Marc Bergevin

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.

Where do Habs go from here?

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This season hasn’t gone the way many expected for the Montreal Canadiens. Last year, with expectations in the toilet, the Habs managed to push for a playoff spot until the final weekend of the regular season. Naturally, expectations were that they’d take a step forward and actually get into the postseason this time around. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look like that will be the case.

Last night’s home loss to the Edmonton Oilers extended their winless streak to eight games. It’s now the second time this season that they’ve gone through that long of a streak.

The first losing skid, which coincided with forward Jonathan Drouin going out of the lineup with a wrist injury, occurred between Nov. 16 to Dec. 1. During that stretch, they picked up three of a possible 16 points. The biggest issue then was that they seemed to lose all of their defensive structure.

They allowed between three and eight goals in all but one game and they surrendered four goals or more in six of those eight contests. That’s pretty surprising for a Claude Julien coached team. Sure, they’ve been without Drouin, Paul Byron, Joel Armia for a while now (Jesperi Kotkaniemi also missed a good chunk of time), but falling apart like that is not acceptable.

This time around, they’re not bleeding as many goals, but they’re blowing leads, making mistakes at crucial times and their confidence seems to be in the gutter. For example, during last night’s loss, they had a 2-0 lead in the second period. As soon as Oilers forward Riley Sheahan scored to make it 2-1, you could just feel that the Habs were going to blow it and they did. It’s too bad because they were the better team for 40 minutes.

Even though they’re playing better this time around, they’ve accumulated just one of a possible 16 points.

“I thought we learned a lot of stuff from the last one,” forward Philip Danault said of the two eight-game winless streaks, per the Montreal Gazette. “This time it’s different because we’re playing well, but we’re not getting results. We play with the lead and we can’t keep it. Early in the year, the third period was our best, but not now.”

Montreal now finds themselves nine points out of a Wild Card spot. The other issue is that there’s five teams between them and that last playoff spot. That’s a lot of teams to leap over for a playoff spot.

So, where do they go from here? 

The Habs have four potential unrestricted free agents that they could move before the trade deadline. Dale Weise, Nate Thompson, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella could all fetch a mid-round draft pick. Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Danault, and Jeff Petry all have just one more year on their contracts. All four of those players will be unrestricted free agents in July of 2021.

Now, keeping Gallagher and Danault is a no-brainer. The Canadiens should work on re-signing those two players as soon this coming July. Tatar and Petry are different cases. Tatar is having a career year, as he’s up to 16 goals and 38 points in 45 games this season. He comes with a reasonable $4.8 million cap hit (Vegas is retaining some of his salary). Any team looking for a top-six winger could do worse than Tatar. He could also fetch a nice return for general manager Marc Bergevin.

As for Petry, he’s been an important piece of the defense over the last few years. While She Weber was sidelined with various injuries, it was Petry who picked up the slack. The 32-year-old has struggled over the last little while, but he’s a solid right-handed defender has a $5.5 million cap hit. Petry doesn’t have to be shipped out of town. The Habs have a lot of young defensemen coming through the pipeline and having Petry and Weber there to help those youngsters wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The other situation that needs addressing is Carey Price‘s contract. The veteran netminder hasn’t had much help in front of him this season, but he also hasn’t played at the same level we’re used to seeing him play at throughout his career. He has a 16-16-4 record with a 3.01 goals-against-average and a .901 save percentage this season.

Price also has six years remaining on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million and he also has a full no-movement clause throughout the life of the deal. He won’t be going anywhere unless he wants to move somewhere else.

But if he is willing to somewhere else, can the Habs find a taker that’s willing him to give them something decent in return for their franchise netminder? Do they even want to trade one of their more important leaders in the locker room? So there are a lot of questions surrounding Price. The Habs need to decide which direction they want to go in.

Will Bergevin be the one to pull the trigger on these moves? Will they move on from their long-time general manager after this season? There’s no doubt that the pressure is on. The worst thing that could’ve happened was the team exceeding expectations last year. This group wasn’t ready to take the next step this year and they might still be a few years away from being a serious contender. This is a crucial part of the “reset”. Whoever the GM is needs to make sure he keeps/trades the right veterans.

It should be an interesting few months in Montreal.

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.

NHL injury news: Good for Bruins, bad for Jack Hughes and others

Bruins injury news Krug Krejci McAvoy Hughes
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The 2020 Winter Classic began the next decade of NHL action, and that action included violence, a comeback, and Texas-sized fun. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 feels more like the first full round of hockey in this new decade, though, and it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of NHL injury news to consider, from returning Boston Bruins to less positive developments for the likes of Jack Hughes.

Let’s get to the tidbits like Brian Boucher seeking fried Snickers.

Plenty of good Bruins injury news updates

The Bruins hold a significant lead in the Atlantic Division, but can’t be happy about a 4-2-4 stretch, and their generally mediocre end to 2019.

That said, as much as the Bruins rolled with the punches over the last few seasons, you can only hold off injuries for so long. Boston buckled after a while, so the Bruins must be heartened to start 2020 a little bit healthier. It certainly looks that way right now.

The Bruins’ website shared plenty of promising updates:

Even if McAvoy can’t quite return, that’s quite the slew of returning players. Danton Heinen is also expected to be back in the mix after being a healthy scratch.

More bad breaks for Blue Jackets

The Bruins face the Blue Jackets on Thursday, and Columbus stands on the other end of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets keep finding ways to earn standings points, even as injuries pile up, and John Tortorella receives more fines.

The Blue Jackets placed intriguing young forward Alexandre Texier on IR on Thursday with a lumbar stress fracture. “Lumbar stress fracture” translates to a back/spine injury, so it’s no surprise that Texier is sidelined indefinitely.

Texier adds to an increasingly ridiculous Blue Jackets injury list that also includes:

Combine injuries with all of those free agent loses, and Columbus deserves credit for hanging in there. Sadly for Torts & Co., they face tough odds to actually persevere to the playoffs, though.

Setback for Jack

Jack Hughes looked like he was heating up with three points in his last four games, but now he’s hurt. The top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury, leaving him day-to-day.

Considering the sorry state of the New Jersey Devils, there’s no sense in risking Hughes’ long-term health by rushing him back. Honestly, Hughes might benefit from a break.

The Devils face the Islanders as part of NBCSN’s doubleheader on Thursday, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

[MORE: Devils – Islanders preview]

Assorted injury news

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.

Red-hot Bruins make Montreal more miserable

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If you were scripting the way things actually transpired between the Bruins and Canadiens on Sunday … well, you were probably rooting for Boston.

The Habs actually played quite well against a Bruins team that’s given just about everyone fits, an impressive feat considering the game was also in the not-so-friendly confines of Boston. A funky Joel Armia goal gave Montreal a 1-0 lead about two minutes into the game, and the Canadiens managed to hold that lead for a long time.

… And then, well, things went about the way you’d expect between a Bruins team that is now on a seven-game winning streak, whose 3-1 victory pushed the Canadiens’ collapse to eight consecutive losses.

It almost seemed cruel when David Pastrnak smashed a puck past Carey Price at the 6:16 mark of the third period, right down to Pastrnak’s celebration:

Oof. Everything about this is a big oof, unless you’re that cruel, hypothetical Bruins fan penning the script (the genre’s definitely horror).

David Backes and Jake DeBrusk helped Boston pour it on to win Sunday’s contest, giving the B’s three goals in less than eight minutes to swipe a possible Montreal confidence-booster away, not even handing the Canadiens a charity point.

[MORE: A look at Montreal’s struggles when the slump was at five games]

To reiterate: it’s not as if the Canadiens stunk up the joint. This wasn’t Claude Julien’s answer to Mike Babcock watching the Penguins throttle Toronto 6-1.

Really, then, it comes down to taste: what hurts more, the blowout loss or falling just that close against a mighty team?

The eight-game losing streak has to heat up Claude Julien’s seat, no doubt about it.

But the more probing, painful question is: should the changes reach higher than the bench, and go right up the chain of command, all the way to GM Marc Bergevin?

We’re watching as Carey Price crumbles, carrying an unsettling .897 save percentage into Sunday’s game, and being without a win since Nov. 15. While some Bergevin moves look better with time (the Max Domi deal is a winner, and combining P.K. Subban‘s $9M AAV with Price’s $10.5M cap hit would be scary right now), the overall plan still seems lacking. And let’s not kid ourselves: Bergevin’s had plenty of time to sort things out.

Again, at least on Sunday, it’s tough to knock Montreal’s effort. They remain a strong possession team under Julien, and they haven’t enjoyed the greatest puck luck.

Eventually, people start to lose patience that the bounces will start to go the right way. An eight-game losing streak tends to intensify such feelings, particularly when you’re watching your historical rivals stomping around at your expense.

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.

How will Canadiens get out of this funk?

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Things have been bad for the Montreal Canadiens lately.

How bad?

Well, they lost forwards Jonathan Drouin (expected to be out two months after wrist surgery) and Paul Byron (expected to miss a month after knee surgery). On top of that, they blew a 4-0 lead on home ice to the New York Rangers, who were playing their second game in two nights. And on top of all that, they got obliterated 8-1 at the Bell Center last night against their biggest rival, the Boston Bruins.

Add it all up, and the Habs have dropped five games in a row. Most of those losses have come against mediocre opponents like the Devils, Senators, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Yeah, that’s a problem.

Struggling in November isn’t uncommon for this group. After a strong start last season, the team fell apart in the second month of the season. But Shea Weber‘s return from injury in late November (he had missed the whole year up until that point) gave them the spark they needed to get back on track in December of 2018.

Now, where is the spark going to come from?

There’s some serious cause for concern here. First, the team’s penalty-kill and overall defensive structure is a mess, which is shocking considering their head coach, Claude Julien, has built an impressive resume based on his defensive mind. Goaltender Carey Price isn’t on top of his game right now, which is also a problem because he’s the only one capable of masking their defensive warts.

Many in Montreal heap too much blame on Price because it’s the easy thing to do, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been good enough during this five-game losing skid.

“Obviously, it’s not fun to be a part of it but life goes on,” Price said after the ugly loss to Boston on Tuesday night, per the Montreal Gazette. “There’s always a way to turn things around.  Every team goes through some tough scenarios in a season and we’re going through one now. We can’t dwell on it too long. I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t pout our way out of it. Tomorrow we go back to work and find a way out of it.

“The good part is that we have a lot of guys who have been though this. On both sides of the puck we have to be better. There’s never just one thing.”

Outside of everybody playing better, the Canadiens will probably need to look to their general manager for some help if they’re going to get this season turned around. That’s not to say that this slide will continue much longer, but it’s not just about this losing skid. This is a Habs team that was eliminated from playoff contention on the last weekend of the regular season in 2018-19. The expectations were for them to get back to the postseason this year. In order to make that goal a reality, they’re going to have to spend the $8 million in cap space they have left.

Yes, Marc Bergevin tried to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet over the summer, but it didn’t work. Now, he needs to find a trade partner to make sure his team gets back to playing meaningful hockey in April. Making a deal when your team is desperate is never a good idea, so Bergevin will have to get creative. The move doesn’t have to come today or even tomorrow, but it needs to happen soon.

In order for this team to become a slam dunk to make the playoffs, they need to add a legitimate scorer, a left-handed puck mover on defense and some size throughout the roster. Will they be able to get all that before the trade deadline? Unlikely. But Bergevin has to sacrifice some of the youth in the pipeline or some of the draft picks they’ve accumulated if the goal is to make the postseason this year.

Pulling off major trades are never easy, so he’s going to have to make tough decisions over the next little while. Whether or not he makes the right ones will have a direct impact on his team’s playoff chances.

The pressure is on.

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.