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No big moves needed as Predators primed for another Cup run

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Another summer is here, and the warm months wouldn’t be complete without hearing fresh P.K. Subban trade rumors.

This isn’t exactly all that surprising, of course. The Nashville Predators’ defenseman is one of the league’s premier rearguards and comes with the possibility of quite the haul in return in any deal swung for him. And he just seems to have this knack for working his way into the rumor mill

Case and point: he’s on TSN’s Trade Bait board this year, and he’s inside the Top 10, just for good measure.

But while it might not come as a shock to the hockey world to see Subban’s name being thrown around in the trade winds again, there’s absolutely no reason why the Predators would want to trade one of the league’s top defenseman away from a team that remains so well-positioned in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

Let’s review: Subban is a great defenseman that’s sound in puck possession, shot suppression and putting up points.

Naturally, Predators general manager David Poile has subsequently shot down the rumors regarding Subban, who has four years remaining on a seven year, $72 million deal with an annual cap hit of $9 million.

“You see tweets from different places, but that’s not happening,” Poile told The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun. “P.K. played terrific this year. He played really well. He’s a really good player. He’s one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy. I really don’t know where this comes from.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before.

But while Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t ultimately be believed in the end, there’s no reason to think Poile would drop that bomb in his defensive corps, one that is largely staying the same aside from Alexei Emelin becoming a unrestricted free agent.

That vaunted core on the back end — arguably the best in the NHL with Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (a UFA after next season) — is all under contract

Let’s not forget that the Predators are one year removed from the Stanley Cup Final, and that they lost a tight series to the Winnipeg Jets in second round this season. And most importantly, let’s not lose track of the fact that Nashville is still in prime position to make another run this upcoming season.

Scott Hartnell is gone, but the Predators only have two other players searching for new deals — Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki, both restricted free agents and filler pieces rather than key cogs. Everyone else is under contract and the Predators can look forward to Eeli Tolvanen entering the lineup next season.

Juuse Saros is an RFA in goal (and you’d have to think the Predators will want to square that one away ASAP with 35-year-old Pekka Rinne set to become a UFA next offseason) but their lineup will look quite similar to that of this past season, one which led the Predators to the 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.

The Predators are sitting pretty, too, under the cap, with $7.5 million to give in its current state — a number that is expected to rise with next season’s cap being projected in the $78 million to $82 million range.

If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And that cliche certainly applies to the Predators this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Does Canadiens locker room really need attitude adjustment?

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If you listened to the year-end press conferences in Montreal on Monday, you noticed that general manager Marc Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson used the word “attitude” several times throughout their hour-long media availability. For those of you that are familiar with Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, you probably realized that it sounded a lot like the “lack of character” speech he delivered after the 2015-16 season. What happened that summer? The Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. So what’s going to happen this time around?

Bergevin made it abundantly clear that, in his mind, adding all the talent in the world wouldn’t matter much if the players coming into the locker room didn’t have a better attitude than the group that’s in there right now.

“It was a disappointing season from start to finish, and that was unacceptable,” Bergevin said in his opening remarks. “The overall attitude of our team needs to change. We will do a complete assessment of our hockey operations and as the general manager I take my share of responsibilities for the season, but we’re all in this together.

“I believe that an attitude can change a lot of things. Players? of course, players can make things better, but if you have good players that don’t have the right attitude- I could bring anybody here and if the attitude is not better, we’re going to be in the same spot. And it’s my job to address that and it started today.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

With one breath, Bergevin took some of the blame for what happened in Montreal this year, with another breath, he made sure to mention the attitude problem countless times. But let’s be real, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Karl Alzner to a rich five-year contract, the players’ poor attitude didn’t sign Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit to replace Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov. Yes, the Hemsky and Streit signings were low-risk, but those two veterans were expected to contribute.

That’s not to say that Bergevin hasn’t made good moves during his tenure as GM (he acquired Jeff Petry via trade, he stole Phillip Danault from Chicago), but he’s had a bit more of a difficult time over the last couple of years. Sure, a better attitude may have helped the Canadiens win a few more games this season, but having better players on their roster would have had more of an impact on the win column in 2017-18.

Since acquiring Shea Weber two years ago, the Canadiens still haven’t found a left-handed defenseman to play with him. Prior to the start of training camp, Bergevin mentioned David Schlemko and Jordie Benn as possible partners for their number one blue liner. As most would’ve expected, that didn’t work out too well.

Then, there’s the hole(s) down the middle that they haven’t been able to fill. Heading into the offseason, there’s a legitimate case to be made that they need a first line center and a second line center to be competitive. Of course, there’s a unique opportunity to land a player like John Tavares should he decide to hit unrestricted free agency. But if that doesn’t work out, where will that leave them?

Does going after 32-year-olds like Paul Stastny or Tyler Bozak make sense? Probably, but landing free agents isn’t easy. They’ll probably have to pay way over market value for older players who play the position, but they have no choice if they want to be competitive again.

That leads us to our last question. Is patching up holes with veterans a better alternative to rebuilding from the ground up? The organization doesn’t seem to think so. We’ll see if the decision proves to be right or wrong over the next few years.

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.

Marc Bergevin a firm believer Canadiens can turn season around

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Hours before the Montreal Canadiens won their second in a row with a 5-2 dispatching of the Vancouver Canucks Sunday night, general manager Marc Bergevin held court with the media and stated he wasn’t ready to begin thinking about the draft lottery.

“As of now we haven’t thrown in the towel,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to get into the playoffs, and for the next 41 games we’ll evaluate the team closely and make the necessary decisions for the good of the organization in the short and long term. I believe it’s possible [to make the playoffs], but I also believe a lot of things have to change for us to do it. If we keep on the same pattern as the first half, it’s not going to be possible, but I believe.”

With the win Sunday night the Canadiens are seven points out of an Eastern Conference wild card spot, which is probably their only lifeline given that they are 12 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division. Seeing how competitive the Metropolitan Division has been, the Habs are going to have to go on several hot streaks over the final 40 games of their season to have a shot at a postseason berth.

It hasn’t been an easy year for the Canadiens. Carey Price missed time. Shea Weber has been out since mid-December and only played 26 games. Jonathan Drouin is still finding his way while his GM says his long-term future is probably on the wing, but the team needs him at center.

“A lot of things have to change,” which, according to Bergevin, means that help will need to come from the players on the roster and not from the outside.

“In the perfect world, would I love to add a piece to help them? Of course,” Bergevin said. “But to sacrifice the future and be taking a major risk to hurt the organization for the long term? I’m not ready to do that. And to be honest with you, the short-term solution, there’s nobody out there that I’m aware of that’s going to come and turn this thing around.”

In the meantime, Habs fans will look at the seasons of Drouin and free agent acquisition Karl Alzner and then peer over at what Alex Radulov and Mikhail Sergachev are doing in Dallas and Tampa Bay, respectively, and want to reach for the pitch forks. The last two seasons have seen Montreal miss the playoffs and exit in the first round after a 103-point, division-winning campaign. Blame has already been placed on one coach and he’s gone (Michel Therrien). The hottest seat has since resided in Bergevin’s office.

“I think it starts with me, to the coaches, to the players,” Bergevin said. “I think we’re all in this together and we all have to take responsibility.”

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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.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

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 GM on turning around early-season slide: ‘The answer is in that room’

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A seven-game losing streak was extinguished Tuesday night at Bell Centre as the Montreal Canadiens downed the Florida Panthers 5-1. It was a good start, but there’s plenty for the team to clean up and figure out if they’re going to make this “winning” thing a consistent theme.

Given their rough start, you have to believe it will turn around sooner or later. A 1.89 goals per game average? That should rise. Carey Price sporting a .891 even strength save percentage? We know he’s better than that. A league-low PDO of 93, according to Corsica? The bounces will start going their way at some point.

General manager Marc Bergevin believes his club is in the “cluster” of good teams in the NHL through the first three weeks of the season. A 100-point, division-winning 2016-17 campaign may have increased expectations for 2017-18 a bit too much, however.

“Sometimes things go your way,” Bergevin said on Wednesday. “Everything lines up properly and you end up finishing first.”

But the GM is firm in his belief that he has a good hockey team in his hands. “Maybe we’re not as good as we were, but we’re not as bad as our record shows now,” he said.

Bergevin won’t be making a trade for the sake of shaking up his roster. Teams know the Habs are in a rough patch, so the offers won’t really be worth exploring because in his eyes they don’t end up benefiting his team, only the vultures looking to pick at the carcass. There won’t be a head coaching change unless things get really, really bad.

Something has to change, as teams are getting on the ice with the Canadiens knowing they’re facing an opponent looking for answers.

So how do they dig out of this early season mess?

“The answer is in that room,” Bergevin said. “Coaches are working hard every day spending hours, and we watch tapes, see where the breakdowns are and sometimes they’re just the smallest breakdowns and it’s in our net and then it affects your confidence. It might not be what people like to hear, but it’s reality.

“You could play with a bad foot, a bad hand, but with no confidence, it’s so obvious, and that’s what’s happening right now.”

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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.