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Plekanec announces NHL retirement as Canadiens terminate contract

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Tomas Plekanec’s NHL career came to an end on Friday.

The Montreal Canadiens announced that the 36-year-old Plekanec was being placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

“I always wanted to retire a Montreal Canadien,” Plekanec said.

General manager Marc Bergevin said that with the development of the team’s young centers — Phillip Danault, Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi — he felt it was time to move on and go with the kids.

“The organization made a hockey decision regarding the future of Pleky,” said Bergevin. “It was a tough decision to make. Tomas will always be a part of the Canadiens family.”

The decision, according to Bergevin, was mutual, and Plekanec’s $2.25M cap hit will come off the team’s books.

Plekanec isn’t sure what’s next, only that he wants to continue playing and will try to do so in Europe, possibly joining HC Kladno of the Czech Republic, the team that Jaromir Jagr plays for and owns.

The 15-year veteran played only three games this season after returning to Montreal following a brief stop with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of last season. Plekanec, a third round pick of the Habs in 2001, reached the 1,000-game mark on Oct. 15 and leaves the NHL with 233 goals and 608 points.

All but 17 of his 1,001 NHL games came with the Canadiens.

“I’m going to miss the guys. It’s another family, coming here every morning,” Plekanec said. “Now, it’s gone. It’s something I’m going to miss, for sure. I’m going to watch them and cheer for them.”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Time for Rangers fire sale; Top 20 lines

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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.

Zach Sanford wrote a letter about his father who passed away in September. “My dad never saw me play an NHL regular-season game in person. He couldn’t make it for my first games with the Washington Capitals, and then I got traded to the Blues and played a handful of games at the end of the year in St. Louis. He was so proud of me, though, and to hear him talk about me, you’d think he was playing in the NHL, too. From what my family tells me, he told everyone who would listen that his son had made it to the NHL.” (NHL.com/Blues)

• It’s time for the New York Rangers to start their fire sale. For starters, they should trade Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. (New York Post)

• NBC Sports Philly believes we should have seen the Flyers’ slow start coming. (NBC Sports Philly)

• The Vancouver Canucks have had some great Swedish players come through their organization. Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins have led the charge in years past, and it looks like Elias Pettersson is the next one. (Sports Illustrated)

Samuel Girard has been standing out for all the right reasons in Colorado. (Mile High Hockey)

Phillip Danault has done a terrific job down the middle for the Habs this season. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin skated with roughly 80 people from the American Special Hockey Association. (NHL.com)

• The Chicago Blackhawks signed prospect Brandon Hagel to an entry-level contract. (NHL.com/Blackhawks)

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski ranked the top 20 lines in the NHL. Where do Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak rank? Hint: They’re not first. (ESPN)

• Travis Yost breaks down how Jack Eichel is helping his teammates get better looks at their opponents’ net. (Buffalo News)

Derek Stepan is interviewing some of his Coyotes teammates to discuss Halloween-related topics like favorite candies:

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.

Karl Alzner’s ironman streak will end with healthy scratch

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The big free agent addition for the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2017 was the signing of veteran defenseman Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Given Alzner’s style of play, the way he seemed to dramatically decline toward the end of his time in Washington, and the direction the NHL is moving in terms of style of play from the blue line it was, to say the least, a curious move.

Just one year in things are not going as the Canadiens may have planned.

After a difficult debut season in Montreal, Canadiens coach Claude Julien announced on Wednesday that Alzner will be a healthy scratch for the team’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“They’re never easy decisions,” Julien said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s two things happening there to those players, but I think at the end of the day we’re all mandated to do what’s best for the team first. That doesn’t mean we don’t sympathize with certain things, but at the end of the day that’s what we’re all here for, including those players.”

This is a significant move because it will be the first time since the 2009-10 season that Alzner has missed a regular season game, putting an end to his 622-game ironman streak that is currently the 11th longest in NHL history.

It also has to be concerning for the Canadiens that Alzner — who still has four years and more than $19 million remaining on his contract — isn’t viewed as one of the six best defenders for the opening night lineup on a team that not only isn’t particularly good or deep defensively, but is already playing without its best defender in Shea Weber.

[Related: Shea Weber named 30th captain in Canadiens’ history]

Alzner isn’t the only veteran that will be a healthy scratch for the opener.

Long-time center Tomas Plekanec, who returned to Montreal on a one-year contract this summer after being traded to Toronto at the deadline, will also be a healthy scratch.

The Canadiens are going with Phillip Danault, Max Domi, Matthew Peca, and 2018 first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi down the middle.

General manager Marc Bergevin refuses to utter the word “rebuild” when it comes to the 2018-19 team, but the opening night roster certainly seems to indicate the team might favor youth this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

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.