Erik Karlsson or Matt Duchene? It’s All Here.

Twitter is heating up… rumours are starting to fly… NHL Insiders are starting to get some material fed to them, which they pass on to fans… players and teams are jousting for position, looking for a Summer game plan. The NHL Draft will be held in Vancouver on Friday, June 21st and Saturday, June 22nd. The very next day, pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted) will be allowed to speak to teams other than the one they finished the season with, in order to gauge not only interest, but contract details to see if there is a fit or not. How exciting!

When you’re in a hot bed like Montreal or Toronto, this is enough to keep everyone in the sports media industry employed and when big names are being mentioned, it makes front page of local newspapers and occupy sports radio and TV shows for days. Remember the John Tavares watch last summer? Remember the Toronto sports TV stations going on, and on, and on about the possibility of him going to the Maple Leafs? Remember how they were all but laughing at the Montreal Canadiens because JT didn’t even want to give them a chance to talk to him? Well folks, the roles are reversed this year.

Two of the top pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs), defenseman Erik Karlsson and centre Matt Duchene, seem to have strong ties to the Canadiens and that, folks, has the City buzzing as the Stanley Cup finals between the rival Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues are battling it out for the Holy Grail, still two and a half weeks away from the June 23rd date.

Matt Duchene

It’s been well documented that one of Duchene’s favourite teams growing up was the Montreal Canadiens. While this doesn’t guarantee that a player, later in life, will want to play for them, it certainly doesn’t hurt as we witnessed a year ago with Tavares.

Sportsnet and CBC analyst and well respected NHL Insider Elliott Friedman had this to say on a recent 31 thoughts podcasts on pending UFAs:

Yes, Max Domi did well in his first year at centre. Some fans are concerned that moving him back to the wing risks bringing him back to his production in Arizona. It’s not the case. Both Max and his father Tie Domi have said numerous times that the younger Domi needs to play in a hockey market. He thrives under pressure. It’s not the fact that he was moved to centre that brought him success, it’s the breath of fresh air of playing in Montreal that did it. They believe that. I believe that.

Matt Duchene stating that he’s a huge Habs and Avs’ fan growing up

Adding a legitimate offensive centre like Duchene, a perennial 30 goals scorer, a guy whose faceoffs’ percentage has ranged anywhere between 52.18% to 62.57% in the last five years, and the potential of putting Domi to his left, would improve the Canadiens immensely.

Yes, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be good and he’ll continue to improve but we can’t make the same mistake the Edmonton Oilers have done with their young prospects by putting them in roles they’re not ready for. Playing on a 2A or 2B line (Phillip Danault centering the other) and sheltering him for a couple more seasons would be the sound decision.

Yes, Ryan Poehling had a great game in his NHL debuts last season. But until the World Junior tournament last year, the guy has never been seen as more than a future third line centre. He’s used to playing 30 games a year in the NCAA and will need some maturing. Not physically in his case, but hockey-wise.

Yes, Nick Suzuki had a great camp last year and he had a fantastic year in the OHL, particularly in the playoffs. He is the Canadiens’ only right-handed centre prospect, which is important. But both he and Poehling would greatly benefit from a year or two of maturing under Laval Rockets’ head coach Joel Bouchard. It’s the old adage: better to play big minutes with a key role in the AHL as a young player than fourth line minutes in the NHL. As good as they are, they are not (yet) in Kotkaniemi’s talent pool.

Duchene’s next contract

I’m not in the secrets of the gods here. I have however done some research and from it, I personally figure that Duchene, who earned $6 million per season, should see a substantial raise. I figure that anywhere between $8-9 million would be in the ballpark as this would put him in the category of the likes of Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Getzlaf, Blake Wheeler and yes… Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

If you combine with my Facebook page pool, the total is:
45.5% – Duchene
44.7% – Karlsson
9.8% – None of them
Combined total of 1,096 participants.

Erik Karlsson

According to the Ottawa Sun, citing a well-connected source, the two-times Norris Trophy winner hopes to receive competitive offers from two teams in particular — the Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. Why? Because his wife, Melinda, who was born and raised in Ottawa, is homesick and would very much like to live close to her family again. While Toronto and Buffalo are also relatively close to Canada’s capital, the source says that, as far as he knows, they’re not on the Karlsson’s list.

Many Habs’ fans are going completely crazy about this news. Some because they have yet to swallow the P.K. Subban trade, others because they remember the Karlsson of… three years ago! You know, the fast skating, point per game player who was a big contributor to getting the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals. Those people conveniently forgot the Karlsson two years ago who battled a serious ankle injury, and this past season’s Karlsson battling a sore groin which he just had surgery on.

The narrative that the addition of Karlsson will make the Canadiens Cup contenders is based on him getting back to his old form of three years ago. Further, did the San Jose Sharks, a much better team than Montreal, a team with Brent Burns on the blue line, win the Cup with Karlsson? Why would the addition of Karlsson make the Canadiens a Stanley Cup contender?

No matter where he signs, Karlsson should have 11-12 million reasons to smile.

I’m from the school of thoughts that a defenseman’s number one job is to defend. Points are an added bonus. For those who, like me, were fortunate enough to watch Bobby Orr play, he was an outstanding defender and tough as nail. The bonus is that he was an excellent skater who changed the game by supporting, even driving the offense. But he was a defender first. Karlsson? People look at the points and “forget” about the defense. Oh you want proof?

In 2016-2017, the Sens’ All-Star had, in my opinion, the best all-around season of his career. He managed 71 points in 77 games with a respectable +10 rating. In the playoffs that year, he added 18 points in 19 games with an outstanding +13. Even his 2015-2016 season when he had 82 points in 82 games wasn’t that great considering that he was -2 that year. Oh I know, plus-minus isn’t the end of it all but if you’re on the ice for more goals against than goals’ for, it’s never a good thing. It negates the points you put up.

His play drastically dropped in the past two years, mostly due to injuries affecting his speed, as pointed out above. In 124 regular season games, he managed 107 points (12 of them goals) and was… -19 overall. While some people are raving about his 16 points in 19 games in the playoffs this postseason, he was -3. His teammate Brent Burns had 16 points in 20 games and was +2. Remember folks… in order to help your team, you have to be on the ice for more goals for than goals against and that, even when putting up a lot of points as to win hockey games, you need to outscore your opponents!

Now that’s just hockey-wise folks. Think a bit further, as will Marc Bergevin. Subban makes $9 million a season. Drew Doughty in Los Angeles makes $11 million. Karlsson is on record saying that he won’t accept anything less than fair market value. Based on that, isn’t it fair to say that he will request between $11.5-12 million per season? Is the gamble of him returning to form worth taking that chance, with a bullet-proof No-Movement Clause protecting him against expansion draft or trades? As a fan with crystal balls, who cares, right? As hockey management, in the real world of the NHL with a salary cap, rest assured that it does matter a whole lot.

Karlsson’s next contract

Again, no scoop or particular science here folks, certainly not pretending to be “in the know” but simply looking at logic. Up until recently, Subban was the highest paid defenseman with a cap hit of $9 million. That was before the L.A. Kings signed Drew Doughty to a $11 million cap hit. Karlsson himself stating that he wants fair market value would bring him to, at the very least, in $11.5-12 million range. Now that’s a whole lot of money to tie into a player period, but especially one coming off not one, but two serious lower body injuries impeding his greatest strength: skating.

Conclusion

If I’m Marc Bergevin, I go hard at Duchene and I consider lowballing Karlsson. Preferably, there are a couple of good options for left-handed defensemen rumoured to be on the market: Nick Leddy and TJ Brodie (yes, Brodie is a LD even if he played RD due to the Flames’ overload of LD). Duchene up the middle, Domi moving to left wing, sacrifice one of Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron or Andrew Shaw to get one of Leddy or Brodie and you have a better team without jeopardizing the Canadiens’ entire future cap into a very questionable player in Karlsson. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Prospects Turning Pro

Byron Pulsifer, a great motivational speaker and seminar leader, once said: “What is past is past and it does not forebode well to relive past mistakes or transgressions. Move forward rather than being stuck in the past. No one can redo the past but everyone can create a better future.” Admittedly, I am a sucker for motivational quotes and positive vibes. What can I say? I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy. And this quote by Mr. Pulsifer is one that relates greatly to the current management of my very favourite professional organisation: the Montreal Canadiens.

This past summer, after a dreadful year that saw cornerstone Shea Weber playing only 26 games – one one leg – before missing the rest of the season, Marc Bergevin convinced Montreal Canadiens owner and President Geoff Molson that he had a plan: get younger, faster and change the attitude in the dressing room. Out went team captain Max Pacioretty and enigmatic Alex Galchenyuk, and in came Tomas Tatar and Max Domi. Looking at the season the Canadiens just finished, just missing the playoffs with a 96 points season, a 25 points improvement over the previous season, force is to admit that Bergevin was right and so was Molson for trusting his General Manager.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where this team can improve on, but looking at the 180° turnaround, the foundation is there. The young core of Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and the “mint duo” of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete, combined with young veterans like Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Tatar, there are some strong building blocks in place for some of the team’s young prospects on the verge of joining the team in the next few years. And we haven’t mentioned the top leaders on this team, led by captain Weber and supported by Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Paul Byron.

“Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.” ~ Peter F Drucke

After a couple of very strong drafts, Trevor Timmins has proven to be one of the NHL’s top draft specialists and the Habs are in an excellent position in the pipelines. As a matter of fact, the team likely has the best prospect pool they have had in decades, thanks to Bergevin and Timmins. As the NHL Playoffs continue, the Canadiens are looking at their prospect pool and they are in the process of evaluating which ones are about to turn pro, and how close they all are to making a push to make the big club starting next season. Ryan Poehling has decided to make a case for himself in his one and only professional game with a hat trick and a goal in the shootout to help the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the last game of the season. But there are others…

This being a downtime for the Canadiens, we have touched on the team needs as well as the class of 2019 pending free agents that might be of interest this upcoming summer. Now, let’s have a look at the prospects who are ready to make the jump to the professional level in North America, as well as those playing pro hockey in Europe.

“It will also help you realize that though you cannot change the past you can work on the future and make it the way you want it to be, so that the next time you look at your old pictures you will be even more proud of what you see.” ~ Raymona Brown

PRO NORTH AMERICA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Jake Evans22C/RWAHL0.67
Michael McCarron24C/RWAHL0.66
Daniel Audette22CAHL0.55
Lukas Vejdemo23C/WAHL0.44

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Noah Juulsen22DAHL/NHLInjured
Gustav Olofsson24DAHLInjured
Cale Fleury20DAHL0.38
Brett Lernout23DAHL0.12

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Charlie Lindgren25GAHL2.94.884
Michael McNiven21GAHL2.52.902

CHL/NCAA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Nick Suzuki19COHL1.59
Joël Teasdale20LWQMJHL1.21
Allan McShane19COHL1.11
Cole Fonstad18C/LWWHL1.09
Ryan Poehling20CNCAA0.86
Samuel Houde19CQMJHL0.67
Cam Hillis18COHL0.67

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Josh Brook19DWHL1.27
Scott Walford20DWHL0.76
Jarret Tyszka20DWHL0.73

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Cayden Primeau19GNCAA2.09.933

PRO EUROPE

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Joni Ikonen20CLiiga0.77
Jesse Ylönen19RWLiiga0.51
Jacob Olofsson19CSHL0.26
Alexander Romanov19DKHL0.09

You have quite the variety in there, some players being closer to the NHL than others, but most are thought to have a bright future in the NHL. Some will be pushing for a spot starting next season, others will take 3, 4, 5 years before they’re ready to be key contributors. Others might not ever pan out. That’s life and it’s the reality of the draft, when trying to not only evaluate the talent of a 17-18 year old, but to determine when he will hit his plateau and stop improving. It’s not a pure science, that’s for sure.

The obvious names that come to mind are Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook, both of whom made a very strong impression at last year’s training camp, being the last ones cut. They both had an amazing season in the OHL and WHL respectively and as Marc Bergevin always told young players: “Force my hand to make room for you and I will do it.” He has kept his word with Gallagher, Mete and Kotkaniemi, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t do it again this year if any prospect shows that he can contribute immediately.

I don’t know about you folks, but I haven’t been this excited about the Canadiens’ prospect pool as a whole for decades. There are no guarantee that today’s prospects will develop as predicted and have an impact at the NHL level. But look at when Bergevin took over in 2012. The top prospects were Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Danny Kristo, Sebastian Collberg, Brendan Gallagher, Morgan Ellis, Dalton Thrower, Michael Bournival, Steve Quailer, Patrick Holland, Tim Bozon, Darren Dietz, Daniel Pribyl and Joonas Nattinen. It’s quite the turnaround isn’t it? The future is bright Habs’ fans! Go Habs Go!