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick and he also shipped Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. Both trades couldn’t have worked out any better for Montreal. Tatar gave the Canadiens a 25-goal and 58-point season, Suzuki had a great year in junior and could make the club this year and Domi ended up leaving the team in scoring, while Galchenyuk has already been traded again.

The difference between last season and this season, is that the public’s expectations were in the toilet coming into 2018-19. Those expectations will be much, much higher this year. Missing the playoffs by a hair won’t be good enough.

“I knew we’d have a better team this season [with the changes that were made], but what I really like is the character. We’ve come from behind in a lot games. That didn’t happen last year. I’m proud of that,” Bergevin said last January, per the team’s website. “Hats off to the players and the coaches. We started at zero and I think we’re heading in the right direction.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

The Canadiens got off to a good start last year, which was surprising considering the fact that Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season. Carey Price, who needs to be on top of his game for this team to have a chance to play meaningful games in the spring, had a rough month of November, but he was terrific when they needed him down the stretch. Those two veterans will obviously be key for the Habs. If they can stay healthy, Montreal will have a chance.

Brenden Gallagher ended up being their only 30-goal scorer last year (he had 33), but they got depth scoring from all over the lineup. Domi and Tatar were the only two Habs to surpass the 20-goal mark, but nine other players hit double figures in goals.

The downside to all that, is that a few of those players had great years by their standards and they still missed the playoffs. Can they do it all over again and then some?

One of the players who surprisingly stuck with the team all year, was 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He finished with 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games as an 18-year-old in the NHL. He has all the potential in the world and he may become that true number one center the organization has been looking for for years. If he can take a big step forward in his second year, the Habs will be much better for it.

In the end, Bergevin and his staff  got the benefit of the doubt because they seemingly turned this ship around in one year. That won’t be the case if they fail to make it back to the postseason this time around.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bergevin has Canadiens back on right track

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Although it’s not official just yet, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. But this time, there will be more of a positive feeling heading into the offseason.

Coming into last season, expectations were high for this Canadiens team. They had been bounced in the first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers and fans were expecting the team to take the next step. Unfortunately, Carey Price was injured and the team completely fell apart.

General manager Marc Bergevin’s seat appeared to be incredibly hot going into last summer. The pressure was on. With lowered expectations, the Habs found a way to compete for a playoff spot until the very end of the season. What’s even more impressive, is that captain Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season and franchise goalie Carey Price had a rocky start to the season.

How did they manage to stay in the race? Well, their GM bounced back in a big way.

Bergevin had a very strong off-season.

It started with selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the NHL Entry Draft. No one expected him to stick with the team all year, but he proved that he was ready. Even though he’s faded down the stretch, he showed that he has the potential to be a special player for years.

The Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk trade wasn’t well received by most Canadiens fans and media at first, but those doubts quickly faded as it became clear that Domi was made for a hockey market like Montreal. Heading into the final game of the season, the 24-year-old has 28 goals and 71 points in 81 games. As of this moment, it looks like the Habs won that deal.

On June 30th, Bergervin decided to eat Steve Mason’s cap hit (he was bought out by the Habs) in order to acquire Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets. Armia proved to be a useful bottom-six player with size (the Canadiens don’t have many big bodies, especially up front).

A day before training camp, they shipped Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and Columbus’ second-round pick in 2019. Although things didn’t work out for Tatar in Vegas, he fit in like a glove in Montreal, as he spent most of the year on the team’s top line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar has 25 goals and 58 points in 79 games. On the flip side, Pacioretty has 22 goals and 40 points in 65 games with the Golden Knights. Again, that’s a win for Bergevin.

On Oct. 1, the Canadiens and Calgary Flames made a minor swap involving three defensemen. Montreal sent Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina to Calgary in exchange for Brett Kulak. Both players acquired by the Flames failed to play in an NHL game this season. As for Kulak, he started the year in the minors, but quickly emerged as a top-four defender for the Candaiens this season. The pending restricted free agent will surely get a raise (he made less than a million dollars this year) going into next season.

Even at this year’s trade deadline, Bergevin sent Michael Chaput to Arizona for Jordan Weal, who fit in nicely with his new team. Weal played on the power play and he added more depth offense to a team that relies on all four of its lines to chip in. The 26-year-old has picked up a respectable eight points in 15 games since joining the Canadiens.

Whether the Canadiens get into the playoffs are not, they’re miles ahead of where they were at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Yes, their past struggles were created by Bergevin, but he’s found a way to get the organization back on the rails. Now, the challenge will be to built upon the season they just had.

They have cap space and plenty of needs. And this time, not making the playoffs won’t be an option. Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of the defense and he has to add some more scoring punch to this group. He deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his body of work in 2018-19, but this is another huge year for him and his legacy in Montreal.

So as crushing as the loss to the Washington Capitals was last night, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this organization is heading in the right direction again.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Canadiens on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Montreal scored a huge win on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory over the Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning. The Habs rebounded from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before outscoring Tampa 2-0 in the third. Their previous win came against the Central-leading Jets. They face their third straight division leader tonight.

The Canadiens enter Thursday one point behind the Hurricanes for the first Wild Card and tied with the Blue Jackets in points for the second Wild Card, but still on the outside looking in due to the ROW tiebreaker. After their game against Washington, they’ll end the season at home against Toronto.

With two games to play, the Capitals lead the Metro by three points over the Islanders. Washington is vying for its fourth consecutive division title.

Three-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin is aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (7x) to become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. Ovechkin (33 years old) can also become the first player since Phil Esposito in 1975 to lead the league in goals at age 33 or older.

On Saturday against Tampa, Ovechkin found the net twice, registering his 50th and 51st goals of the season. Those 51 goals are the most in the league, four ahead of Toronto’s John Tavares and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who both have 47. Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to record eight or more 50-plus goal seasons.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Thursday, April 4, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Canadiens-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip Danault –  Brendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiAndrew Shaw
Jonathan DrouinJordan WealJoel Armia
Jesperi KotkaniemiNate ThompsonPaul Byron

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Jordie BennChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

John CarlsonNick Jensen
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Pro Hockey Talk’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for all completed deals. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is Monday, Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET.

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Alex Broadhurst
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Future considerations

Feb. 25, 2019
Pittsburgh Penguins:
Chris Wideman
Florida Panthers:
Jean-Sebastien Dea

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Nic Petan
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Par Lindholm

Feb. 25, 2019
Vancouver Canucks:
Linus Karlsson
San Jose Sharks:
Jonathan Dahlen

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Bogdan Kiselevich
Florida Panthers:
 2021 seventh-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Nathan Beaulieu
Buffalo Sabres:
2019 sixth-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins:
Erik Gudbranson
Vancouver Canucks:
Tanner Pearson

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Matt Hendricks
Minnesota Wild:
 2020 seventh-round pick

[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Feb. 25, 2019
Anaheim Ducks: 2019 sixth-round pick
St. Louis Blues:
Michael Del Zotto

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Boston Bruins:
Marcus Johansson
New Jersey Devils:
2019 second-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers:
Ryan Hartman, conditional 2020 fourth-round pick
Nashville Predators:
Wayne Simmonds

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone, Tobias Lindberg
Ottawa Senators: Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg, 2020 second-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild:
Kevin Fiala
Nashville Predators:
Mikael Granlund

Feb. 25, 2019
Los Angeles Kings: Conditional 2020 fourth-round pick
Calgary Flames:
Oscar Fantenberg

Feb. 25, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Adam McQuaid
New York Rangers:
Julius Bergman, 2019 fourth-round pick, 2019 seventh-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Colorado Avalanche:
Derick Brassard, 2020 conditional sixth-round pick
Florida Panthers:
2020 third-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019
Florida Panthers:
Cliff Pu, future considerations
Carolina Hurricanes:
Tomas Jurco, future considerations

Feb. 25, 2019
Montreal Canadiens: Jordan Weal
Arizona Coyotes:
Michael Chaput

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
New York Rangers:
Brendan Lemieux, 2019 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick
Winnipeg Jets:
 Kevin Hayes

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
New Jersey Devils:
2022 fifth-round pick
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Keith Kinkaid

Feb. 25, 2019
Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Sieloff
Ottawa Senators:
Brian Gibbons

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
San Jose Sharks: Gustav Nyquist
Detroit Red Wings: 2019 second-round pick, 2020 conditional third-round pick

Feb. 24, 2019
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nic Baptiste
Nashville Predators: Future considerations

Feb. 24, 2019
Los Angeles Kings: Matheson Iacopelli
Blackhawks: Spencer Watson

Feb. 24, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Buffalo Sabres: Brandon Montour
Anaheim Ducks: Brendan Guhle, conditional 2019 first-round pick

Feb. 23, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Ryan Dzingel, 2019 seventh-round pick
Ottawa Senators: Anthony Duclair, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick

Feb. 23, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Dallas Stars:
Mats Zuccarello
New York Rangers: Conditional picks – 2019 second-round pick, 2020 third-round pick. Both can become first-round picks.

Feb. 23, 2019
New Jersey Devils
: Connor Carrick, 2019 third-round pick
Dallas Stars: Ben Lovejoy

Feb. 22, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Washington Capitals: Nick Jensen, 2019 fifth-round pick
Detroit Red Wings: Madison Bowey, 2020 second-round pick

Feb. 22, 2019
Florida Panthers:
Vincent Praplan
San Jose Sharks: 
Future considerations

Feb. 22, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Columbus Blue Jackets: Matt Duchene, Julius Bergman
Ottawa Senators:
Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick, 2020 conditional first-round pick.

Feb. 21, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Washington Capitals:
Carl Hagelin
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 third-round pick, 2020 conditional sixth-round pick. LA retains 50 percent of Hagelin’s cap hit.

Feb. 20, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Boston Bruins:
Charlie Coyle
Minnesota Wild:
Ryan Donato, conditional 2019 fifth-round pick

Feb. 18, 2019
New York Rangers: Darren Raddysh
Chicago Blackhawks:
Peter Holland

Feb. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Edmonton Oilers: Sam Gagner
Vancouver Canucks: 
Ryan Spooner

Feb. 15, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers:
Cam Talbot
Edmonton Oilers:
Anthony Stolarz

Feb. 12, 2019
New York Rangers: 2020 seventh-round pick
Vancouver Canucks: 
Marek Mazanec

Feb. 11, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets: conditional seventh-round 2019 pick
Pittsburgh Penguins: Blake Siebenaler

Feb. 11, 2019
Montreal Canadiens: Nate Thompson, 2019 fifth-round pick
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 fourth-round pick

Feb. 9, 2019 (PHT Analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers: Dave Schlemko, Byron Froese
Montreal Canadiens: Dale Weise, Christian Folin

Feb. 8, 2019
Arizona Coyotes: Emil Pettersson
Nashville Predators: Laurent Dauphin, Adam Helewka

Feb. 6, 2019
Nashville Predators:
Cody McLeod
New York Rangers:
2020 seventh-round pick

Feb. 6, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Nashville Predators
: Brian Boyle
New Jersey Devils: 2019 second-round pick

Feb. 6, 2019
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Christophe Beaudin
Colorado Avalanche: Max McCormick

Feb. 1, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann
Florida Panthers: Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, 2019 second-round picks and two 2019 fourth-round picks

Jan. 30, 2019
New Jersey Devils
: Ryan Murphy
Minnesota Wild: Michael Kapla

Jan. 28, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Muzzin
Los Angeles Kings: Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, 2019 first-round pick

Jan. 28, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins
: 2019 fourth-round pick
Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak

Jan. 24, 2019
Chicago Blackhawks: Dominik Kubalik
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 fifth-round pick

Jan. 21, 2019
Minnesota Wild
: Brad Hunt, 2019 sixth-round pick
Vegas Golden Knights: 2019 conditional fifth-round pick

Jan. 17, 2019
Buffalo Sabres
: Taylor Leier
Philadelphia Flyers: Justin Bailey

Jan. 17, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild
: Victor Rask
Carolina Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Michael Del Zotto
Vancouver Canucks: Luke Schenn, 2020 seventh-round pick

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Derek Grant
Pittsburgh Penguins: Joseph Blandisi

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild
: Pontus Aberg
Anaheim Ducks: Justin Kloos

Jan. 14, 2019
New York Rangers
: Connor Brickley
Nashville Predators: Cole Schneider

Jan. 14, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Devin Shore
Dallas Stars: Andrew Cogliano

Jan. 11, 2019
Chicago Blackhawks
: Slater Koekkoek, 2019 fifth-round pick
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jan Rutta, 2019 seventh-round pick

Jan. 11, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Arizona Coyotes: Jordan Weal
Philadelphia Flyers: 2019 sixth-round pick

Jan. 11, 2019
Ottawa Senators: Cody Goloubef
Boston Bruins: Paul Carey

Jan. 11, 2019
Ottawa Senators
: Morgan Klimchuk
Toronto Maple Leafs: Gabriel Gagne

Jan. 3, 2019
Winnipeg Jets: Jimmy Oligny
Vegas Golden Knights: Futures

Jan. 3, 2019
St. Louis Blues
: Jared Coreau
Anaheim Ducks: Futures

Jan. 2, 2019
Ottawa Senators:
Anders Nilsson, Darren Archibald
Vancouver Canucks: Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt, 2019 sixth-round pick