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Latest Pacioretty rumors seem ominous for Habs

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Times like these make it tough to give Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens the benefit of the doubt.

On one hand, the Max Pacioretty situation isn’t necessarily an easy one. The Habs masterfully signed him to a deal that carries a scant $4.5 million cap hit, but that bargain expires after 2018-19, when “Patches” will already be 30. There are very legitimate arguments for why Montreal would be better off trading him rather than signing him to a contract extension, even if you plug your nose and ignore the Dumpster fire that is their current situation.

[It’s time for Montreal to rebuild.]

It’s tough not to look at recent reports as worrisome omens that they won’t be able to patch the Pacioretty situation up, especially when you consider the ominous-to-error scenarios that surrounded ill-fated trades involving P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, and Alex Galchenyuk.

The parallels between Pacioretty’s uncomfortable situation and those other mishaps comes to mind after a report surfaced from Marc Andre Godin of The Athletic (sub required). Godin cites “an NHL source” who said that the Canadiens told Pacioretty that (gulp):

A) “There will be no contract negotiation” regarding an extension.

B) Bergevin intends to trade Pacioretty “as soon as possible.”

Uh oh.

One of the fascinating elements of Godin’s report is that his source indicates that Pacioretty has been at least open-minded about signing an extension with Montreal. That would happen even though, as a captain and even before that, the American-born winger often served as a scapegoat for his team’s failings.

This despite Pacioretty’s contract ranking among the best steals outside of rookie deals.

You’d understand if such experiences might make Pacioretty the one pushing for a move, rather than Bergevin, but the implication (or spin?) is that the shoe’s on the other foot.

Considering how things shook out with Subban and Galchenyuk, it sure fits into a narrative about many skill players’ efforts seemingly being taken for granted.

Circling back to a previous point, it’s not necessarily wrong for the Canadiens to determine that they’d be better off moving on from a winger who will be 30 when his next contract kicks in.

Considering that Pacioretty was savagely underpaid and went so far as to change his agent during draft weekend, it’s clear that it means a lot to him to get fair value on his next deal. There were more than a few rumors that failed extension talks scuttled a possible trade to the Los Angeles Kings before that change in reps happened.

So this is challenging where moving Subban and Galchenyuk (both locked up for decent term, with Subban signed longer and Galchenyuk being quite affordable) felt like unforced errors. The unforced error here, though, would come down to word leaking that Montreal reportedly isn’t even seeking an extension.

Simply put, Bergevin and the Canadiens badly need to “win” a trade. If even cabin-dwelling, Bermuda-shirt wearing execs know full well that the Habs are about as eager to trade Pacioretty as the Ottawa Senators are desperate to move Erik Karlsson‘s expiring contract, then Bergevin faces an even steeper challenge to land acceptable value for Pacioretty.

[Habs gradually bleed away talent under Bergevin.]

And, again, recent history doesn’t smile on Bergevin’s aptitude in that area. Yet, if he doesn’t get something done, there’s even more risk that Pacioretty will leave the Canadiens for nothing but cap space and an empty roster spot, much like John Tavares did with the Islanders. (Of course, the Islanders did what they could to keep Tavares, while the perception could end up being that the Habs are basically shoving Pacioretty out the door.)

***

Yes, there are certain advantages that come with sticking by a GM, even one who’s struggling.

Sometimes that executive shows that patience pays off, such as Kevin Cheveldayoff with the Jets. Maybe just as crucially, you don’t have a new guy coming into town to “put his own stamp” on a team by merely throwing away useful players. If you look at the NHL’s least successful franchises, you’ll often see front offices frequently thrown into disarray thanks to changes at the top.

On the other hand, the Canadiens could end up being a cautionary tale for the Canucks, Oilers, and other teams who’ve stood by polarizing GMs.

Instead of bringing in fresh eyes after seeing Montreal suffer bad-to-awful asset management (consider Shea Weber‘s outlook, Carey Price‘s scary contract, and the Karl Alzner blunder if you need more examples), the Habs stuck with Bergevin heading into this off-season. They’ll need some luck for Galchenyuk – Max Domi not to look like another one for the “L” column, and this Pacioretty situation seems foreboding at best right now.

It’s getting to the point where, if Bergevin gets canned, the next GM might need years to dig Montreal out of this hole.

Bergevin’s surprised us many times before, although the gawking has mostly been akin to rubbernecking at an accident lately. Sometimes it feels like the noted prankster is actually playing an elaborate trick on the Habs franchise, but maybe he’ll finally win a trade, against all odds, by landing an excellent return for Pacioretty?

Perhaps, but at the moment, it feels like we’re heading toward yet another big mistake.

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.

Anthony Duclair signs with Blue Jackets as search for consistency continues

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Anthony Duclair will get another opportunity to jump-start his NHL career in Columbus after the Blue Jackets handed him a one-year, $650,000 contract, per TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

It’s only been two seasons since Duclair potted 20 goals during his first full NHL campaign with the Arizona Coyotes. He was part of a bright future up front for the franchise along with Max Domi. Now both are gone with Domi being deal to Montreal last month.

Duclair split time between the AHL and NHL 2016-17 and then played 33 games with the Coyotes last season before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks did not extend him a qualifying offer in June, thereby making him an unrestricted free agent. Since that 20-goal campaign, the 22-year-old forward has scored 16 times in 114 games. It would have cost the team $1.2 million for the qualifying offer, but general manager Stan Bowman had apparently seen enough.

After arriving in Chicago and admitting he needed a change of scenery, Duclair went from skating on the Blackhawks’ top line to seeing his minutes cut to being in Joel Quenneville’s dog house and watching from the press box.

“When you’re struggling as a team, you look at yourself individually,” Duclair said via the Chicago Tribune in February. “You ask yourself what you can do better to help the team. I don’t think I’ve been consistent enough, and that’s why my ice time has started diminishing. You have to really earn it.”

Duclair has identified the issue, it’s just a matter of correcting it — something the Blue Jackets are hoping he’s successful at doing in order to make this gamble worth it.

————

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.

Time for Canadiens to embrace rebuild

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The Montreal Canadiens were a colossal disappointment in 2017-18. After winning the Atlantic Division two years ago, many expected them to at least make it back to the playoffs, but that didn’t happen. Now, it seems like the team has quietly embraced a different path.

Heading into last year, the Habs were trying to be good. There was no rebuild, reset, or whatever you want to call it. That’s what made the year such a disaster. But based on the offseason the Canadiens have had, it looks like this is going to be a rebuild after all.

GM Marc Bergevin wasn’t willing to use that word when addressing the media on Sunday, but there’s no denying that this is the situation the organization is in right now. The team clearly wasn’t good enough last year and it didn’t get a whole lot better this summer. Sure, they swapped Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, they added Joel Armia and Xavier Ouellet, but those aren’t moves that’ll put them over the top.

If anything, the fact that they decided to eat Steve Mason‘s cap hit in the trade they made with Winnipeg last week shows that they’re willing to spend cap dollars to acquire draft picks and young players.

This is totally the right decision for the franchise. They have too many holes to fill to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They need a top four left-handed defenseman, they need a number one and number two center, and they could use some added scoring punch on the wings, too. But don’t give management too much credit for going in this direction because they simply had no choice.

They clearly wanted a chance to pitch John Tavares, but he wasn’t interested in hearing from them. They checked in with Paul Stastny, but that didn’t work out either, so here we are. They’ve got cap space, but there’s no one to give it to.

On a positive note, the Canadiens have addressed their long-term center needs by drafting Ryan Poehling in 2017 and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in 2018. Those players are likely a couple of years away, so there’s no rush for the Canadiens to be good right now.

Many have suggested that this isn’t a rebuild or re-tool until they get rid of Carey Price and Shea Weber, but you can still rebuild with veterans. Surround the young players on the roster with quality players that can lead through their experience and preparation.

Also, that doesn’t mean that those players can’t be traded a year or two from now.

The next few years should be interesting in Montreal. With most teams in the division seemingly getting better, it appears as though these next few seasons will be pretty lean for Habs nation, but that might not be such a bad thing in the long run.

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.

Six NHL teams that improved the most this summer (so far)

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The start of the NHL season is still a few months away and there is obviously time for a lot to change between now and then when it comes to roster movement.

Erik Karlsson is still likely to get traded.

Artemi Panarin and Max Pacioretty could get traded.

There are still probably a handful of bargain bin free agents floating around that are capable of making some sort of an impact. There are still ways for the 31 general managers to improve their rosters before the puck drops on the 2018-19 regular season.

So while it is probably still a little early to officially determine the winners and losers of the offseason, we can at least take a look at which teams have done the most to improve themselves so far.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs — Uh, this one is pretty obvious, right? The Maple Leafs, already loaded with young impact talent at forward, added one of the best players in the league in John Tavares on the first day of free agency and that alone makes them better.

The Maple Leafs still have some work to do when it comes to solidifying their blue line, but you can’t fault them for adding Tavares. When you have a chance to add a player of that caliber (and it is rare that you do) you have to take advantage of that. Now they have a 1-2-3 center group of Auston Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri that is every bit as good as any other center trio in the league.

[Related: John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs]

2. Carolina Hurricanes — A lot here depends on whether or not they trade Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk and what they might end up getting for them in return. Overall, though, this has been a strong offseason for the Hurricanes. Still not sold on their goaltending situation and until that gets fixed that is probably always going to be the thing that holds them back, but can Petr Mrazek really be any worse than Cam Ward was? And, hey, Scott Darling really has nowhere to go but up after a dismal debut with the team. So there is that.

The real encouraging news comes from the fact they were fortunate enough to address probably their second biggest need (after goaltending) when they selected goal-scoring sniper Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick.

Then they went and traded for Dougie Hamilton (full trade here), a borderline elite defenseman, to strengthen their blue line.

Hamilton led all defenseman in goals last season, is a dominant possession player, is still only 25 years old, and is signed for three more seasons at $5.75 million per season, — a steal of a price given his production. Hamilton’s addition perhaps could give them some added flexibility to maybe trade Faulk for help elsewhere, or perhaps even better, simply keep him and continue to build what could be an outstanding defense around those two, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce.

Update: The Hurricanes continued to strengthen their defense on Tuesday by signing Calvin de Haan, formerly of the New York Islanders, to a four-year, $18 million contract in free agency.

3. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers seem like an intriguing possibility for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, given need, cap space, and perhaps even assets that could be traded. Will it actually happen? Well, probably not, but it sure is fun to think about. As far as actual moves the team has made, bringing back James van Riemsdyk was a strong addition in free agency as it gives the Flyers some much-needed secondary scoring punch.

Once you got below Tavares on the list of available free agents van Riemsdyk was probably the best pure offensive name available on the market and still at an age where a long-term contract (in this case five years) wasn’t a massive gamble.

He has scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons, a stretch where he has been one of the best goal-scorers (both at even-strength and in all situations) in the entire league.

[Related: Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson]

4. St. Louis Blues — The immediate reaction to the Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres seemed to be one of shock because of the number of pieces going the other way. But that is just it. It was a quantity over quality package, and when you break down the assets that the Blues gave up how many of them were actually something that they might truly miss?

Prospect Tage Thompson and the first-round pick are obviously the key pieces. But what else are the Blues going to miss?

Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka turned into contracts that the Blues probably no longer wanted, and a second-round pick (probably one in the second half of that round) is nothing more than a lottery ticket with low odds of turning into anything impactful. At the end of the day the Blues still got what was by far the best player in the trade.

They also added Tyler Bozak and David Perron in free agency, two players that will probably end up outproducing what Berglund and Sobotka provided (or will provde). The Blues were 24th in the NHL in goals this past season and needed to do something to address that. They absolutely did address it.

[Related: Blues acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Sabres]

5. Arizona Coyotes — There is reason for optimism in Arizona. They kept their franchise player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson on a long-term contract, they have some outstanding young talent starting to emerge from their farm system, and after a miserable first half of the 2017-18 season they finished on a very strong note by going 17-10-2 over their final 29 games (that would be a 101-point pace over 82 games). How much that carries over to this upcoming season obviously remains to be seen, but for the second offseason in a row they made some big additions.

They landed a potential impact player in Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi, and then dipped into the free agent market by bringing in speedster Michael Grabner. Grabner has his flaws, but his speed can cause havoc during 5-on-5 play and the penalty kill while they have more than enough salary cap space to handle his three-year, $10 million contract. Those additions, combined with what will hopefully be a full year from Antti Raanta and perhaps the development of Dylan Strome could make Arizona a surprise team in the Western Conference. Especially in a Pacific Division that is completely wide open.

6. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings didn’t really do much to make themselves younger or faster, and there are some questions as to how much he has left in the tank given his age and the fact he spent the past five years playing in Russia, but Ilya Kovalchuk gives the Kings the type of offensive weapon they desperately needed this past season. I still don’t love the Kings’ long-term outlook, but Kovalchuk could be a pretty big addition and makes them better in the short-term even if he is not the 40-goal, point-per-game player he was during his prime years in the NHL.

[ProHockeyTalk’s NHL 2018 free agency tracker]

More NHL Free agency:
Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights
Kings add Kovalchuk on three-year contract
Penguins make it official with Jack Johnson, bring back Matt Cullen

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Marc Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made Canadiens worse

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Let’s go back in time a few years to the summer of 2012.

The Montreal Canadiens are coming off of a disappointing 2011-12 season that saw them miss the playoffs, change head coaches, and fire their general manager. To fill those vacancies they hired Marc Bergevin away from the Chicago Blackhawks to serve as their new GM and brought back Michel Therrien for his second stint behind the team’s bench.

The big hire here would be the Bergevin one because he was the one responsible for shaping the direction of the team and is still doing so today.

Despite the struggles on the ice during the 2011-12 season there was still a promising young core in place that he was inheriting in which to build around.

  • Max Pacioretty was 23 years old and coming off of his first 30-goal season.
  • P.K. Subban was 22 years old, already starting to blossom into a star, and was about to enter a season where he would go on to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
  • They had a young franchise goalie in Carey Price.
  • They had a 22-year-old Lars Eller who had doubled his offensive production from his rookie season and a 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher set to make his debut the following season
  • On top of all that they had the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, a selection that would ultimately be used on Alex Galchenyuk.

At times over the past six seasons the Canadiens have had some success. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013-14, went to the second round in 2014-15, and topped the 100-point mark three times. It hasn’t been a totally disastrous few years. You could easily — and justifiably — make the argument that some of that success was driven in large part by having Price mask a lot of the team’s flaws and carry it further than it probably otherwise should have gone. But it was still success in the short-term.

The important question to ask at this point is if the Canadians organization is in a better place today than it was six years ago when Bergevin was hired to re-shape the organization. That is, after all, the goal of a GM: To make their organization better than they found it.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that Bergevin has done that, while the young core that he inherited has slowly but surely been squandered.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good moves here and there.

Getting Pacioretty signed to a long-term contract extension that paid him less than $5 million per year was one of the biggest steals in the league. Signing Alexander Radulov in his return from the KHL added some desperately needed talent and creativity to a stagnant offense. Today, though, Pacioretty is entering the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade speculation. Radulov, having been unable to work out a new contract with the Canadiens after his one year with the team, is in Dallas and coming off of a career-best season that saw him score 28 goals and 72 points for the Stars.

And the rest of the players mentioned above? That group of Price, Subban, Galchenyuk, and Eller? Only Price remains, while the trio of Subban, Eller, and Galchenyuk has been traded for a package of players and assets that amounts to Shea Weber, Max Domi, Joni Ikonen and a yet-to-be-used 2018 second-round draft pick (No. 62 overall).

Look at those two groups of players and then ask yourself which group you would rather have on your team this season and in the immediate future with all of the circumstances considered.

It’s not that Weber and Domi are bad or can’t provide value for the Canadiens. But how are the Canadiens better for having them instead of what they had?

Look at the fact that P.K. Subban, who was traded straight up for Shea Weber after the 2015-16 season, is four years younger, has been more productive the past two years, and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season. Weber, meanwhile, is entering his age 33 season, coming off an injury shortened season, and is signed until he is 40 at more than $7.8 million per season. Combined with Price, the Canadiens now have two players, both of whom are already over the age of 30 and have likely already played their best hockey, signed through 2026 at a total salary cap hit of more than $18 million. You can’t fault them for signing Price because he has literally been the backbone of the team, but given the ages, salary structure, and positions they play it is a very unique core for a team to build around. Unique does not always mean good.

During that same offseason the Canadiens made the decision to trade skill for more grit and toughness (a trend they followed all season in their roster transactions) when they sent Lars Eller, still under contract for two more years at a salary cap hit of $3.5 million, to the Washington Capitals for two second round draft picks (one used to select Ikonen, the other one to be used this weekend).

They then turned around and traded two second-round draft picks in 2016 to Chicago for Andrew Shaw and signed him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract extension — in other words, slightly more money than they were paying Eller.

Again, it’s not that Shaw is necessarily a bad player, but are the Canadiens better today for it?

If nothing else the optics of it look bad after Eller played a massive role in helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Last summer there was the free agent signing of Karl Alzner, giving the Canadiens what is currently one of the oldest defensive lineups in the league, and one that is severely lacking in mobility and offensive production. Between Weber, Alzner, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko the Canadiens will open this season with five defensemen age 30 or older. Together, they will take up nearly $22 million in salary cap space. That coincided with the trading of top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. The jury is still very much out on that trade but year one of the Drouin era in Montreal probably did not go as planned considering that Sergachev, an 18-year-old defenseman, finished the season just six points shy of Drouin’s offensive output.

Then there is the most recent move to trade Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Domi.

This comes after years of not really being sure what to do with Galchenyuk. Through all of it, Galchenyuk still managed to produce at a consistent top-six level as a player you could pencil in for 20 goals and 50 points every year. Domi, who is only a few months younger than Galchenyuk and about $1 million cheaper under the cap, is coming off a two-year stretch that has seen him score 18 goals in more than 140 games.

Keep in mind that Galchenyuk has scored fewer than 18 goals in a single season just once over the past four years, and that when when he scored 17 during the 2016-17 season … in only 61 games.

There are a lot of reasons to like Domi’s potential. There is reason to believe he could bounce back. It is, however, not a given and the question yet again must be asked … how are the Canadiens better after this? 

The answer, yet again, seems to be that they really aren’t.

And this has pretty much been the story of the Marc Bergevin era in Montreal: They’re not really that much worse, but they’re not really that much better.

Most of the trades (here is the full list) are inconsequential that don’t really hurt or help either team involved. But when it comes to the big moves involving the key players they all seem to end up making the Canadiens marginally worse or leave them in a slightly worse situation, whether it be from a talent perspective, a salary cap perspective, or some combination of the two.

None of them have really been a complete disaster (though, the Subban-for-Weber swap could drift that way depending how Weber ages in the coming years), but none of them have really done anything to improve the situation. Perhaps even more than the actual results is the thought process behind the moves, where grit and size seems to take precedence over skill and talent. It has left them with a mediocre team that lacks goal-scorers and skill and has committed an awful lot of money to get older and less skilled.

No general manager is perfect. Mistakes will happen and they will make bad evaluations from time to time. But when those little mistakes keep happening over and over again they eventually add up into one big mistake that leaves you in a hole that is difficult to get out of.

This should be concerning for Canadiens fans when they realize Pacioretty could be traded. Or that the Canadiens are open to potentially trading the No. 3 pick this year.  It is entirely possible one or both could get moved in the coming days.

If history is any indicator it probably won’t be a total disaster. But it probably won’t be great, either.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.