Keith Kinkaid

Canadiens add much needed left-shot defenseman in Chiarot

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Coming into the summer, the Montreal Canadiens had three glaring holes on their roster that they had to address. They needed a scoring forward (they tried to get Sebastian Aho), another left-shot defenseman, and a backup goalie (they signed Keith Kinkaid on July 1st). On Thursday morning, general manager Marc Bergevin addressed one of those needs.

The Canadiens inked former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot to a three-year, $10.5 million contract ($3.5 million AAV). The 28-year-old spent the first five seasons of his career with the Winnipeg Jets after being drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

He had five goals, 20 points, a plus-6 rating and 62 penalty minutes in 78 games with Winnipeg in 2018-19. He averaged 18:37 of ice time.

Chiarot gives the Canadiens some added size on the left side of their defense (he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and he adds a physical presence which they didn’t have on that side with Victor Mete, Brett Kulak and Mike Rielly.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Last season, he spent most of his ice time playing on a pairing with Dustin Byfuglien. In 640 even-strength minutes with Byfuglien, Chiarot had a CF% of 51.59 percent, but that number dropped to 44.76 percent in 48 minutes without him (Byfuglien’s CF% spiked to 59.27 without Chiarot by his side). The FF% drops from 50.82 to 43.59 without Byfuglien, and the HDCF% goes from 50.26 percent to 35 percent. A 48-minute sample size isn’t huge, but it’s still something you need to be aware of with a depth defender.

Bergevin may not be done tweaking his defense, as he still has time to make a trade before the start of the year. Mete has spent some time playing with Shea Weber over the last two seasons, but he’s probably better suited to play in a lesser role at this stage of his career. So they may still need someone that can line up next to their captain at even-strength.

There’s still plenty of work for Bergevin to do, but time is still on his side.

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.

What should Habs do if they don’t get Aho?

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(UPDATE: The Hurricanes will be matching the offer sheet for Aho.)

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin caused quite a stir on Monday when he submitted an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent Sebastian Aho. But what’s next? Well, the Habs just have to sit and wait for the ‘Canes to make a decision.

What happens if the Hurricanes decide to match the Canadiens’ five-year, $42.27 million offer for Aho? What does Bergevin do next? Can he still make a move or two this week? There’s so many questions that need to be answered.

Before the offer sheet was signed, the Habs had $11.806 million in cap space. If Carolina doesn’t match, Montreal will have $3.352 million in cap space remaining, but CBA rules allow teams to spend 10 percent above the cap until the start of the upcoming season. So if Bergevin wants to dip his toe into the free-agent waters while waiting for a decision on Aho, he can do it but it doesn’t sound like he wants to.

“Like you mentioned, (other) guys are getting signed. But you can’t when you have that cap space tied up, you can’t go out and spend it and then you get the player and then you’re in that position,” Bergevin said on Monday, per the Montreal Gazette. “So you need to be smart. And that’s the risk we take. Yeah, the chair’s going to be gone by the time … but that’s the business we’re in. But we felt even though if it doesn’t happen we still have a very good hockey team.”

And whether they get Aho or not, the Canadiens still have needs.

They have to find a left-handed puck-moving defenseman that’s capable of playing next to captain Shea Weber. Many have linked Jake Gardiner to the Habs but that hasn’t happened yet. Gardiner would command about $6 million or $7 million per year, which Montreal could easily digest if they don’t get Aho. Will Gardiner still be around in a week? Probably not.

They could also look to make a trade for a left-handed blueliner. T.J. Brodie‘s name has been out there over the last few weeks. Could they figure out a way to get him out of Calgary? That’s entirely possible. Whether it’s Brodie, Gardiner or someone else, Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of his defense. That’s the most pressing need after adding some scoring.

As much as Bergevin says he likes his roster, he can’t deny that improvements will have to be made if they’re going to make the playoffs. The Canadiens missed the postseason by a point in 2018-19, and outside of adding goaltender Keith Kinkaid, and trading Andrew Shaw and Nicholas Deslauriers, they haven’t done much to tweak the roster.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Non-playoff teams like the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers have all made significant acquisitions to bolster their teams. Can the Habs sneak into the postseason without making at least one major move?

Clearly, they liked Aho and felt like they could put Carolina in a difficult spot with their creative, signing-bonus heavy offer. It was a great and aggressive idea, but one that’s not guaranteed to work out in their favor.

“I looked at the options, what was available, and that’s what as an organization we looked at the closest and we identified that Sebastian Aho was the player,” Bergevin said. “And then, after the window opened, we were able to talk and he wanted to be here in Montreal. He agreed to this, he believed it’s a really good offer for him and he wants to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.”

Here’s the biggest question for Montreal right now: Would they extend an offer sheet to a second player if they don’t get Aho?

Could they go after Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning? They’ve made it clear that they’d prefer going the RFA route, so could he be an option? This would be a different kind of offer sheet, but one that could still put the Tampa Bay Lightning in a tough situation. The Bolts have the hard cash to pay Point, but it’s the cap space that they’re lacking. Would Point even be willing to leave Tampa for Montreal? That’s a different story altogether.

For now, all Montreal can do is wait.

MORE: Canadiens sign Sebastian Aho to offer sheet

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.

Blue Jackets look to reassemble pieces after free agent losses

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets watched three of their best players leave for other teams on the opening day of free agency and did relatively little to fill the holes.

When the dust settled after Monday’s comings and goings, many questions remained about whether general manager Jarmo Kekalainen will be able reassemble enough pieces for Columbus to make a run at the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

The success of the team in 2019-20 will depend on a player or combination of players filling the offensive void left by departed forward Artemi Panarin. And it will require last year’s backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo – or someone else – to be nearly as good as two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.

Panarin, who was considered a long shot to re-sign with Columbus after two seasons, inked a seven-year deal with the New York Rangers worth $81.5 million. Bobrovsky went to the Florida Panthers after seven years in Columbus, and center Matt Duchene, picked up at the February trade deadline, moved on to Nashville.

Forward Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid – all acquired at the deadline and now unrestricted free agents – are not likely to stay with Columbus, which also lost its top executive, John Davidson, to the Rangers’ front office.

The Blue Jackets did pick up free-agent forward Gustav Nyquist from the San Jose Sharks. The Swedish winger was dealt by the Detroit Red Wings at the deadline and helped the Sharks advance to the Western Conference finals. He totaled 22 goals and 38 assists last season.

Kekalainen has said he wants only players who are happy to play in Columbus. Nyquist said that includes him.

”I think it’s a team that has some really good pieces, some young pieces and also some great veteran leaders, and a team that’s really heading in the right direction,” Nyquist said. ”You saw that in last year’s playoffs. Those were things that really excited me.”

Nyquist said the departure of some of the stars doesn’t concern him.

”I’m sure the media will talk about that,” he said. ”But I think we want to prove that there is going to be opportunity for other guys who are going to try to come in and fill some of those holes, and I’m sure everyone will be excited to keep building on what they’ve done here for the last few years. I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be a really good team.”

Kekalainen had declined to deal Panarin and Bobrovsky at the February trade deadline, even though he knew there was scant chance of re-signing either. Instead, he added Duchene, Dzingel and others for an ”all in” playoff run.

That paid off when Columbus won its first postseason series in franchise history, stunning the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning with a four-game sweep. The Blue Jackets then lost to Boston in six games in the second round.

Kekalainen said he knew some of those players might leave, but ”then we just move forward with what we have and start building other ways.”

That increases the reliance on scoring forwards Cam Atkinson, Pierre Luc-Dubois and Josh Anderson. It also puts pressure on underachieving center Alexander Wennberg to play up to his potential.

Talented defenseman Ryan Murray and Korpisalo, who was Bobrovsky’s backup last season, signed new contracts Monday. Bobrovsky leaves huge skates to fill for Korpisalo, who will compete with flashy rookie Elvis Merzlikins for the starting job in the net.

John Davidson resigns from Blue Jackets, joins Rangers as president

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A busy off-season for the Columbus Blue Jackets is under way with the news that John Davidson, the team’s President of Hockey Operations and Alternate Governor since 2012, has resigned and will be taking up the role of president with the New York Rangers.

Davidson replaces Glen Sather, who stepped down from the position in April.

In a statement released on Friday, Blue Jackets’ president Mike Priest confirmed that the team granted the Rangers permission to speak with Davidson about the job. Davidson still had four years left on his contract with the Blue Jackets, but rumblings of his departure for New York surfaced this spring and only seemed to grow once their postseason run ended.

It’s expected that Davidson will be introduced by the Rangers on Wednesday.

“Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter in New York Rangers history,” said Rangers owner James Dolan in a statement. “John Davidson is one of the premier executives in the National Hockey League. As we continue to build a team that can consistently compete for the Stanley Cup, John’s knowledge of the game and his experience and passion for the Rangers logo make him the ideal choice to oversee our Hockey Operations department. I am thrilled to welcome ‘JD’ and his family home.”

Davidson played parts of eight seasons with the Rangers and was one half of their television broadcast team for two decades before he moved into management as the President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues from 2006-2012.

According to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, there will be no replacement for Davidson within the Blue Jackets’ organization. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen will now lead the hockey operations department and assume the alternate governor role.

Davidson’s exit could be the first of many this off-season for the Blue Jackets. Unrestricted free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin are looking like they’ll be leaving, while the futures of fellow UFAs Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid, and Adam McQuaid are also cloudy. Back inside the management offices, assistant GM Bill Zito has interviewed for open GM positions around the league, including the expansion NHL Seattle franchise.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets ink Bobrovsky’s potential successor

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed a goalie! No, it’s not Sergei Bobrovsky but it could be his eventual replacement.

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that they’ve inked Elvis Merzlikins to a one-year, one-way contract. The 25-year-old spent last season with Lugano in the Swiss League where he had a 22-18-0 record with a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage last season. He’s also a two-time winner of the Jacques Plante Trophy which is awarded to the top goaltender in the Swiss Leagues.

Merzlikins is currently representing Latvia at the 2019 World Hockey Championship.

This is actually Merzlikins’ second contract with Blue Jackets, as he signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the club back in March.

“Of course it was amazing (to sign),” he told the Blue Jackets’ website. “It’s the first part of a dream I’ve had since I was a kid that I realized, that I’ve reached.

“But it’s not like it’s that big a deal. A lot of guys can sign a contract. The main thing that I want to see is at what level I’m at, and prove to myself and especially to my mom — who made a huge sacrifice when I was a kid — to prove that I can stay in the best league in the world, not just show up there.”

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Blue Jackets’ crease heading into the summer. Franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. If they can’t bring the Russian goalie back, there’s a chance Columbus will head into training camp without a clear number one goalie.

European skaters typically have to adjust to a heavier schedule once they come to the NHL, but that might not be as big of a problem for Merzlikins who played in 43 games during the Swiss League regular season, four more in the playoffs, and however many starts he gets at the Worlds. No one expects him to be a 60-plus game starter in 2019-20, but he could potentially handle a respectable workload if he had to.

We’re still a far cry from him being in contention for the starting job in Columbus, but Jarmo Kekalainen is starting to gather his options in case Bobrovsky leaves this summer.

As of right now, Merzlikins is the only goalie on the active roster that’s under contract for next season. Bobrovksy and Keith Kinkaid will both be unrestricted free agents while Joonas Korpisalo is set to become a restricted free agent.

This should be a fascinating summer for the Blue Jackets.

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.