Claude Julien

Long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Canadiens don’t have a lot of players locked up to much term. That seems like a plus, because the bigger contracts also happen to be Montreal’s biggest headaches.

Apologies to Carey Price after already critiquing his 2019-20 season, but you can only be so delicate about his situation. Price has already shown some troubling signs of fatigue at 32. His $10.5 million AAV is frightening now, yet it carries through 2025-26, with a no-movement clause to boot.

Shea Weber didn’t suffer a career-ending injury as feared, yet there’s no denying that he’s banged up. One wonders if the 34-year-old is fated for LTIR; otherwise, his $7.86M AAV (also through 2025-26) could become quite burdensome.

Jonathan Drouin breaks the trend of older players receiving term, but there are already rumors about the 25-year-old getting moved out before his deal ($5.5M AAV) expires (after 2022-23).

Looking at the Habs’ agreed-upon core is a chore. The more interesting questions revolve around who else might be a part of it.

The Canadiens don’t face that many long-term contract decisions this offseason, but pending RFA Max Domi is a key one. Can they find the right price and term for the speedy but flawed forward?

There are some other interesting mid-career players to consider.

Marc Bergevin balked on trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry, two players whose contracts expire after 2020-21. Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault stand out as other noteworthy pieces who need new deals after 2020-21, too. Who stays and who goes?

Granted, a lot of that revolves around how much progress Montreal’s promising prospects make.

Long-term needs for Canadiens

Look, it’s not going to be pleasant for the Canadiens to pay a backup goalie a handsome fee. Not when they already allot $10.5M in cap space to Price.

Yet it seems like Montreal’s committed to at least hovering around the playoff bubble with Bergevin and Claude Julien running the show. Why wouldn’t you try to ease Price’s burden and get a Plan B when the market could include borderline starters like Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and old pal Jaroslav Halak?

Getting some saves would go a long way. So would finishing more chances.

For another year, Montreal clearly suffered for its lack of snipers. This team can hog the puck at five-on-five, and create havoc with skilled forwards. They just don’t really have a ton of players who finish, something that surfaces for a power play that finds itself snakebitten far too often.

The Canadiens could certainly use more NHL-ready help on defense. That’s another question filed under “How ready are these prospects?”

Perhaps more than anything else, the Canadiens need vision.

So far, Montreal’s been trying to build for the future while staying in contention. The first part’s gone pretty well, but the Canadiens have settled for not-quite-good-enough. Are they hurting their chances of having a higher ceiling by trying to prosper now and later? Should they at least do a Rangers-style mini-reboot, selling off the likes of Tatar, Petry, and Drouin (and maybe even Gallagher)?

Oh yeah, and how much would it take to compete in an Atlantic Division featuring the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs?

The answers are tough to come by, but Bergevin & Co. need to soul search on such topics.

Long-term strengths for Canadiens

Again, the Canadiens’ farm system looks pretty good. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked them second overall in February (sub required), and that’s while “graduating” the likes of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Cole Caulfield could indeed parallel Alex DeBrincat as a near-instant draft steal, as many wondered about the spritely sniper.

I wonder if that group could still use the added “oomph” that would have come with a tanktastic, premium high draft pick, but it’s heartening for Montreal overall.

Bergevin’s also seemingly learned from how much the Price contract boxed the Canadiens in by not signing many other long-term deals. The uncertainty translates to flexibility.

Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin went in-depth on the Canadiens’ salary cap opportunities recently (sub required). If the pause squeezes the cap flat, Montreal could take advantage of teams in “salary cap prison.” They could also exploit a free agent situation that may thus be low on buyers. There’s also the possibility that Bergevin could send out more offer sheets.

Bergevin’s patience could pay off … if he makes the right moves.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Montreal Canadiens.

Carey Price couldn’t sustain last season’s rebound

Few goalies dominate like Price did from 2013-14 through 2016-17. At least in the modern NHL, where steady and elite goaltending is hard to come by.

The downside to that dominance is that the Canadiens paid for the Price of that run, while they’ve instead received a fading talent.

Then again, after a disappointing 2017-18 season, Price showed plenty of flashes of his elite self in 2018-19, going 35-24-6 with a .918 save percentage. That .918 mark actually slightly exceeds Price’s career average of .917. Unfortunately, Price fell in the middle in 2019-20, producing a .909 save percentage with a middling 27-25-6 record.

Placing all the blame on Price is unfair. Yet, when you hand a goalie a contract that carries a $10.5 million AAV (and whopping $15M salary this season), people are going to expect outstanding netminding. Considering how much cap space that eats up on a team with quite a bit of quality but not much true star power, you kind of give yourself little choice but to demand star-level work from Price.

It’s probably a wise idea for the Canadiens to end this stretch of trying to get their money’s worth by sheer volume, though.

Price has already shown signs of wear and tear at age 32. Leaning on Price for 58 appearances in 71 games isn’t exactly ideal in an age of load management. Price tied Connor Hellebuyck for the NHL lead with 58 games played, and Hellebuyck is 26.

The Habs would be wise to dip into what looks like a strong goalie market to give Price some help — and competition.

Drouin ranks as one of the (other) biggest disappointments for Canadiens

GM Marc Bergevin’s reputation as a shrewd trader rises to the point that executives might not want to return his calls. Flipping Marco Scandella and others already seemed strong. Winning the Max Domi trade keeps looking better with every subsequent Alex Galchenyuk trade. Even the Shea WeberP.K. Subban swap looks a lot more reasonable with Subban’s sad slippage.

But they weren’t all homers, and things seem grim regarding Jonathan Drouin, who Bergevin landed for still-intriguing defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

Not all of Drouin’s struggles were his fault, as injuries limited Drouin to 27 games played in 2019-20.

It would be overly optimistic to chalk up Drouin being in trade rumors to injuries alone, though. As exciting as Drouin’s skills can be, he gives up as much — if not more — than he creates. Just look at this rather unsettling even-strength comparison between Drouin and Galchenyuk, via Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts.

Keeping it even-strength is actually kinder to Drouin, too, as Galchenyuk’s generally been more effective on the PP.

(Speaking of the power play, Montreal’s unit was better than the 2018-19 version, but that’s damning with faint praise because that group was a disaster.)

Suzuki among rare positive surprises for Canadiens

PHT will break down some reasons for optimism regarding the Canadiens’ future. Of course, with any such endeavor, a lot of that talk hinges on projections. The more you dive into hypotheticals and subjective measures, the less you know.

So it’s often nice to see a young player deliver at the NHL level, right now.

The Canadiens continue to make lemonade from the lemons of trading Max Pacioretty. While Tomas Tatar led the team with 61 points, Nick Suzuki ranked fifth with 41. Tatar was an outlier for the Habs points-wise, as Suzuki really was far behind Phillip Danault (47 points), Max Domi (44), or Brendan Gallagher (43).

Suzuki climbing the ranks is especially soothing since Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a significant step back as a sophomore.

With Cole Caulfield highlighting a widely-praised farm system, the Canadiens could close their eyes and picture things all coming together. Seeing Suzuki actually deliver makes those dreams seem more feasible, too.

Maybe the Canadiens can pull off more positive surprises around the 2020 NHL Draft?

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.

2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.

Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.

Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals [28] and points [72]) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.

Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.

Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?

The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).

This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.

Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.

(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens

Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?

Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:

2019-20 Canadiens draft picks and beyond

Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.

For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.

If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.

After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey community rallies for Nashville tornado relief

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.

• People are stepping up to help those affected by the Nashville tornadoes. That includes the Predators’ Alumni Association donating $20K, but not just that team. Both the Wild and current Wild owner/former Predators owner Craig Leipold are donating $25K apiece in tornado relief efforts. The NHL announced that it is matching that $50K for tornado relief as well. Fantastic stuff stemming from that terrifying natural disaster. (The Tennessean)

• How did the Lightning turn their season around? Can this season’s team compare to the 2018-19 version that stomped through the regular season, and what about the playoffs? (ESPN)

• Some of the Lightning’s turnaround boils down to Andrei Vasilevskiy getting on track. This post looks at a similar trajectory for Mike Smith, who is heating up while Mikko Koskinen stays steady. Between the two, the Oilers have enjoyed reliable goaltending lately. (Oilers Nation)

Bryan Rust‘s breakout season boils down to combining his talent with the Penguins giving him a better opportunity to succeed. (Pensburgh)

• The Maple Leafs look better by a lot of metrics since Sheldon Keefe took over, but goaltending hasn’t been panning out. How much might it help to lighten Frederik Andersen‘s burden? (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of underlying numbers, these smile upon the chances for both the Wild and Hurricanes making late-season playoff pushes. (NHL.com)

[HURRICANES FACE FLYERS ON NBCSN ON THURSDAY; WATCH IT LIVE]

• Now, while goaltending has been letting the Leafs down lately, GM Kyle Dubas views defense as a “long-term need.” (TSN)

• Are the Flames on the verge of a goalie controversy? (Sportsnet)

• In standing firmly behind Claude Julien going forward, Habs GM Marc Bergevin is also gambling on himself. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• No, Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t generated the kind of offense that was expected of him as the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has, however, become a useful play-driving forward as he settles into a still-fairly-new niche as an Avalanche supporting cast member. (The Hockey News)

I mean, look at these almost-off-the-charts Evolving Hockey RAPM charts for Nichushkin:

Kevin Fiala continues to be a catalyst for the Wild’s surge. (Pioneer-Press)

• Breaking down the Flyers’ elite penalty kill. (Broad Street Hockey)

• What’s been different about Cory Schneider during his latest return back with the Devils? (NJ.com)

• Hm, it’s been a while since the Senators experienced some drama … (The Score)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Reviewing NHL trades; Boudreau wants another coaching gig

Boudreau wants another coaching gig; reviewing trades NHL deadline headlines
Getty Images

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.

• Bruce Boudreau admits he was blindsided by his firing, and uttered the inevitable expletives. Boudreau doesn’t believe he’s too old to keep coaching, and wants another gig. (The Athletic, sub required)

• By trading Jason Zucker and firing Boudreau when Boudreau didn’t see it coming, Wild GM Bill Guerin put his team on notice. Who might be next? (Pioneer-Press)

• Doctors haven’t cleared Nolan Patrick for contact, but he’s skating again with teammates. Patrick explains how much of a difference it makes not to be alone anymore during this process. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Canadiens coach Claude Julien received a $10K fine for his comments to officials. (Global News)

• The league added some context to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s red-hot, record-breaking 11-game winning streak. Spoiler: they haven’t trailed very often. That and more in their morning skate. (NHL)

[PHT is tracking and reviewing trades through the deadline here]

• I must confess that when I read the headline “Part of the Sedinery,” I was wondering if there might be a Sedin twins wine. Reading about their outstanding charitable efforts was even more delicious than a smooth Valpolicella. (Vancouver Province)

• Travis Yost argues that Mike Hoffman would be a perfect fit for the Oilers. Actually, Yost is making that argument again. Imagine Hoffman’s sniping with Connor McDavid‘s playmaking? Goalies everywhere grumbled. (TSN)

• Going longer-term on Edmonton, Tyler Yaremchuk discusses Ken Holland’s quest for cost certainty. Giving Zack Kassian an iffy contract certainly took away a lot of breathing room. (Oilers Nation)

• Raw Charge makes a spot-on analysis of the Blake Coleman trade from Tampa’s perspective. Coleman is indeed a great addition, but credit to New Jersey: the price was high. (Raw Charge)

• Lou Lamoriello is reviewing other options for trades after adding Andy Greene to the mix. They’ve lost some ground in playoff races, so that might be a wise strategy. (Islanders Insight)

Blake Wheeler feels “gutted” for injured Jets teammate Bryan Little. (Winnipeg Free-Press)

• The Blue Jackets have had to scratch for every win, point, and basically every goal this season. (The Score)

Logan Couture seems close to returning to practicing with the Sharks. Here’s some unsolicited advice: err on the side of safety during a lost season. (NHL/Sharks)

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.