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It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens.

2017-18:

29-40-13, 71 pts. (6th Atlantic Division; 14th Eastern Conference)

IN:

Max Domi
Joel Armia
Matthew Peca
Michael Chaput
Tomas Plekanec
Xavier Ouellet

OUT:

Alex Galchenyuk
Daniel Carr
Ales Hemsky

RE-SIGNED

Phillip Danault
Antti Niemi
Jacob De La Rose
Rinat Valiev

After getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs in 2017, the Canadiens put together a horribly disappointing season last year. None of their core players played well, which obviously didn’t help. Max Pacioretty didn’t score as often, Shea Weber suffered a serious injury and Carey Price wasn’t himself.

For the first time in five years, Pacioretty failed to hit the 30-goal mark. Now, he’s entering the final year of contract, and it sounds like a divorce between he and and the team is imminent. If the Habs ship their captain to another team, who will score goals for this team? They traded Alex Galchenyuk for a playmaker like Max Domi, so they don’t have any natural scorers left on the roster.

[Canadiens Day: Breakthrough | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

As for Weber, he’s fallen on hard times injury-wise. He got off to a great start (16 points in 26 games), but he eventually missed a good chunk of the season with a foot injury. The 33-year-old will also be out until at least Christmas because of knee surgery. Not having Weber will be tough overcome.

The biggest question surrounding the Canadiens upcoming season is whether or not Price can bounce back from the dismal season he had in 2017-18. He missed an extended period of time with lower-body injury and then a concussion. The team is light on talent, but if they can get Price back to where he was a few years ago, they’ll have a chance in every game they play. If he can’t get back to form, the next eight years will be incredibly long (they owe him $84 million).

This is a big year for GM Marc Bergevin. If botches a potentially Pacioretty trade, or if the team crumbles again, he might be looking for a new job. No matter what happens, it should be an interesting year in Habs land.

Prospect Pool:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, 18, Assat Pori – 2018 first-round pick

The Canadiens have been searching for a number one center for years, and Kotkaniemi might finally be that guy. He’s a big body with good offensive instincts. Kotkaniemi is also capable of playing a strong all-around game. He has the ability to develop into a top-line player, but he might just need a bit more time to develop. The young Finn racked up 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games in the SM-Liiga

• Ryan Poehling, C, 19, St. Cloud State – 2017 first-round pick

Poehling made some huge strides in his second year at St. Cloud. He went from being a 13-point player in his first year to producing 31 points in 36 games last season. Like Kotkaniemi, Poehling is also big (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), but the American forward isn’t as gifted offensively. The biggest question around his game is whether or not his offensive abilities are good enough to make him a second-line center. Poehling is heading back to St. Cloud State for another year, but he could join the Canadiens next season.

Noah Juulsen, D, 21, Laval Rocket – 2015 first-round pick

Juulsen got his first taste of NHL experience during Montreal’s “lost” season last year and he certainly didn’t look out of place. He’s a good skater that can move the puck efficiently. He might not develop into a top pairing defenseman, but he’s certainly capable of being a top-four blueliner for years to come. Even though the Canadiens have several defensemen on one-way contracts, Juulsen has a pretty good shot at making the team out of camp.

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 make a good move: Solid deal for Danault

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Unanimously good moves haven’t happened regularly for the Montreal Canadiens these days, so it’s worthwhile to appreciate even what would seem like easy calls.

With that in mind, signing useful forward Phillip Danault to a nice three-year contract ranks as one of Marc Bergevin’s best decisions in some time, whether you can chalk up the value to RFA leverage or not. The Canadiens confirmed that the cap hit is a reasonable $3.083 million per season.

Danault, 25, has essentially been a point-every-other-game player for Montreal. He scored 25 points in 52 games this past season after a relative breakthrough in 2016-17, when he collected 40 points in 82 contests. Not too shabby.

It’s conceivable that Danault could maybe chip in a bit more if leaned upon in a bigger way, as he averaged 16:35 minutes per game, with a touch less than a minute (56 seconds) of that average happening on the power play.

Now, it’s not as though the Canadiens are being foolish in playing him in his current role, as it’s plausible that he’s best served as a supporting cast sort of asset. The point is that Danault seems to make good use of his time, might be able to do a tad bit more, and tends to check out reasonably well from a possession standpoint. He’s not the type of player who will win you a Stanley Cup, yet he’s also the sort of guy who wouldn’t take much off of the table, either. In other words, this is a justifiable contract and could even be a nifty value.

Faint praise? Pretty much, but it’s better than the usual reaction for Bergevin & Co. (laughter, mockery).

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.

O’Reilly trade makes sense for Habs, even if it costs too much

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It’s easy to understand why trading for Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly could be too rich for many tastes.

Even just directly, the 27-year-old costs a lot by way of his $7.5 million cap hit, which doesn’t expire until after the 2022-23 season. That actually is a pretty fair rate for a quality player at a coveted position, but smart NHL teams try to find bargains whenever they can. O’Reilly is, instead, earning his market value, and the term means that a prospective buyer really needs to commit to him.

Of course, O’Reilly isn’t on the free agent market. Instead, he’s the subject of trade rumors, and it sounds like the Sabres are asking for quite a bit. Here’s a guess from The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub required for the full article):

My sense of the Buffalo ask right now for O’Reilly is this: a first-round pick, a good prospect and a second-round pick.

Not cheap. LeBrun adds an interesting caveat that also spotlights how ROR is far-from-cheap: one of the stumbling blocks is that O’Reilly has a $7.5M bonus coming. Remarkably, the Sabres at least claim that they’d want more after July 2. One understands why they’d say so, but how much more could they realistically expect to get for ROR? Or is it true that the Sabres realize they’re better off not trading away a proven talent and merely want to force “an offer they can’t refuse?”

(As you can see from his contract terms via Cap Friendly, his deal is heavy on signing bonuses and low on base salary. The nice thing, then, is that his actual salary sinks to a more affordable $6M from 2019-20 to 2022-23; the 2018-19 campaign comes with a $8.5M total price tag.)

LeBrun and others tab the Montreal Canadiens as a leading candidate for ROR, and it makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a quick rundown of why this could work from Montreal’s perspective.

Money burning a hole in Bergevin’s nicely tailored pockets

The Canadiens’ failed 2017-18 season was frustrating for many reasons, including the fact that, despite having high hopes, the Habs weren’t exactly spending to the cap ceiling. (A similar feeling rubbed extra salt in the wounds of Oilers fans.)

With GM Marc Bergevin’s seat only getting hotter, it would be surprising to see Montreal make that same call twice.

(Unless they decided to do a soft rebuild, which is a – valid – debate for another time.)

By Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Canadiens only have $60.88M devoted to 21 players, giving them about $18.61M in space. They have other needs they’d hope to address, but not many raises to worry about beyond the modest bump coming Phillip Danault‘s way.

If any team can afford to take on ROR for futures, it’s the Canadiens. They might even decide it’s worth it to eat that $7.5M bonus. Either way, they’re in a position to stomach that cap hit, and they don’t need to move salary the other way to do it.

Plugging the talent leak

Simply put, the Canadiens have been bleeding talent in recent years, thanks in large part to Bergevin losing trades in often dramatic ways. It sure seems like they’ll lose an additional key piece in Max Pacioretty, too.

[More: Canadiens slowly but surely decline under Bergevin]

Again, you can make the argument that the Canadiens might be better off following the Rangers’ lead and doing a soft-rebuild, yet it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.

With that and all the lost talent in mind, adding O’Reilly for futures could really help stem the tide.

ROR wouldn’t be the top center in every situation, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea for Montreal to trot him out as a tough matchup guy. He certainly has the two-way acumen to provide an upgrade at center, where the Canadiens have been weak for … a decade? More?

It would be especially enticing if ROR could take on the tough assignments while opening up cushy offensive zone starts for Jonathan Drouin, who generally struggled mightily as the go-to guy. It’s plausible that the duo would serve as a 1a/1b situation, but the point is that there could be a domino effect that helps Drouin out, in particular.

(You could make a similar comparison in Buffalo, as Rasmus Dahlin may eventually make life a whole lot easier for Rasmus Ristolainen, who’s arguably been exposed when asked to do too much.)

Clock’s ticking

The clock is ticking, and not just on Bergevin’s run as GM.

If the Canadiens want to enjoy a big rebound, ROR could be essential. Don’t forget that Shea Weber is 32, and probably a beaten-up 32 considering his rugged style and many years of heavy use. Carey Price is 30 and his injuries have really been stacking up.

O’Reilly won’t make those contracts suddenly look wise, mind you, but in the reasonably likely instance that both rebound for at least a little while, ROR could help Montreal make the most of those windows.

A (darkly) amusing possibility

Imagine if the Canadiens land ROR, trade Pacioretty away, and end up looking smart by drafting center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Go really wild and imagine that Drouin finds his footing as a center once he’s placed in extremely favorable situations.

After years of saying “If only we could improve at center,” the Canadiens could very well be deep and dangerous down the middle … while being shaky-to-putrid just about everywhere else.

Such a scenario would be very hockey and very Canadiens.

***

O’Reilly isn’t a perfect player, and he doesn’t own a perfect contract. The Canadiens could very well end up “losing” another trade if they acquired ROR.

Sometimes it’s OK to overpay for that $5 shake, though, and that might just be the case with O’Reilly and the Habs.

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.

Max Pacioretty opens up about ’emotional’ few days

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Heading into Monday’s NHL trade deadline, there was plenty of speculation surrounding Max Pacioretty‘s availability on the trade market. In the end, the Montreal Canadiens decided against trading their captain away mid-season.

Pacioretty was clearly aware of everything that was going on because he hasn’t looked like himself on the ice over the last few days/weeks. Also, teammate Phillip Danault mentioned something to that effect after Monday’s morning skate.

The five-time 30-goal scorer refused to talk to the media Monday morning, but he spoke to reporters after Monday night’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Pacioretty was clearly relieved to still be with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, and that was apparent in his answers.

“It’s no surprise, my name was out there,” Pacioretty said. “I don’t know what else you guys want me to say other than I’m ready to go home and get a good night’s sleep. It’s been an emotional couple of days here and I’m happy to still be a part of this team. Moving forward, everyone has to hold themselves accountable for where we’re at right now, and I definitely do so.”

He also didn’t hide the fact that his young family is also very relieved now that the trade deadline has come and gone.

“I have three kids and you always prepare for the worst, just in case,” he said. “Actually, Max junior went to school today with a Habs jersey on. We went to pick him up and we felt good about walking through the school with that jersey. It’s just little stuff like that you worry about your family. At the end of the day, we’re all human. I take full responsibility for where my game is at and how I’ve contributed to the negatives of this season. But, to be honest, guys, I can’t shoulder the whole thing. That’s unfair to myself and to my family.”

The 29-year-old Pacioretty can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, so the organization will have to make a decision on whether or not to extend him. He’s currently carrying a very reasonable $4.5 million cap hit, which means he’ll be up for a significant raise whenever he signs his next deal.

The Canadiens have a ton of holes on their roster and Pacioretty is one of the few chips they have that will command a significant return. So just because he wasn’t traded now, it doesn’t mean he won’t be moved this summer.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night, as the Montreal Canadiens host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jordan WealNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomScott LaughtonMichael Raffl
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal Canadiens
Max PaciorettyJonathan Drouin – Artturi Lehkonen
Alex GalchenyukPhillip DanaultCharles Hudon
Paul ByronJacob De La RoseBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersLogan ShawDaniel Carr

Victor MeteJeff Petry
Karl AlznerNoah Juulsen
TBD – Jordie Benn

Staring goalie: Charlie Lindgren