Habs waive Alzner as rough season continues

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Last summer, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin decided to open up the vault to sign free-agent defenseman Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Alzner struggled mightily in his first year as a Hab and he’s had a hard time getting into the lineup in year two. Less than a year and a half into this contract, the Canadiens have finally admitted that it was a big mistake.

The club has decided to place the veteran on waivers. The 30-year-old has one assist and a plus-2 rating in eight games this season, but his $4.625 cap hit through 2021-22 basically means no team will be willing to touch him. The move was necessary because Shea Weber (lower body) is getting set to return to the lineup this week.

The Canadiens need Alzner’s roster spot, which means he’ll be heading to AHL Laval if he clears waivers. Even with Alzner off the roster, Montreal is still carrying eight defensemen.

Alzner was brought to Montreal to replace Andrei Markov, who signed with the KHL, but that obviously hasn’t worked out too well for him or the team. According to Cap Friendly, buying out Alzner after this season would cost the Canadiens some dead money on the cap. It would cost the Habs between $1,069,444 and $4,194, 444 in cap penalties over the next six seasons.

Things will become even more interesting once Paul Byron, Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen and Joel Armia are ready to return from injury. The Canadiens will have to make a trade or they’ll have to expose someone on waivers that they don’t want to lose.

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: How Bruins kept McDavid in check; Dallas’ solid start

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Megan Myers believes that moving the Boston Blades to Worcester is a good deal for the franchise. (The Hockey News)

• Devils forward Miles Wood was a huge fan of Alex Ovechkin, but the two went at it on Thursday night. (NBC Sports Washington)

• This Canucks fan at Amalie Arena in Tampa was dressed up as a team goalie, so Jacob Markstrom made sure to give him a stick. (NHL.com)

• Chris Ilitch is pleased with the way the Red Wings rebuild is going. “When you look at the Detroit Red Wings organization, we’ve had 22 selections in the last two drafts, 13 of those were in the first three rounds. We have 11 selections in the 2019 draft and four of those are in the first three rounds. (General manager) Kenny Holland has done a marvelous job accumulating picks, which are so important to executing a successful rebuild.” (MLive)

• Even though Connor McDavid scored on Thursday, the Bruins managed to keep him in check for most of the night. But how did they do that? (985 the Sports Hub)

• It’s no secret that some of the Maple Leafs are off to a great start. How great? Well, Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly are in some elite company. (USA Today)

• The Canadiens have an interesting dilemma with former first-rounder Nikita Scherbak, who has been a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season. They need him to play some games, but there are better players playing right now and they can’t send him to the minors because he’d have to clear waivers. What can they do? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Devils head coach John Hynes has done a good job of selecting the right players for his team this year. (All About the Jersey)

• The New York Rangers appear to be having a tough time with the left side of their defense. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Although they’ve only played three games, there’s no denying the Dallas Stars are off to a good start. Defending Big D tells you why they’ve been so effective.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: William Karlsson’s contract conundrum; worrisome free agent signings?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Here’s a look at why William Karlsson has become the NHL’s most intriguing contract conundrum this summer. (The Hockey News)

• We’ve had a litany of storylines thus far this summer, but here’s a list of 11 that have yet to play out. (Sportsnet)

• The Minnesota Wild may start looking at their stable of youth to help the team on the ice this season. (NHL.com)

• Looking for an NHL team on Forbes’ new list of the top 50 richest sporting franchises in the world? Hint: You won’t find one. (Sportsnet)

• Every summer, some of the contracts teams extend to free agents are worrisome. Here’s a few of those from this summer. (Yahoo Sports Canada)

• After showing good signs at the AHL and NHL level last season, what is next for Montreal Canadiens forward Nikita Scherbak? (Eyes on the Prize)

• After the latest developments in a Minnesota courtroom, what is next in the concussion lawsuit against the NHL? (The Athletic)

• There’s been a lot of talk about Jacob Trouba and his contract situation but what about his other half, Josh Morrissey? (Winnipeg Sun)

• National Tattoo Day in Canada meant a celebration of inking for Montreal Canadiens fans. (Montreal Gazette)

• Here’s a list of five NHL players primed for comeback seasons in 2018-19. (FanSided)

• The latest NHL concussion ruling likely means the splintering of cases across several jurisdictions. (Business Insurance)

• A wishlist for NHL 19. (The Sports Daily)

• Are the Vancouver Canucks following in the footsteps of the Winnipeg Jets? (The Canuck Way)

• These guys haven’t hit the ice, nor made their respective team’s opening night roster. But here’s the top Calder candidates for next season. (The Grueling Truth)

• New chest pad regulations for NHL goaltenders are already surrounded in injury controversy. (The Comeback)


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

Habs forward Scherbak undergoes knee surgery

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Looking to build some momentum after Saturday’s win over the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens received some bad news on Monday.

Prospect forward Nikita Scherbak has been lost for six weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee. The 21-year-old forward suffered the injury during Thursday’s game against the L.A. Kings and was subsequently held out of the lineup versus the Rangers.

A first-round selection of the Habs in 2014, Scherbak was recalled just over a week ago after posting a promising nine points in six games down in the AHL to start this season while Montreal was mired in a funk. In two games this season with the NHL club, Scherbak has yet to record a point.

The Habs are about to close out what’s been a mostly disastrous month of October. It started with a shootout win over Buffalo but then regressed into an ugly, bordering on embarrassing, seven-game losing streak that put general manager Marc Bergevin on the hot seat.

Montreal has since snapped that losing skid, with wins in two of its last three games while showing signs of breaking free of its struggles on offense with a combined 10 goals scored in those two victories.

The Habs are on the road Monday, as they face the Ottawa Senators.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.