Max Domi

What should Canadiens do with Kovalchuk?

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When Ilya Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings decided to part ways, it became clear that the veteran winger wanted to suit up for a contending team. Boston and Pittsburgh were immediately thought of as potential landing spots, but that never ended up working out.

Instead, he signed a low-risk contract with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs aren’t contenders by any means, but they’ve been the perfect fit for Kovalchuk. But what does the team do with him now that the trade deadline is approaching?

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin still has plenty of time to make his decision. The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 24 anyway. But unless another team is willing to offer something the Habs can’t refuse, they should seriously think about keeping Kovalchuk around for another season.

For example, if any team is willing to ship them a first or second-round draft pick (very unlikely), Bergevin should take that deal. If not, there’s really no point in trading away a player who has fit in so well in such a short amount of time.

Let’s take a look at how well the 36-year-old has played since going to Montreal.

Montreal has suffered through some tough injuries this season. Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron have all missed an extended period of time. When they brought Kovalchuk in, they were desperate. They had just lost Gallagher and they needed healthy bodies with the slightest amount of offensive upside.

He had three goals and nine points in 17 games with the Kings before leaving there. In eight games with the Canadiens, he’s managed to score four goals, four assists and a shootout goal. The Russian forward also hasn’t looked as slow as advertised in his small sample. He’s not a speedster by any means, but he’s been able to keep up with the pace of play on the ice. And his teammates really seem to like him.

“Obviously, he’s a legend first of all,” teammate Max Domi said, per the Montreal Gazette. “And you see the plays he can make now are like he’s still in his heyday. I know he’s getting older, but you can never tell. He’s got a great sense of humour, he’s a great guy. Super-positive, super-vocal, which I was surprised about. But he’s one of the most positive guys in our locker room in terms of keeping guys accountable and stuff like that. So it’s great to see and he’s a big part of our team.”

When he first joined the Canadiens, he spent some time on a line with Domi. Head coach Claude Julien quickly decided to move him to the top line with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar in the absence of Gallagher. Kovalchuk isn’t known for his defensive awareness and the Danault line handles the heaviest defensive responsibilities. Somehow, he’s found a way to fit in really well with his teammates.

His advanced numbers also indicate that he’s been the perfect fit in Montreal. His CF% is at 56.03 percent, his FF% is at 56.83 percent, his GF% is at 77.78 percent, his xGF% is 63.25 percent and his HDCF% is at 55.10 percent.

51.76 percent of his starts have been in the offensive zone, but he’s also surprisingly been on the ice for 41 defensive zone starts, which is a little surprising.

Assuming the Canadiens don’t get blown away by a trade offer from another team, they should bring him back on a year-to-year basis. As good as Kovalchuk’s been, they can’t commit a multi-year deal to him. If he’s willing to sign a one-year deal at a reasonable amount of money, there’s no reason why a team like the Canadiens shouldn’t bring him back.

Yes, the Habs should probably be looking to get younger, but if Kovalchuk can produce at a level anywhere close to what he’s doing right now, there’s no sense in getting rid of him so quickly. Is he a 30, 40 or 50-goal scorer? No way. But if he can net you 20 goals, make your power play more dynamic and help recruit a free agent or two during the off-season, he’ll be worth the investment.

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.

Bergeron, Giroux, Toews highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote

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We know who will be going to St. Louis for next month’s NHL All-Star Game. But the rosters still need to be finalized with one more player representing each division.

The NHL is bringing back the “Last Men In” vote where fans will be able to select another forward or defenseman who will take a place on the rosters for the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Divisions. Due to roster constraints and trying to get every team represented there are plenty of names who missed out on the initial announcement. Here, along with potential injury replacements between now and then, is a chance to get added.

Per the NHL, voting (NHL.com/Vote)for the “Last Men In” opens Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 12 p.m. ET and closes Friday, Jan. 10, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Fans will be permitted to select as few as one player and a maximum of four players per ballot. The maximum number of ballots cast per 24-hour period for each fan is 10.

[NHL reveals 2020 All-Star Game rosters]

Here are the players who could make their way to St. Louis:

Atlantic Division
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
Montreal Canadiens: Max Domi
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter
Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene
St. Louis Blues: David Perron
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier
New York Islanders: Brock Nelson
New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
Washington Capitals: T.J. Oshie

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf
Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau
Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty
San Jose Sharks: Tomas Hertl
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes
Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE: Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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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.

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl, Eichel can’t be stopped

McDavid Draisaitl Eichel
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Three Stars

1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Gauging which player was the best of Saturday’s three-point men is difficult. Matthews (two goals, one assist) isn’t a certain choice for the top player on his team, as Zach Hyman also scored two goals and an assist in Toronto’s win.

That said, Matthews presents a worthy argument. He generated a primary assist, and offered up the game-winner.

The 22-year-old extended his multi-point streak to three games (4G, 3A). While Toronto’s been dysfunctional with injuries and inconsistency, Matthews keeps delivering, producing 23 goals and 41 points through 37 games.

Matthews could catch Jimmy Carson for a milestone among U.S.-born snipers if he keeps this up.

2. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

The Blues scored two empty-net goals, but Schwartz didn’t feast on either of them. Instead, Schwartz served all steak, no sizzle: two primary assists and the game-winner.

(OK, Schwartz probably dished out at least some sizzle.)

With at least one point in four of five games (2G,4A), Schwartz has 28 points in 37 games. Maintaining such a pace would place at about 62 points over 82 games. Of course, Schwartz must stay healthy to flirt with that type of production.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck came into Saturday as one of the league’s GSAA leaders, bailing out Winnipeg frequently. The netminder bumped that up with a 31-save shutout against Minnesota.

Yes, the Jets winning 6-0 takes some of the shine off of that. Not all, though, and Hellebuyck deserves recognition for saving Winnipeg’s season during certain stretches. Josh Morrissey serves as another Winnipeg option, as he collected three assists.

Highlight of the Night

Connor McDavid failed to make the three stars, but he was great as usual. McDavid scored another highlight reel against the Canadiens, rendering Max Domi and his highlight reel goal just a bit short of the mark.

Oopsie of the Night

Jaroslav Halak ranks as one of the NHL’s best backups, and plenty of teams wouldn’t mind employing him as their starter. After seeing this, I’d argue he should probably not try to evoke Hasek thwarting breakaways again anytime soon, though:

Naughty and nice

Factoids

Scores

BUF 3 – LAK 2
ANA 6 – NYI 5 (SO)
WPG 6 – MIN 0
NSH 4 – BOS 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – DET 1
PHI 5 – OTT 4 (SO)
WSH 3 – TBL 1
FLA 4 – CAR 2
CBJ 5 – NJD 1
EDM 4 – MTL 3
CHI 5 – COL 3
VAN 4 – PIT 1
STL 5 – SJS 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.

Five players looking for a fresh start in 2020

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The year is winding down and some people around the NHL will be happier to see it come to an end than others. 2019 was kind to players like Ryan O'Reilly, Nikita Kucherov and Mark Giordano, but there are others who are ready for a fresh start and a new year.

Who needs a new beginning?

Let’s take a look:

Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings: 

Athanasiou put together his first 30-goal campaign last season, which increased expectations for him heading into 2019-20. But things haven’t gone nearly as well for him this year. The Red Wings forward has scored just five times in his first 32 games. And although the plus/minus stat is no longer as relevant as it used to be, it’s hard to ignore his league-worst minus-35 rating.

As difficult as this season has been for him, there would be no shortage of teams willing to trade for him if the Red Wings made him available. He’s fast, he can score and Detroit would be silly to give him away.

General manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t born yesterday, so he knows that players like Athanasiou don’t grow on trees. The rebuilding Wings should be as patient as they can be with their speedy winger, but he needs the calendar to turn to 2020 in a hurry.

•  Alex Galchenyuk – Pittsburgh Penguins: 

Since the start of 2018, Galchenyuk has played for three different teams and he’s been traded twice. He went from Montreal to Arizona and then from Arizona to Pittsburgh. That’s not a good sign for any player, let alone someone who is still relatively young and who’s scored 30 goals in the NHL before.

The Coyotes gave up Max Domi to get their hands on Galchenyuk, who they believed could be a full-time center in the NHL. Not only did he not last down the middle, but the ‘Yotes decided they had seen enough of him in just one year. They didn’t give him away, as he was part of a trade for Phil Kessel, but that’s probably not the scenario they had in mind when they acquired him.

Things haven’t gone much better for him in Pittsburgh, either. He’s battled through injuries and a lack of consistency that has seemed to plague him for a while now. Even with all the injuries the Penguins are going through, Galchenyuk remains on the team’s fourth line.

Galchenyuk’s had multiple changes of scenery and they haven’t worked out well for him. What’s next?

•  Shayne Gostisbehere – Philadelphia Flyers:

Gostisbehere is a prime “change of scenery” candidate heading into the new year. The 26-year-old struggled last season under head coaches Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon, and not much has changed with Alain Vigneault behind the bench in 2019-20.

After scoring 65 points in 78 games in 2017-18, Gostisbehere managed to pick up 37 points in the same amount of contests last year. This season, things have gotten even worse offensively, as he’s amassed five goals and 11 points in 32 contests.

The Flyers defender was even made a healthy scratch in three consecutive games between Nov. 23-27. Yeah, that’s how bad things have been for him this season. Now that he’s put together back-to-back difficult seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Chuck Fletcher unload him before the trade deadline.

• Ilya Kovalchuk – Free Agent: 

Imagine signing a three-year, $18 million deal on July 1st 2018 and never even making it to the mid-way point of the contract. That’s exactly what happened to Kovalchuk in Los Angeles. The Kings were so fed up with the 36-year-old that they were willing to keep dead money on the cap this year and next year just to get rid of him.

The Russian winger put up respectable numbers last season when he scored 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games, but those didn’t justify the commitment they made to him two summers ago.

Now, Kovalchuk is reportedly willing to play for peanuts and he wants to be on a contender. The questions is, who is willing to take him on at this point?

If you pro-rate last year’s totals over 82 games, he was on pace to score 21 goals. You’d think that a team would be willing to take a shot at a 20-goal scorer if it were to cost them around $1 million. Will anyone do it? Is a general manager going to pull that trigger on that kind of deal?

P.K. Subban – New Jersey Devils:

Expectations around the New Jersey Devils increased once they acquired Subban from the Nashville Predators on Day 2 of the 2019 NHL Draft. Instead of taking them to another level, the veteran has struggled mightily. He’s accumulated just two goals and three assists in 33 games this season and he’s failed to pick up a point in 21 straight games.

The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $9 million. That means that he’ll probably have to work through his current issues in New Jersey, as it would be shocking to see anyone trade for him at this point.

Subban has dealt with a couple of different injuries over the last few seasons, including a back ailment he had to fight through over the last few seasons. Is that what’s slowing him down right now?

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: Flyers erupt; Kane has another big night

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (88) scores
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Three Stars

1) Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

One of the most dynamic players in the NHL had another terrific night, recording four points in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets. His goal late in the third, which extended Chicago’s lead to three goals, was another example of how lethal his release has been since entering the NHL in 2007. Chicago is stuck at the bottom of the powerful Central Division but Kane is a thrill to watch night in and night out.

2) Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens

When a forward enters the offensive zone with control of the puck, it is a rare sighting when they just wind up and let one fly. Especially in three-on-three overtime when puck possession is of the utmost importance. But on Thursday night, Domi stepped into a slap shot and hammered the puck past David Rittich to lead Montreal to a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames

3) James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have been dealing with an emotional roller coaster this past week due to the horrible news about Oskar Lindblom. But, the team took advantage of the Jack Eichel-less Buffalo Sabres and earned a 6-1 feel-good win. The power forward muscled his way to the front of the net and tipped in a loose puck late in the first period to collect his first goal of the night. Then, van Riemsdyk was the beneficiary of a fortunate bounce when the puck trickled off a defender and in.

Highlights of the Night

Roman Josi should consider switching positions if he could dangle like this

Varlamov entered the save-of-the-year competition with this glove stop.

Other notable performances from Thursday

Elias Pettersson — The 21-year-old scored twice as the Canucks held off the Vegas Golden Knights and snapped a three-game losing streak. The Canucks improved to 9-2-1 when Pettersson has scored this season according to Sportsnet.

Tyler Seguin The Dallas Stars alternate captain was one of five players in the NHL to score an overtime-winning goal Thursday.

Mats Zuccarello The Norwegian winger had a goal and two assists in the Minnesota Wild 8-5 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Stat of the night

Scores

New York Islanders 3, Boston Bruins 2 (SO)

Dallas Stars 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Buffalo Sabres 1

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (OT)

Ottawa Senators 5, Nashville Predators 4 (OT)

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Colorado Avalanche 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Calgary Flames 3(OT)

Minnesota Wild 8, Arizona Coyotes 5

Vancouver Canucks 5, Vegas Golden Knights 4 (OT)