Cole Caufield

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.

Caufield will return to Wisconsin for sophomore season

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Montreal Canadiens top prospect Cole Caufield will not be leaving school just yet.

The Habs announced that Caufield, the team and the University of Wisconsin have decided that he’ll return to school for his sophomore season.

The 19-year-old was the 15th overall pick in 2019 NHL Draft. Despite being listed at 5-foot-7, 162 pounds, Caufield was taken in the first round because he has an incredible ability to put the puck in the net.

In his first season with the Badgers, Caufield had 19 goals and 36 points in 36 games. He was the only player on the roster to score more than 15 goals and he was also the only one to surpass the 30-point mark.

Still, the Canadiens organization felt it was best for him to further dominate in the NCAA.

“This additional year in the NCAA will benefit Cole and will allow him to continue developing his skills within the Badgers’ environment. Cole is an important part of the Montreal Canadiens’ future and we will continue to follow his development with interest,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in a release.

Bergevin had previously mentioned that the right winger’s play without the puck had to improve before he made the leap to the NHL.

Caufield was one of three first-round draft picks on the Badgers’ roster last year. Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings) and K’Andre Miller (New York Rangers) were also on the team, but both have signed entry-level contracts with their respective clubs.

“When they’re not ready, they’re better off staying to give themselves a better chance of when they get there, they can stay there,” Badgers head coach Tony Granato said, per Madison.com. “Working through the hurdles, working through some of the things that we worked through this year, individually and as a team, are experiences and battles that you have to have to get ready for an NHL season.”

This also means that the young forward will likely get another crack at representing Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The 2019-20 tournament didn’t go too well for him, as he picked up a goal and an assist in five tournament games. The United States were bounced in the Quarter-Final against Finland (they lost 1-0).

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: Hart’s splits; Kase’s impact on Bruins

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It’s Monday which means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off. We’ll look at different storylines from around the NHL and we’ll also break down certain trends that apply to the upcoming week.

Ondrej Kase‘s impact on Bruins

The Bruins acquired Kase from the Ducks for a first-round draft pick, but they also got to shed a good chunk of David Backes’ salary (that alone has a significant amount of value). But how was Kase fit in with his new team?

Well through five games, he’s picked up one assist and four penalty minutes while averaging 14:21 of ice time per game. It’s a small sample size, but the offensive side of his game hasn’t kicked in just yet.

Here’s what Joe Haggerty thinks:

Let’s compare and contrast his advanced numbers from 2019-20 (via Natural Stat Trick):

With Anaheim:
CF%: 54.66, FF%: 53.31, XG%: 49.55, HDCF%: 51

With Boston:
CF%: 48.78, FF%: 52.87, XG%: 49, HDCF%: 47.62

There’s a few things to keep in mind here. Again, it’s only five games. It’s the first time in his career that he gets traded, so it might take him a little bit more time to adjust to his new team. Give him some time.

Carter Hart‘s home/road splits:

Hart is having a terrific year for the Flyers. He’s a big reason why they’re in the hunt for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. But his home/road splits are so different.

In 24 games at home: He owns a 20-2-2 record with a 1.61 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage.

In 18 games on the road: He has a 4-10-1 record with a 3.81 goals-against-average and a .857 save percentage.

How is that going to work come playoff time? There’s a decent chance that they’ll have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so maybe it doesn’t affect the team as much, but what happens as the playoffs keep rolling? It’s going to be an interesting story to follow.

Will they split time between Hart and Brian Elliott in the postseason?

Here’s a tweet from last week that’s still somewhat relevant today:

Alex Galchenyuk finally comes through for Minnesota: 

Galchenyuk has played for four different teams over the last three seasons. He went from a long stint in Montreal, to a one-year term in Arizona, to a 45-game stint in Pittsburgh, to Minnesota.

He was part of the trade that sent Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Galchenyuk is on an expiring contract and he may or may not be brought back in Minnesota. If the season doesn’t end well for him, what happens to him? Does he get another chance in the NHL? probably. But he’s running out of those.

The former third overall pick is still just 26 years old, but it seems like teams aren’t interested in keeping him around very long.

He didn’t exactly get off to a hot start in Minnesota, as he had four points in his first 11 games (two came in the same game). But he’s started making a little bit more of an impact on a team that’s hoping to make the playoffs.

Last night, he registered the primary assist on Mats Zuccarello‘s game-tying goal (1-1) and he added one of his own in the third frame to give his team a 4-3 lead (they eventually won in overtime).

He also scored a big second-period goal in last week’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Can he find a permanent home in Minnesota?

• Which Wisconsin first-rounders will go pro?

Cole Caufield, K’Andre Miller and Alex Turcotte. Will they be leaving the University of Wisconsin? Now that the team’s disappointing season has come to an end, we can finally start discussing whether or not these players will leave the Badgers.

Miller is two years into his career at Wisconsin, Turcotte and Caufield both wrapped up their first year.

Miller, a 20-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 18 points in 36 games this season. He already has NHL-ready size, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. The Rangers made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“I would guess that both (Miller) and [Flyers’ seventh-rounder] Wyatt (Kalynuk)  are going to have offers there for them,” head coach Tony Granato said, per Madison.com. “On (Turcotte) and Cole, I don’t really know. There might be a couple other guys that have opportunities. That’s something that we’ll look into talking about as the week goes along.”

Turcotte, who was Los Angeles’ fifth overall pick in 2019, had nine goals and 26 points in 29 games at Wisconsin this year. The 19-year-old also had two assists in five games for Team USA at the World Juniors this year.

The Kings won’t be good anytime soon, so you’d think that they’d want to take their time developing one of their high-end prospects.

And Caufield actually led the team in goals (19) and points (36) in 36 games this year. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman, but he’s also listed at 5-foot-7, 162 pounds. He also wasn’t much of a factor at the World Juniors (one goal, one assist in five games).

According to Pierre LeBrun, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will meet with his 2019 first-round draft pick at some point this week. The Habs are already loaded with small players, but they don’t have an elite scorer. How quickly can Caufield become an effective player at the NHL level?

Bergevin’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy heading into next season, but you’d have to think that next year will be his final opportunity to get his team into the postseason. At the same time, he’s also mentioned repeatedly that he won’t jeopardize the team’s future for immediate results.

This should be an interesting one.
What’s coming up this week?
• Playoff Preview? Tampa vs. Toronto, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
Shea Weber vs. Nashville, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Second-Round Playoff Preview? Boston vs. Toronto, Sat. Mar. 14, 7 p.m. ET
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Sharks vs. Stars, Sat. Mar. 14, 9 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN:
• Bruins vs. Flyers, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Wild, Sun. Mar. 15, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey: 
• Sharks vs. Blackhawks, Wed. Mar. 11, 8 p.m. ET

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.

Cole Caufield’s shot, not size, will matter in NHL

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VANCOUVER — When asked by the Chicago Blackhawks during a pre-NHL Draft meeting how he would sell himself to the team to be selected with the third overall pick, Cole Caufield replied, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

Well, it won’t just be Chicago regretting passing on the 18-year-old if Caufield does indeed have a great NHL career. Fourteen teams passed over the 5-foot-7, 163 lbs. winger before the Montreal Canadiens pounced to take him at No. 15.

Coming out a talented class from the United States National Team Development Program, which saw a record eight players selected in Round 1 Friday night, Caufield lit up scoreboards during the 2018-19 season scoring 72 goals in 64 games this season, breaking the USNTDP single-season record. Over the course of his career, the Wisconsin native broke Phil Kessel’s goal scoring record with 126 in 123 games.

“I’ve never seen purer hands coming through the NTDP,” said U.S. U18 head coach John Wroblewski. “When he catches a puck, it lays flat. Every pass or shot explodes off his stick. It’s not the flashy dangles, it’s pure, it’s clean… His shot is so accurate. He hits so many crossbars and elbows in practice it’s insane. He loves the game. He’s got a smile on his face all the time. Our goalies love stopping him, but they can’t do it.”

[Devils take Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick]

Caufield’s shot is the best asset in his toolbox. He showed he can fire the puck from anywhere, sporting a team-high 282 shots in 64 games this season, and do it at a successful rate.

“I’d just put down a bucket of pucks and start shooting from anywhere,” said Caufield, who’s committed to the University of Wisconsin next season. “I think I just developed a love for shooting the puck. I think some people don’t do it enough. I’ve always been a kid that just loved to shoot the puck and I’m going to continue to work at it because the goalies are only going to get better from here.”

Caufield likens his game to Alex DeBrincat, a friend who also boasts a small frame at 5-foot-7. The Chicago Blackhawks forward has shown that size doesn’t matter during his young productive NHL career. 

Those questions about being a smaller player likely won’t stop anytime soon, but Caufield is eager to continue showing that it doesn’t affect his game.

“Now I kind of just laugh it off,” Caufield said. “Nobody’s going to stop asking me about it. I’m just going to have to continue to prove people wrong because I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. At this point, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s not really a risk factor in my game and how I play, so I’m not too worried about it.”

As Caufield met with the media following his selection, Wroblewski came over and the two embraced while wearing big smiles. It was an historic night for the USNTDP and the progress of the 22-year-old program has only grown every year as the draft rolls around.

“It really didn’t hit me until these past two years,” Caufield said about his NHL dreams becoming a reality. “Just making that [USNTDP] team was something special to me. I took it right by the horns and said this is my chance, this is my opportunity. I think I proved a lot of people wrong pretty fast, so I think I’m just going to continue to do that. I can’t credit enough of my success to that program and all the guys that helped me there.”

MORE: 2019 NHL Draft tracker — Round 1

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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.