Joey Alfieri

What should Canadiens do with Kovalchuk?

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When Ilya Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings decided to part ways, it became clear that the veteran winger wanted to suit up for a contending team. Boston and Pittsburgh were immediately thought of as potential landing spots, but that never ended up working out.

Instead, he signed a low-risk contract with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs aren’t contenders by any means, but they’ve been the perfect fit for Kovalchuk. But what does the team do with him now that the trade deadline is approaching?

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin still has plenty of time to make his decision. The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 24 anyway. But unless another team is willing to offer something the Habs can’t refuse, they should seriously think about keeping Kovalchuk around for another season.

For example, if any team is willing to ship them a first or second-round draft pick (very unlikely), Bergevin should take that deal. If not, there’s really no point in trading away a player who has fit in so well in such a short amount of time.

Let’s take a look at how well the 36-year-old has played since going to Montreal.

Montreal has suffered through some tough injuries this season. Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron have all missed an extended period of time. When they brought Kovalchuk in, they were desperate. They had just lost Gallagher and they needed healthy bodies with the slightest amount of offensive upside.

He had three goals and nine points in 17 games with the Kings before leaving there. In eight games with the Canadiens, he’s managed to score four goals, four assists and a shootout goal. The Russian forward also hasn’t looked as slow as advertised in his small sample. He’s not a speedster by any means, but he’s been able to keep up with the pace of play on the ice. And his teammates really seem to like him.

“Obviously, he’s a legend first of all,” teammate Max Domi said, per the Montreal Gazette. “And you see the plays he can make now are like he’s still in his heyday. I know he’s getting older, but you can never tell. He’s got a great sense of humour, he’s a great guy. Super-positive, super-vocal, which I was surprised about. But he’s one of the most positive guys in our locker room in terms of keeping guys accountable and stuff like that. So it’s great to see and he’s a big part of our team.”

When he first joined the Canadiens, he spent some time on a line with Domi. Head coach Claude Julien quickly decided to move him to the top line with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar in the absence of Gallagher. Kovalchuk isn’t known for his defensive awareness and the Danault line handles the heaviest defensive responsibilities. Somehow, he’s found a way to fit in really well with his teammates.

His advanced numbers also indicate that he’s been the perfect fit in Montreal. His CF% is at 56.03 percent, his FF% is at 56.83 percent, his GF% is at 77.78 percent, his xGF% is 63.25 percent and his HDCF% is at 55.10 percent.

51.76 percent of his starts have been in the offensive zone, but he’s also surprisingly been on the ice for 41 defensive zone starts, which is a little surprising.

Assuming the Canadiens don’t get blown away by a trade offer from another team, they should bring him back on a year-to-year basis. As good as Kovalchuk’s been, they can’t commit a multi-year deal to him. If he’s willing to sign a one-year deal at a reasonable amount of money, there’s no reason why a team like the Canadiens shouldn’t bring him back.

Yes, the Habs should probably be looking to get younger, but if Kovalchuk can produce at a level anywhere close to what he’s doing right now, there’s no sense in getting rid of him so quickly. Is he a 30, 40 or 50-goal scorer? No way. But if he can net you 20 goals, make your power play more dynamic and help recruit a free agent or two during the off-season, he’ll be worth the investment.

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: Almost All-Stars; Should Habs trade Tatar?

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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.

• Check out Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts blog post. (Sportsnet)

• The Hockey News breaks down some of this year’s “almost All-Stars”. (The Hockey News)

Ryan O'Reilly is confident that the Blues can win the Stanley Cup again. (NHL.com)

David Krejci‘s new line could help spark the Bruins. (WEEI)

• Is it time for the Habs to trade Tomas Tatar? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Devils have three players that need to keep rolling. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• With Dougie Hamilton out, the Hurricanes need Brett Pesce to take his game to another level. (Cardiac Cane)

• Raw Charge believes Brayden Point deserves Hart Trophy consideration. (Raw Charge)

• The Rangers should trade one of their goalies right now. (New York Post)

• Each Penguins player was given a grade for the midway point of the season. (Pensburgh)

• AZ Central did a Q&A with Coyotes general manager John Chayka. (AZ Central)

• Which forwards should the Anaheim Ducks trade away? (Anaheim Calling)

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Who will Red Wings, Wild sell before deadline?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Red Wings and Wild aren’t currently sitting in playoff spots, but there’s several reasons why this will be an intriguing matchup. If both teams miss the postseason, they’ll have several key assets to sell off before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

Which players could these teams put on the market? The Red Wings have a few rentals they could send to various contenders. Wild GM won’t have the luxury of making many “easy” rental deals between now and the deadline. A lot of his players are under contract beyond this season. Will the Wild be able to make multiple hockey deals? Can they find a way to get younger in a hurry?

One of the expiring contracts on the Wild roster is Mikko Koivu. It just doesn’t seem likely that they would move him at this point. Even though he’s 35, he’s been with the Wild his entire career and he probably won’t be going anywhere unless he wants to anyway.

Let’s take a deeper look at who both teams might make available:

Trevor Daley – D – Red Wings: 

Daley missed four games with an undisclosed injury earlier this month, but he’s managed to return to the lineup for the last three games. The 36-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He has two assists in 25 games in 2019-20. He could be an intriguing depth addition for any team looking to add a bottom-pairing defender to their roster. Daley can provide the Red Wings with a 15-team no-trade list.

Mike Green – D – Red Wings: 

Green is expected to miss a couple of weeks after suffering an injury against Colorado earlier this week. The veteran isn’t nearly as productive as he was during his days with Washington, but he could provided some depth on the right side of a contender’s defense. He has just eight points in 41 games, but he’s averaging over 21 minutes of ice time with the Wings this season. Green has a full no-trade clause until Feb. 1. After that date, he submits a list of 10 teams he doesn’t want to go to. Like Daley, he’ll be a UFA at the end of the season.

Jonathan Ericsson – D – Red Wings:

Ericsson is another potential rental for a team looking to add a depth player. He’s been limited to just nine games this year, which limits his already limited value on the trade market. The 35-year-old also has a limited no-trade clause that prevents him from being dealt to 19 teams of his choosing. If the Wings can move him, it won’t be for very much.

Andreas Athanasiou – W – Red Wings: 

It’s been a tough year for Athanasiou. Not only has he missed the last 10 games with a lower-body injury, he’s also been a lot less productive when he’s actually in the lineup. After scoring 30 goals and 54 points last season, the 25-year-old has five goals and 19 points in 36 games this year. Athanasiou is scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Wings shouldn’t be in a rush to trade him. Even though he’s having a down year, he should be able to net the team some significant assets.

Jonas Brodin – D – Wild: 

Sometimes, you gotta give to get. This draft class is considered to be one of the deepest we’ve seen in years. If the Wild want to accumulate more draft capital, they’ll need to trade someone with some heavy value. Brodin doesn’t put up big offensive numbers, but he’s a reliable defender that would be a welcomed addition on many teams. The 26-year-old has 20 points in 49 games. He has another year remaining on his contract at a reasonable cap hit of $4.166,667 million. If the Wild want to move him, multiple teams will be interested.

Ryan Donato – W – Wild: 

Donato was a big part of the trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins last year. Unfortunately for the youngster, things haven’t worked out that well in Minnesota. He’s been a healthy scratch on four different occasions this year and he’s been on the fourth line recently, too. Donato has a year left on his current contract (he’ll earn $1.9 million) before he becomes a restricted free agent. He’s still only 23 years old. Someone out there will be interested in taking him on if the Wild want to unload him. Donato was the 14th player mentioned on Frank Seravalli’s Trade Bait board.

Marcus Foligno – W – Wild: 

Foligno isn’t known for his offensive skills, but he’s actually picked up eight points in his last eight games. The 28-year-old has the frame that a lot of teams are looking for for a Stanley Cup run (he’s 6-foot-3, 228 pounds). The veteran has one more season remaining on a contract that pays him $2.875 million. If Guerin wants to move him, he’ll find takers.

Jason Zucker – W – Wild:

Zucker’s been on the trading block since last year when former GM Paul Fenton clearly made him available. The 28-year-old has 13 goals and 27 points in 39 games this season. He missed time with a lower-leg injury, but he’s been back for five games now. Zucker can submit a 10-team no-trade list and he has three years remaining on his deal at $5.5 million per season. Trading him in-season won’t be easy.

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET, hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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: Underrated players; Time to drop loser point

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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 some of the bigger events going on during All-Star weekend in St. Louis. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Check out this in-depth look at Patrick Kane‘s road to 1,000 points. (Chicago Tribune)

• It took some time, but the Bolts are finally back on track. (The Hockey News)

Alex Ovechkin is already the greatest goalscorer of all time. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Rangers forward Chris Kreider remains one of the top trade targets for the Bruins. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Has Ryan Johansen‘s role in Nashville changed? (A to Z Sports Nashville)

Kevin Fiala and the Wild are trying to live up to their potential. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Hockey players are finally starting to grow their endorsement deals. (The Score)

• Could the Oilers and Sharks be trade partners? (Oilers Nation)

Alexandar Georgiev might be on the trade block but the asking price isn’t exactly low. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• The Islanders’ offense might hold them back in their quest for a Stanley Cup. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Sportsnet sat down with John Tavares for a wide-ranging Q & A session. (Sportsnet)

Loui Eriksson has been the ideal utility forward for the Canucks this season. (Canucks Army)

• The NHL has to get rid of the loser point. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Prospect Nick Stutzle moved into third in the draft rankings for 2020. (Rotoworld)

• Yard Barker breaks down the most underrated player on every team. (Yard Barker)

• It’s been a tough time for the NHL’s California franchises. (Featurd)

• Here’s an “NHL 94” retro review for your enjoyment. (Operation Sports)

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 Face-Off: Kovalchuk’s trade value; Who hits 1,000 points next?

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It’s the start of a new week, which means it’s time for the PHT Face-off. We’ll look at numbers and trends around the NHL ahead of all the action coming your way over the next seven days.

Let’s go!

Who will hit 1,000 points next?

On Sunday, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane hit the 1,000-point mark for his career. The 31-year-old did it pretty quickly, as it only took him 953 games to reach the milestone. But which active players are scheduled to hit that number next?

Assuming good health, Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf should be the next one to 1,000. He currently has 956 points, which means he should reach 1,000 sometime next season. Again, it depends how healthy he is, but it should come sooner than later.

Leafs forward Jason Spezza has 933 points, but he appears to be running out of steam. Will he play long enough to accumulate 67 more points? He’s on pace for 34 this year. That means he’ll get 16 more than he already has, which would leave him 51 points away. Is he going to play two more seasons?

Kings center Anze Kopitar is right behind Spezza with 931 points. The 32-year-old has 43 points in 50 games in 2019-20. That would put him on pace for 71 points this year. Like Getzlaf, if Kopitar stays healthy, he should find a way to reach this milestone sometime next season.

And considering Nicklas Backstrom just signed a new extension with the Washington Capitals, he should have plenty of time to hit 1,000. Backstrom has 911 points in his career and he’s currently at 38 points in 41 games this season. The 32-year-old has been pretty healthy during his career, so he should be able to get to that number in short order.

Merzlikins on quite a roll

Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins has turned his season around since Joonas Korpisalo was injured on Dec. 29. The 25-year-old is 8-2-0 in 10 games since Korpisalo went down, and he’s given up two goals or fewer in seven of those outings. The Jackets have one more home game (Wednesday against Winnipeg) before they get to enjoy their lengthy break.

What has this recent run meant for the Blue Jackets?

Well, as of right now, they’ve found a way to put themselves in the first Wild Card spot. There’s several reasons they’ve been able to overcome the losses of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but the recent play of their goaltenders is near the top of the list.

Whether or not Merzlikins can keep this up remains to be seen.

Are the days of the $9-million (or more) goalie done? The Blue Jackets sure seem to be poking holes in the “pay big money for a goalie” theory.

What’s Kovalchuk worth on trade market?

Earlier this month, not many teams were willing to roll the dice on Ilya Kovalchuk. The Montreal Canadiens did, and the move has paid off in a pretty significant way so far. The 36-year-old has looked nothing like the player that suited up for the Los Angeles Kings over the last two years. He’s been quicker than advertised and he’s found ways to put up points.

In eight games with the Habs, he’s scored four goals and four assists. He also added a goal in the shootout against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night.

Now, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has to decide whether or not to keep Kovalchuk or trade him before the Feb. 24 deadline. With the Habs seven points out of a playoff spot, you’d think that they may look to get an asset or two in return for the veteran winger. Maybe there’s a trade and a side deal reached for next year, but it’ll be interesting to see what the market him is at this point.

Three weeks ago, nobody was willing to touch him. Now, could there be a bidding war for Kovalchuk? If he can keep rolling at this pace (that’s a big “if”), teams will be interested. What makes him even more of an intriguing addition, is that his cap hit is for $700,000. He’s only going to play half a season, so in reality he’ll make just $350,000 this year.

Teams looking for secondary scoring could do worse than Kovalchuk. Bergevin has the opportunity to turn this into a home run move.

What will Penguins do in goal?

What are the Pittsburgh Penguins going to do with their goaltending situation in the second half of the season? It’s an interesting question. Tristan Jarry has carried the load for the last little while, but Matt Murray appears to be played himself back in the picture recently.

Murray has started and won back-to-back games. Now, those games haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been encouraging. After he stopped 28 of 29 shots in a win over Detroit on Friday night, head coach Mike Sullivan went to him again on Sunday afternoon against Boston.

The 25-year-old and his team got off to a rocky start in the first period. They went down 3-0 and the Pittsburgh faithful even gave their starting netminder the Bronx cheer. But Murray settled down and the Pens eventually came back to win the game.

So, who gets the start against Philadelphia on Tuesday night? Do they go back to Jarry or do they give Murray a third straight opportunity right before the break?

Here’s an interesting stat:

What’s coming up this week?
• Afternoon Hockey: Red Wings vs. Avs, Mon. Jan. 20, 3 p.m. ET.
• Islanders vs. Rangers for the third time in eight days, Tue. Jan. 21, 7 p.m. ET.
• Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville is back in Chicago for the first time since his firing, Tues. Jan. 21, 8:30 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Penguins vs. Flyers, Tue. Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET.
• NHL Skills Competition, Fri. Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET. (NBCSN)

NHL on NBCSN
• NHL All-Star Game, Sat. Jan. 25, 8 p.m. ET. (NBC)

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Wild, Wed. Jan. 22, 8 p.m. ET. (NBCSN)

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.