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5 Big Market Teams Will Be Aggressive

Reset, retool, rebuild, reload… all terms used by NHL General Managers to qualify the state of the franchise that they manage when their team is going through some fairly major changes with their on-ice product. Each one has a slightly different connotation but in all cases, you’re looking at some sort of revamp, whether it is to trade a few veterans for quality youth, completely gut the team and start over or something in between. All of those options come with some growing pains, some dry bread seasons before, hopefully, return to being a Stanley Cup contender.

This upcoming off-season is not going to be any different from any other one but there are five teams in particular that fans and media members should keep a close eye on. Five teams that can afford to spend to the Salary Cap ceiling and usually do so, but they are nowhere close as they are going through some sort of metamorphose. Those teams promise to be big players, throwing big dollars at the top pending UFAs… or even some RFAs.

5- MONTREAL CANADIENS

Projected Cap Hit$63,380,476
Projected Cap Space$16,119,524

This is the second consecutive year that the Canadiens will be trying to make a splash on July 1st. This past summer, they were planning on offering big dollars to John Tavares until he decided that he wasn’t even going to listen to what they had to say. This summer, the number of quality UFAs is much greater and Marc Bergevin is planning on being heard from by the likes of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, amongst others.

4- NEW YORK RANGERS

Projected Cap Hit$61,963,609
Projected Cap Space$17,536,391

Like that’s any news, right? The New York Rangers are always a force to recon with on the UFA market as more players want to play in New York than anywhere else in the league… or so it seems. This time however, they have the cap space and just like Montreal, the Rangers are ready to throw fist-full of money to some of the key pending UFAs. Don’t count out the possibility of Jeff Gorton signing a quality RFA to an offer sheet either and something tells me that the Toronto Maple Leafs better look over their shoulder for Mitch Marner

3- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Projected Cap Hit$59,830,128
Projected Cap Space$19,669,872

It seems like not so long ago, the Blackhawks were strapped against the cap but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Still, their core of players making most of the money is aging and their production, particularly on defense, is starting to diminish. Whether they decide to trade some of them away or not, the Hawks have plenty of cap space to add to an already pretty potent lineup and if I’m Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers or Jake Gardiner, I’m expecting a phone call from Stan Bowman.

2- VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Projected Cap Hit$51,439,165
Projected Cap Space$28,060,835

The Canucks have been hard to read for a few years now. They’re not going through a complete rebuild, but they’re going younger while adding puzzling veteran elements, sometimes overpaying based on the market. The likes of Loui Eriksson ($6M), Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle ($3M each) are examples of that but even then, the Canucks have tons of cap space. There seemed to be a disconnect when team owner Francesco Aquilini fired President and long term Canucks Trevor Linden citing a philosophical difference. Linden wanted to continue building through the draft while Aquilini wants to put bums in the seats by being competitive. Expect GM Jim Benning to receive clear orders to get at least one prominent player through free agency this summer.

1- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Projected Cap Hit$46,842,499
Projected Cap Space$32,657,501

Last but not least, keep a very close eye on the Flyers. They have shown in the past that they’re not afraid to throw offers to RFAs (Ryan Kesler and Shea Weber are two) and they will be aggressive on the free agents’ market. It’s not the willingness of spending money that’s lacking and team President Paul Holmgren will receive free reign to spend from majority owner Ed Snider who, like Aquilini in Vancouver, can’t stand the long rebuild through the draft, prompting the dismissal of Ron Hextall. Chuck Fletcher is an experienced GM with pocket loads of money and there is no doubt that they will be one of the most aggressive teams on the market this summer.

KEY PENDING UFAs

Here is a list of the pending Unrestricted Free Agents for the summer of 2019. Some will re-sign with their respective teams but the number of quality UFAs is high this year in comparison to the last couple of summers. I have separated them in groups, forwards (by points), defensemen (by ice time) and goaltenders (by wins).

Which ones would you like to see with the Canadiens, or who do you believe would accept to play under the scrutiny of the Montreal market? From looking at these lists, I personally think that there are a few forwards that could help while the elusive Top-4 defenseman might have to be acquired through trade. Go Habs Go!

Data from CapFriendly.com. * Jimmy Howard signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings today

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Questionable Decisions Costing the Habs Playoffs’ Hopes

Management can put the team together, coaches can set systems and game plans but ultimately, the players are the ones who have to put it all together on the ice. They’re the ones scoring goals, defend, stop pucks. They’re the ones deciding if they’re going to put the necessary effort to make things happen or not. And when players put it all on the line for 55 games, exceeding expectations according to most “experts”, you have a team like the Montreal Canadiens battling for a playoffs’ spot at trade deadline.

This group took it upon themselves, coaches included, to go against everyone’s predictions and played an uptempo, fast game that gave opponents nightmares night in, night out. Several players had career years and the team remained relatively healthy. When, by the time team captain and undisputed leader Shea Weber came back from a year’s absence, the Canadiens were in a good position to keep battling for a playoffs’ spot and they did just that… until recently.

What happened?

The team’s anemic powerplay certainly hasn’t helped. It was actually a huge factor. Having said that, it’s been like that all year, even when the team was winning. That alone isn’t enough to explain the drop in team success. Pointing fingers to the coaching staff for the man advantage is, in my opinion, not right. That one is on the players. It’s not a strategy problem, but rather an execution issue here. Coaches aren’t the ones telling players to make high-risk passes getting intercepted. They’re not the ones saying “give it to Shea” all the time. They are certainly not the ones making the wrong decisions at the wrong time resulting in turnovers in the offensive zone and ultimately, the Canadiens’ players chasing the puck behind their own net.

As of trade deadline day of February 25th, the Canadiens were sixth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-23-7, comfortably in a playoffs’ position and closing in on the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.

In the days leading to the trade deadline, every General Manager of teams battling with the Canadiens made trades to improve their team substantially. Instead of addressing needs at positions where the Canadiens needed help most, like improvement on left defense and secondary scoring, Marc Bergevin decided to add depth to his fourth line and added an outcast defenseman from the Philadelphia Flyers. By “playing it safe”, Bergevin dropped the ball and failed to reward his players for their great work.

Coaching decisions

Aside from the powerplay, Claude Julien and his assistants have done an outstanding job this season… at least until shortly after trade deadline. The first very questionable decision taken by Julien was on March 2nd against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The night before, the Canadiens had defeated the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden by the score of 4-2. Shea Weber had a reasonable 23:40 of ice time. The Penguins had also played the night before, dropping a 4-3 contest in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres.

Yet against the Pens, seeing that Mike Sullivan was sending Sidney Crosby‘s line to start the game, Julien – who had the last change being at home – decided to respond by sending the pairing of Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn. A mere 21 seconds after the initial puck drop, Benn turned the puck over at his own blue line and Crosby made him pay to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.

Claude Julien

As if this wasn’t enough for Julien to realise that for one, the Petry-Benn pairing didn’t work well last year or this year for that matter, and two, they were outmatched by Sid the Kid, he insisted in keeping them against the player voted in a recent NHL players’ survey as the best player in the league. Results? Habs lost that key game 5-1 and Crosby left Montreal after a four-points night. Never has Julien adjusted in that game and put his best shutdown defenseman against the Pens’ top line. Mind boggling decision to say the least.

The following week, the Canadiens were on their annual road trip to California facing two bottom dwellers in the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, facing the powerhouse San Jose Sharks in between. Julien, claiming seeing fatigue from his young player, decided not to dress Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Further, he chose to start Antti Niemi against the Sharks instead of against the Kings, a decision that left many perplexed. The Canadiens ended up losing two out of three games on that road trip.

After a lackluster effort against the New York Islanders, forward Andrew Shaw, who was one of a few Canadiens who showed up from start to finish in that game, did not mince his words when asked about the difference in the game.

“They came out to win the game from the start. They wanted to win more than we did. We need to be a team playing hard. Everyone. All lines, all D, goalie; everyone has to be playing their best every night. Lines are taking nights off, players are taking nights off. They don’t have that fight.”

You see, Bergevin went and got Shaw for his leadership, big game ability and because he knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Last night, Shaw continued his inspired play.


Julien continued with his questionable decisions. In a game when the Canadiens were looking for solutions on offense, his second most utilised forward was… Jordan Weal. Kotkaniemi finished the night with 7:56 of ice time, the least utilised player on both teams. Asked after the game why the rookie only played 44 seconds in the third period, Julien explained that the young centre missed a couple of defensive assignments. Geez Claude, if you’re going to sit everyone who misses defensive assignments, I hate to tell you this but you won’t be able to field a team!

As a result, the Canadiens now find themselves three points out of the last Wild Card spot held by the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, and four points back of Carolina who also have a game in hand on both the Habs and Jackets. To make matters worse, the Canadiens can’t “tie” those two teams in points as both have more regulation and overtime wins, which means that Montreal has to finish at least one point ahead.

As much as it pains me to say this folks, forget the playoffs this year and that’s very unfortunate. It could have been prevented. The players brought the team close, management and coaching have let them down. It will be an interesting end of the season as there should be a lot of frustration showing from everyone, from players to media members, and of course fans. Particularly those who were waiting in the weeds all season to pounce on Bergevin.