Matthew Peca

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What is the Senators’ long-term outlook?

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 Ottawa Senators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the Senators will be searching for a new core in the coming years. Due to the failures of the San Jose Sharks this past season, the Senators have two premium picks in the upcoming draft, including the second-and third-best odds to land the top selection per the current standings. In addition, they have six picks in the second and third round if they want to move up in the draft or acquire additional talent.

Similar to other rebuilding franchises, the tough decisions are looming. Their farm system has a number of potential pieces, but general manager Pierre Dorion needs to find a few difference makers.

Ottawa wisely signed Chabot to a long-term extension prior to the season and will most likely try to lock up Tkachuk this upcoming summer.

Colin White, a 23-year-old, has five years remaining on his contract upon the conclusion of this season and will likely play a central role in the years to come. For the next few seasons, the primary focus will be on player development not on-ice results.

Outside of Bobby Ryan’s contract which lasts until the end of the 2021-22 season, the Senators do not have a salary cap issue. Dorion could wisely use his cap space to acquire additional draft capital, or overpaid NHL players on the cheap as long as he does not exceed the internal budget.

While the Senators will not be making the Stanley Cup playoffs in the immediate future, they do have endless potential with a treasure trove of draft picks and valuable cap space. The biggest question ownership will face is if Dorion is the right general manager to lead them out of the abyss.

Long-Term Needs

The Senators have a need at every position. Chabot has proven himself to be an elite defenseman and Nikita Zaitsev is an NHL-caliber blueliner, but the team will need to develop or acquire a lot more talent.

Anthony Duclair is the type of player the Senators should be currently looking to fill their roster with for the short-term future. Ottawa could give players ample ice-time and special teams opportunities that other teams do not have patience for. Think of players such as former first-round pick Joshua Ho-Sang that are looking for a chance to prove themselves after a rough start to their career.

Long-Term Strengths

It was mentioned above, but the greatest strength of the Senators organization is the arsenal of draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. They have three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and 10 picks in the second and third round over the next two seasons. The decisions made this offseason and next will likely define the success of the franchise in the next decade.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

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.

Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

The Buzzer: Killorn lives, McDavid magic, Vegas records

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Players of the Night: Alex Killorn takes the cake as the most prolific part of the Lightning storming back against the Flames and beating them.

Calgary was up 4-2 at one point and 4-3 heading into the third, then Tampa Bay scored four unanswered goals to win 7-4.

Killorn ended up with two goals and two assists with a +4 rating in the game. He helped Tampa Bay put together a blistering fourth line: Matthew Peca scored one goal and two assists while Cory Conacher collected two goals. Peca is now on a three-game point streak (two goals, three assists) to give him five points in as many contests this season. Imagine how exasperated the NHL would be if the Bolts unearthed another steal in Peca, even if he just occasionally pitches in?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s two goals weren’t enough for the Oilers, as they lost 4-3 in OT to the Colorado Avalanche. One of his goals showed enough speed and tremendous hand-eye coordination to earn the highlight of the night, though:

Factoids:

Not good Flames. Not good.

Quite good, Connor. Quite good.

The Vegas Golden Knights set a new record for wins in an inaugural season for expansion team. Check out the full rundown here.

Scores

Bruins 3, Blues 1
Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Devils 4, Flyers 3
Maple Leafs 4, Rangers 0
Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 0
Senators 2, Ducks 1 (OT)
Golden Knights 3, Jets 2 (OT)
Predators 5, Kings 0
Lightning 7, Flames 4
Avalanche 4, Oilers 3 (OT)
Stars 4, Coyotes 1
Canucks 4, Blackhawks 2

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.

Lightning could have yet another player make his NHL debut tomorrow

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Injuries to several key players have helped make the Tampa Bay Lightning almost unrecognizable at times this season as they have to keep inserting new players into the lineup.

Over the past three weeks alone they have already had two players — Tanner Richard and Matthew Peca — make their NHL debut.

Now they could have a third new player make his debut on Tuesday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets.

With Brian Boyle (lower body) injured in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on New Years Eve, the team had to call up forward Adam Erne from the American Hockey League on Monday. Coach Jon Cooper said there is “a good chance” that Erne will be in the lineup on Tuesday against Winnipeg, via the Tampa Bay Times. Erne practice with the team on Monday on a line with Michael Bournival and J.T. Brown, according to the Times.

The Lightning selected Erne in the second round (No. 33 overall) of the 2013 NHL draft. He scored 14 goals and added 15 assists in 59 games for the Syracuse Crunch during the 2015-16 season, his first year of pro hockey. So far this season he has eight goals and 10 assists in 31 games for the Crunch.

Along with Boyle the Lightning are also without Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette, and starting goaltender Ben Bishop. Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin have also all missed at least six games this season.

As of Monday evening the Lightning are two points out of a playoff spot, trailing the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division with what will be two games in hand entering play on Tuesday.