Three Keepers: One Net

The year: 2005. As a lockout cancelled the games of the 2004–05 NHL season, the draft order was determined by lottery on July 22, 2005. One by one, teams were eliminated and we were down to five teams still in the hunt to get the grand prize: the number one overall pick, franchise player Sidney Crosby. When NHL assistant-commissioner Bill Daly pulled out the next card, the disappointment of Habs’ fans could be felt around the world.

That year, Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey took the hockey world by surprise by picking, at number five overall, goaltender Carey Price. Many were hoping that they would pick Anze Kopitar and others wanted… Gilbert Brule. But why pick a goaltender at number five when you had, in your net, Jose Theodore, only a couple of years removed from a Hart Memorial and Vezina Trophy? The hockey world was baffled. Not so much today with perhaps the exception of Theodore himself, who seems to carry (no pun intended) a grudge against the organization to this day, but that’s a whole different story.

Jump ahead to today and with Price entering the second of an eight-year, $84 million contract, there seems to be a line-up of quality prospect goaltenders within the Canadiens’ organization trying to make a name for themselves in hope to, one day, take over from the winningest goaltender in the history of the NHL’s most successful franchise.

Log jam in Laval

With the Habs signing veteran backup Keith Kinkaid, the oldest prospect of this group, Charlie Lindgren, will have an uphill batter if he wishes to pierce the Canadiens’ opening day roster. While Kinkaid had a lackluster season with the NHL’s 28th overall New Jersey Devils last season with a 3.36 goals against average and a .891 saves percentage, the 30 year-old veteran is only a year removed from a couple of good seasons as a backup. It is highly unlikely to see the Canadiens go with three goaltenders at the NHL level, which means that Lindgren would have to clear waivers in order to report to the Laval Rockets in the AHL.

Charlie Lindgren’s days with the Habs are likely counted.

However, the Rockets already have two young, promising prospects in Michael McNiven and newly signed NCAA star Cayden Primeau. The problem? Players need to play in order to develop, and that applies to goaltenders as well. But there’s only one net on any given night. The AHL season consists of 76 games so sharing the duties with two prospects will result in each one starting about 38 games. Add one more goalie and you’re down to around 25 starts each, which is far from enough for any given prospect goaltender to properly develop.

We’re only in mid-August but the Canadiens’ rookie camp will be starting in a few weeks, followed by the team’s main training camp with the first pre-season game scheduled for September 16th against Kinkaid’s former team, the New Jersey Devils. A lot can happen until then and Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin isn’t afraid to go against tradition in making trades in the Fall, even major ones, as we saw a year ago when Max Pacioretty was sent packing to Vegas. Could Lindgren find a new team by training camp? It’s entirely possible. Would he clear waivers if sent down? At 25 years old and with the statistics that he has had, one would think that he would. But the net in Hamilton must belong to McNiven and Primeau. There’s simply no room for Lindgren who should be the odd-man out. Go Habs Go!

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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!