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Three questions facing Montreal Canadiens

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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.

Some questions to ponder for the 2018-19 Montreal Canadiens…

[Canadiens Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Under Pressure

1. Who is going to score the goals?

As we wrote about earlier on Canadiens day, their success or failure this season will largely depend on what Carey Price is able to do in net. The reason they are going to be so dependent on goaltender — or one of the main reasons? They are probably not going to score a lot of goals.

The Canadiens finished the 2017-18 season as one of the worst offensive teams in the league and really did not do much of anything to address that over the summer.

Their biggest offseason acquisition was Max Domi and that came at the expense of Alex Galchenyuk whose goal total this past season exceeded Domi’s total from the previous two years combined. Other than that this is mostly the same roster, minus a few minor tweaks, that could not score goals this past season.

Max Pacioretty should have a better season than he did in 2017-18, but given his contract situation it seems possibly, if not likely, that he will not finish the season with the team.

[Related: Expect huge year from Max Pacioretty no matter where he plays]

Jonathan Drouin was expected to be a major core player after being acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, and while his performance was mostly okay and similar to what he did with the Lightning, he did not take a big step forward and did not match the hype that came along with his arrival. There is still another level that he can get to, and at age 23 he should be ready to enter his peak seasons in the NHL. A breakthrough season from him would definitely be helpful.

Beyond that, though, it seems likely that goal-scoring is going to be a major weakness for this team.

2. What will Shea Weber be able to give them?

The P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade is already setting up to be a disaster for the Canadiens. It’s not that Weber is bad, it’s just that he’s not quite as impactful as Subban currently is. He is also older, has a worse contract, and is starting to reach a point in his career where he may be starting to break down physically. After being limited to just 26 games this past season, the veteran defenseman will not be ready for the start of the regular season as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. This, obviously, is bad news for the Canadiens.

When he is healthy Weber can still be a really good player, and he is just one year removed from finishing sixth in the Norris Trophy voting. The concern, though, is that he is now entering his age 33 season, is coming off an injury-shortened campaign and will be starting this season on the shelf.

He is still the Canadiens’ best defenseman, but they need him to be healthy, playing at a high level to be competitive.

3. Will Marc Bergevin be the general manager after the season?

The reality with the Canadiens is this: They have not been out of the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2014-15 season and they have missed the playoffs entirely in two of the past three seasons. During that stretch players have changed, the head coach has changed, while the only thing that has remained a constant is the general manager, the person responsible for assembling the talent on the roster.

It stands to reason that if things do not get drastically better in the very near future that, too, could end up changing.

While the Canadiens experienced some success in the early parts of the Marc Bergevin era, the past few years have been highlighted by questionable (and bad) roster decisions and a lot of disappointment. There is an argument to be made that his tenure with the team has made the franchise worse than it was when he took over six years ago.

The long-term future of the team is riding entirely on some of the big decisions that Bergevin has made and will have to make in the coming months, including but not limited to…

  • How the Jonathan Drouin acquisition pans out.
  • The fact the team is now built around two players (Price and Weber) over the age of 30 that will account for more than $18 million in salary cap space through the end of the 2026 season.
  • The Alex Galchenyuk-for-Max Domi trade.
  • What they are able to get out of a potential Max Pacioretty trade.

Those are a lot of big decisions that are going to end up determining not only the long-term success of the Canadiens on the ice, but also the future of their general manager.

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.

Under pressure: Carey Price

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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.

If the Montreal Canadiens are going to have any chance of being anything resembling a competitive team this season they are going to need a massive year from starting goaltender Carey Price.

Probably not just a good year. Probably not even a great year. But probably the type of season he had a couple of years ago when he won the Vezina and Hart Trophies and pretty much single handedly carried the team to the playoffs.

In other words: The Canadiens are going to maybe need an all-time great year from their goalie to have a chance to compete.

For the better part of the past five seasons the Canadiens’ success or failure has largely ridden on whether or not Price is healthy and on top of his game. When he has not been one or the other, they have been a colossal disaster. As unfair as it is to put that much on one player — and it’s terribly unfair, and even totally unreasonable — that alone is enough reason for Price to be facing some pressure this season.

It is not the only reason.

[Canadiens Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Three Questions]  

Not only is he the most important and impactful player on the roster, and the one player that might be capable of turning them into something even remotely interesting, he is also coming off of what was perhaps his worst season in the NHL and is in need of a bounce back year. Not only for the short-term, but also because Price is entering the first year of an eight-year contract that is going to carry a salary cap hit of $10.5 million per season through the end of the 2025-26 season. That is an absolutely enormous investment for a goalie. It is $2 million more per season than the second highest paid goalie (New York Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist at $8.5 million), while Price and Lundqvist are the only two goalies in the league to carry a cap hit north of $7.5 million this season.

Combined with defenseman Shea Weber — who will not be ready for the start of the regular season as he recovers from offseason surgery — the Canadiens long-term foundation is built around two players on the wrong side of 30 that will account for nearly $19 million in salary cap space through the end of the 2026 season. There is no other team in the league that has a salary cap structure quite like that at the top of its lineup, and the success or failure of the team centered around that duo will largely define general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the franchise.

Given how much of an impact Price can make on the Canadiens he is probably worth every penny of that salary when he is at his best. There are only a handful of players in the NHL that can single-handedly change a team’s success as drastically as Price can, and in recent years we have seen both sides of that impact, from him carrying the team to an Atlantic Division crown in 2014-15, to the way the team self-destructed the following year when he was injured for all but 12 games of the season.

With the way the rest of this roster is looking right now the Canadiens are probably going to need a repeat of 2014-15 from Price.

Anything less than that will probably result in another poor season on the ice.

Another way of looking at it: It probably won’t be Price’s fault if the Canadiens miss the playoffs again, but he is probably their only chance to get back there.

That is pressure.

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.

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.

Mark Stone among 44 players to file for arbitration, removing offer sheet possibility

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If you’re one of the small handful of people still holding out hope for a restricted free agent offer sheet, Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone was probably your best hope this summer.

The combination of the Senators being a mess in every possible way, the fact they seem to be determined to keep salaries down, and the fact they could probably use some additional draft capital after having to send their 2019 first-round pick to Colorado, made Stone an intriguing possibility to get signed to an offer sheet and perhaps even sent to a new team as a result.

Now, there is no way that can happen.

Stone was one of 44 restricted free agents to officially file for salary arbitration on Thursday before the 5 p.m. ET deadline, meaning that he — along with the other 43 players to do so — is no longer eligible to sign an offer sheet with another team.

Offer sheets are incredibly rare in the NHL as one has not been signed since Ryan O'Reilly inked a two-year contract with the Calgary Flames back in 2013. That contract was matched by the Colorado Avalanche.

Before that you have to go back to the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet the Philadelphia Flyers signed Shea Weber too. That, also, was matched.

The last time a restricted free agent was signed away from a team you have to go all the way back to the Edmonton Oilers getting Dustin Penner away from the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, resulting in Edmonton having to give up their first, second and third-round picks. That also led to a pretty massive feud between then-Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe and then-Ducks general manager Brian Burke. That was also the only successful restricted agent offer sheet in the salary cap era and the only since 1997 when Chris Gratton moved from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Philadelphia Flyers. That offer was supposed to result in the Lightning getting four first-round draft picks, but they were sent back to the Flyers for Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis.

Even though he appeared in only 58 games during the 2017-18 season Stone still finished tied for the team lead in points (alongside Erik Karlsson) with 62.

According to CapFriendly, because Stone is 26 years old he can only be awarded a one-year contract if his case reaches arbitration. If that happens he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of that one-year contract.

Among the other notable players to file for arbitration ahead of Thursday’s deadline:

Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames

Mattias Janmark, Dallas Stars

Mathew Dumba, Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

Brock Nelson, New York Islanders

Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers

Brady Skej, New York Rangers

Ryan Spooner, New York Rangers

Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers

Jamie Oleksiak, Pittsburgh Penguins

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The full list of players to file can be found at the NHLPA website.

All arbitration hearings will be held in New York City between July 20 and August 4. Most players will be able to agree to contracts with their team before they have to actually get to an arbitration hearing.

One notable RFA that did not file for salary arbitration: Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson. The team hopes to sign him to a long-term contract extension soon, though.

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.