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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs capital, the source says that, as far as he knows, they‚Äôre not on the Karlsson‚Äôs 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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Top Cheese: June 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the NHL Draft is fast approaching and the Canadiens are set to make a splash, whether it be by trade or by drafting up to 5 times in the first two rounds. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Rumours, rumours and more rumours and that, both from our traditional nameless rumouroids and by more reputable hockey insiders. What will John Tavares do? If not Tavares, who will play at the centre position next season? Will Shea Weber finally have a defense partner worthy of logging quality minutes on his side? Will the Habs start the season with the same captain? So many questions, all of which should be answered within the next few weeks. Exciting times to say the least.

But before we get too deep into the Canadiens’ situation, the shameful presence of an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup finals is now over and Alexander Ovechkin‘s liver is taking a major league beating as he and his Washington Capitals have ended the 2017-2018 season on a high, taking away the Cup from Gary Bettman. Whoo-hoo! Who cares?… aside from a few who still hold a grudge against Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin that is.

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Yes, some attention-seeking media personalities and constantly disgruntled ‘fans’ have ensured to point out to whoever would listen to their cries, that former Habs Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have raised the Cup and were key contributors in the finals. One can see the point in regretting losing Eller, due to the fact that the Canadiens are looking for centres but Smith-Pelly? Really folks? The guy who was released by the New Jersey Devils not all that long ago? The guy who, while in Montreal, enjoyed the nightlife a little too much, along with a few young quality players? The guy who managed eight points in 24 games in the playoffs and 16 points all year in the regular season? If you genuinely think that this guy is missed in Montreal, give your head a shake.

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And onto the beloved Canadiens… Unless you live under a rock, you have certainly heard or read Montreal reporter Mathias Brunet speculate on his beliefs that perhaps the Habs should go after Milan Lucic. For the record, Lucic managed 10 goals with the offensively gifted Edmonton Oilers last year. Further, he carries a contract on which he is still owed five more years with a cap hit of $6 million… and some people in Montreal complain about Andrew Shaw?

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Milan Lucic

Even if the Oilers sweetened the pot by adding value to the trade and/or taking back a ‘bad contract’, what good would Lucic, who can’t keep up with today’s fast paced NHL, bring to the team? The Habs need centres, not left wingers. I don’t have a problem with overpaying for a player but if you overpay, at least do it to fill a team’s need!¬†In other words, I can see overpaying for a Ryan O’Reilly or a Oscar Klefbom, but not for Lucic. It makes absolutely zero sens.

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But wait… what if Bergevin managed to talk Peter Chiarelli to, in addition to Lucic, include the 10th overall pick at this year’s Draft? If you keep Lucic, it doesn’t change that his contract is an albatros and should not be touched. The only way it might make sense is if the Canadiens managed to use that 10th overall or their own 3rd overall to get a quality centre. For example, if the Oilers’ 10th overall pick was included in a package to land O’Reilly? After that, be creative and find a way to trade Lucic for a bag of puck. See NOW you’re addressing a need and now it’s starting to make some sense. But folks, don’t read it as a rumour because as of now, it’s only an idea thrown out there by Mr. Brunet.

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There are a few NHL insiders worth listening to and Bob McKenzie comes at the top of the crop. So when he came out to say that the Canadiens had some sort of interest in pending UFA Jack Johnson, one should listen… although how often does information leaks from Bergevin and his crew? It makes me wonder where that came from. But seriously, is Johnson really the solution for the Habs?¬†¬†Wouldn’t it be preferable to find a mobile defenseman instead? I’m hoping that Johnson is not Bergevin’s target. As mentioned in a couple of previous articles, there are plenty of choices out there either via free agency or even by trade. But for for me, Johnson is not one of them.

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For some odd reason, it’s all over Twitter: Habs’ fans wishing for the team to draft left-winger Brady Tkachuk, in hope to turn him into a centre. Yes, you’ve heard it right folks. In all due respect, Those people must have a very short memory. The team still has a player that they drafted in hope that he would become a top-notch centre and they had to scrap the experiment. Yes, we’re talking about Alex Galchenyuk. But then again, there is another one, Mike McCarron, who is trying to turn into an NHL player, let alone a top-end centerman. Last but not least, people were all over Bergevin for trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, only to ask him to learn to play centre. When do we stop with the experiments and pick players who are used to their position? Lets hope that the organization has learned.

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Tomas Plekanec

There is no denying that Tomas Plekanec would like to return to the Canadiens. He loved his time in Montreal and would like to finish his career in his notorious number 14. Plekanec is 35 and will be turning 36 by October so his next contract will count against the cap no matter what happens. The Czech only managed six goals and 24 points in 60 games with the Habs and the Leafs last season, but he was one of the few players on his team to have some pretty good playoffs.

Beyond the points, Plekanec is only two games away from reaching the prestigious plateau of 1,000 NHL games and what better story than to see him do it with the Canadiens? While he has lost his offense, he knows Claude Julien‘s system to a tee and he is still very reliable defensively and on the penalty kill. Many fans would like to see him back for one last season if he is willing to take a substantial pay cut from the $6 million he was making.

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Something else made the news recently: the infamous ‘concussion protocol’ and the Canadiens were named as one of the teams fined for not respecting the NHL’s protocol in that regard. Of course, those who have an agenda against the current organisation took full advantage of the situation to run with it, conveniently forgetting that George Gillett was the owner and Bob Gainey the GM back then.

That aside, anyone who has had concussions and/or have coached or played a competitive sports will tell you that it’s very easy for players to fool the coaches, even the medical staff. More often than not, a concussion is not easy to diagnose, particularly in pro sports when players are so competitive that they will go to great extends to get back on the ice, on the field, on the track, on the bull… and that, even with the baseline tests. You need an MRI to determine the gravity of the brain injury and teams don’t have one readily available. So let’s take a deep breath before accusing anyone. More often than not, players are driving the bus here.

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Last week, I created a poll on both this website and on a pin on my Twitter account. The question was simple: I was asking the fans what they thought the future of Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty was, in their opinion. Here’s what you guys think:

I guess we will see…

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Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman

We like to complain about the Habs but come to think of it, this organisation is in great shape… particularly if you compare it with what’s going on down the road in Ottawa! The team’s downward spiral after a great playoffs run is worse than what the Canadiens have done… There have been rumours up to the trade deadline surrounding team captain Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team. Then former captain Daniel Alfredsson comes out and publicly states that the Sens need a new owner, a direct shot at Eugene Melnyk. Not judging if he’s right or wrong, but coming from Alfredsson, that’s a statement that stirred the pot for sure. As if it wasn’t enough, assistant-GM Randy Lee was arrested in Buffalo and charged with second-degree harassment after allegedly¬†inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel employee. To top it all up, there’s the story of Karlsson’s wife, who filed a protection order against her husband’s teammate Mike Hoffman‘s girlfriend. I will spare you the details but that one is very nasty. So before you complain about your favourite team, Habs’ fans, look around you a little bit.

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The Canadiens and their fans are all-in, perhaps more than they were over the Stanley Cup finals, as the future of the team – and perhaps GM Bergevin – will be played in the next few days, or weeks. Here are some of the key dates coming up:

  • June 15-30 – Last chance for NHL teams to buyout their bad contracts
  • June 22 – The NHL Draft. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy the excitement!
  • June 24¬†– NHL players scheduled to become UFA’s can talk to other teams
  • July 1st – The UFA market officially opens, and players with one year remaining to their existing contracts can sign an extension (Pacioretty, OEL, Karlsson…)

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, take your seat, buckle your seatbelt and hang on to your hat and your popcorn as the next few weeks promise to be filled with excitement… something that has been lacking all season long with the Canadiens, let’s admit it. Enjoy the ride!¬†Go Habs Go!!!