A Goaltending Controversy Already For The Canadiens?
Recaps of Saturday’s games, more changes to the schedule, the Stars scratch Anton Khudobin scratched for disciplinary reasons, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Montreal Canadiens held on to edge the Ottawa Senators 2-1 as Josh Anderson snapped a 1-1 tie early in the third period. Canadiens goalie Jake Allen made 34 saves for the win.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Allen’s been sharp for the Habs, winning four of his five starts with a 1.81 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. That’s caused some pundits to suggest a “goalie controversy” as Allen has better stats than starter Carey Price. We shouldn’t read too much into that unless Allen receives more starts than Price in the coming weeks.
The Arizona Coyotes picked up their first series sweep of the season by downing the St. Louis Blues 3-1. Jakob Chychrun scored twice while Clayton Keller added a goal and an assist. The Blues also lost forward Robert Thomas after he exited the game with what appeared to be an injured left wrist. Defenseman Marco Scandella also missed the game with an upper-body injury. Earlier in the day, the Blues revealed center Tyler Bozak was placed on injured reserve.
New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves in his 500th career NHL game as his club nipped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3. Jordan Eberle had two goals and Anders Lee snapped a 3-3 tie in the third. Penguins rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph tallied his first career NHL goal. Teammate Jared McCann left the game in the second period with an undisclosed injury.
Auston Matthews scored twice to extend his goals streak to seven games as the Toronto Maple Leafs extended their points streak to seven games by thumping the Vancouver Canucks 5-1. Wayne Simmonds also scored twice but left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A well-deserved win by the Leafs over a floundering Canucks team who’ve suffered four straight lopsided defeats. Something’s got to give for the Canucks if they don’t soon snap out of this tailspin.
Shootout goals by Troy Terry and Max Comtois lifted the Anaheim Ducks over the San Jose Sharks 2-1. Ryan Miller made 28 saves for the win while Ducks center Isac Lundestrom netted his first career NHL goal. Logan Couture tallied for the Sharks.
The Calgary Flames drew first blood against the Edmonton Oilers with a 6-4 victory in the opening game of this season’s version of The Battle of Alberta. Mikael Backlund had a goal and two assists while Sam Bennett tallied his first goal of the season. Oilers captain Connor McDavid extended his multiple-point game streak to seven with a goal and an assist. Earlier in the day, the Los Angeles Kings reclaimed Oilers goalie Troy Grosenick off waivers.
NHL.COM: The league announced 27 games have been rescheduled.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Most involve the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. Both clubs recently had games postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin has been scratched from today’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks over what head coach Rick Bowness called “an internal issue that we’ll deal with internally.” Asked if this would extend beyond today’s game, Bowness said they’ll address it “one day at a time.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bowness shed little light on the issue other than to suggest Khudobin may have broken one of the coach’s rules. “I have very few rules, but you damn well better follow them,” he said.
It must be a serious transgression for Bowness to scratch Khudobin, who backstopped the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final last year. He’s taken over the starter’s job while Ben Bishop continues his recovery from offseason knee surgery.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski was placed on injured reserve for one-to-two weeks with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Werenski and defense partner Seth Jones are off to slow starts this season. He suffered this injury during Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Stars.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: The Bruins expect to have sidelined defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and winger Jake DeBrusk back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas is sidelined with an upper-body injury suffered during Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour expects he’ll return to the lineup soon.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The Capitals added forward Jakub Vrana to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.
The Canadiens sign Brendan Gallagher and Jake Allen to contract extensions, Golden Knights owner believes 2020-21 season will begin on Feb. 1, an update on Joe Thornton and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Canadiens signed winger Brendan Gallagher and goaltender Jake Allen to contract extensions. Gallagher inked a six-year, $39-million deal while Allen’s is two years with an annual average value of $2.875 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallagher’s new contract came a day following a report claiming contract talks had broken down. The two sides wasted little time circling back and working things out. Cap Friendly indicates it’s an annual cap hit of $6.5 million, making the 28-year-old winger the Canadiens’ highest-paid forward. It also comes with a modified no-trade clause and a no-movement clause, ensuring he won’t be exposed to next year’s expansion draft.
It’s not surprising the Canadiens locked up Gallagher given his offensive consistency and his status as their heart-and-soul player. It should prove worthwhile through the first half of the deal but could become a salary-cap headache in the latter half as his performance declines.
The Allen deal was a bit of a surprise as it was expected he would only be with the Habs for a year and depart next year via free agency. His new contract is affordable but lacks no-movement protection, meaning he’ll be available in next year’s NHL expansion draft. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin could attempt to cut a deal with Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis to ensure Allen remains a Hab.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski reports Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley told a Las Vegas radio station he sees the 2020-21 NHL season beginning on Feb. 1, a full month after the league’s official target date of Jan. 1. He also believes the schedule could be between 48 to 56 games. Foley feels the fate of next season relies on fans returning to the arenas, citing the NHL’s status as a gate-driven league.
Foley dismissed the possibility of the teams playing in quarantine cities as they did during the 2020 playoffs, calling it unfeasible over the course of a season. He instead mentioned the possibility of some sort of short-term divisional realignment, hinting at an all-Canadian division if the Canada-USA border remains closed by COVID-19.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Foley isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been speculated by fans and pundits. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could frown on Foley’s remarks. He usually doesn’t stand for owners talking that freely about the league’s plans. Officially, the NHL and NHL Players Association are aiming for a full 82-game regular-season beginning Jan. 1.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he’s been in frequent contact with Joe Thornton but declined to say if the long-time Sharks center would return with the club next season. Wilson’s comments, however, make it sound as though he’d welcome Thornton’s return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Recent rumors have tied Thornton with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s an ongoing belief he could return for another season with the Sharks.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins team president Cam Neely denied the club has imposed an internal salary cap lower than the league’s $81.5 million cap. Recent conjecture suggested financial losses suffered by team owner Jeremy Jacobs’ hospitality empire during the pandemic was behind the club’s limited activity in the free-agent and trade markets.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators avoided arbitration with forward Nick Paul by signing him to a two-year, one-way contract worth an annual average value of $1.35 million.
CALGARY SUN: The Flames recently signed free-agent goaltender Louis Domingue to a one-year, $700K contract.
We’ve been dealing with a publishing problem since September 2. We’re working on the issue and hope to have it resolved soon. Here’s a brief look at the latest notable NHL trade rumors.
MURRAY AND ANDERSEN: TSN’s Darren Dreger believes Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has had a lingering interest in Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray going back to their days with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. Dreger believes Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has an offer on the table that he would consider for Murray, but he doesn’t believe it’s from the Leafs. They would have to find a landing spot for current starter Frederik Andersen.
The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun cited sources saying the Leafs have had some inquiries about Andersen, who has a 10-team no-trade list. However, he thinks some teams could consider the free-agent market before going the trade route.
TAYLOR HALL: Dreger reports the Arizona Coyotes are expected to make another offer to pending UFA winger Taylor Hall. It sounds like there was good discussion between Coyotes brass and Hall’s agent but the lure of free agency is tempting. The Coyotes search for a new GM could complicate things.
PATRIK LAINE: The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports the Winnipeg Jets aren’t shopping Patrik Laine and he doesn’t think there’s a strong possibility the winger will be traded. Nevertheless, LeBrun suggested the Carolina Hurricanes as a possible trade partner because of their blueline depth. Just for fun, he proposed a package of Brett Pesce and Vincent Trocheck for Laine.
The Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck is the latest Winnipeg pundit against the idea of the Jets trading Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers to address their blueline and second-line center needs.
ALEX PIETRANGELO: The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reports the St. Louis Blues trading Jake Allen to Montreal yesterday could foreshadow the club’s effort to re-sign pending UFA Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues need to shed cap space to make it happen, but Rutherford cites league sources saying the two sides aren’t close to an extension and nothing is imminent.
BRUINS: ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski believes the Boston Bruins must decide if they’ll re-sign pending UFA defenseman Torey Krug. Both sides have said they’d like to work out an extension. Several of the Bruins’ stars are on cap-friendly deals, but Krug could get some big offers on the open market. He also feels the Bruins should take one last run at the Cup with their current core, but advocates more roster tinkering. They should also determine if goalie Tuukka Rask still intends to return for the final year of his contract.
NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty believes the Bruins could have a different look next season. He feels they must begin transitioning from their aging core toward a young one build around David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, and they must get bigger up front.
HENRIK LUNDQVIST: New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has returned with his family to start the school year in New York. He has a year left on his contract. However, he faces an uncertain future with the Blueshirts as the club transitions toward young goalies Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. It’s unknown if he might retire or seek to continue his career with another NHL team.
MAX DOMI: The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin suggested the Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks as possible destinations for Max Domi if the Montreal Canadiens decide to trade him. Those clubs all need depth at center.
BLUES TRADE ALLEN TO MONTREAL: The St. Louis Blues traded goaltender Jake Allen and a seventh-round pick in 2022 to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for two picks in the 2020 NHL Draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The picks are the Washington Capitals third-rounder and the Chicago Blackhawks seventh-rounder.
Moving Allen wasn’t a surprise. The Blues must free up salary-cap space if they hope to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo and fellow defenseman Vince Dunn.
This deal sheds Allen’s $4.35-million cap hit for next season, giving the Blues $75.1 million invested in 20 players for 2020-21. That won’t be enough to re-sign both blueliners, assuming that’s the intent of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. More moves could be coming.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, land a reliable backup for starter Carey Price. Allen, 30, had his struggles as a full-time starter in St. Louis but put up solid numbers backing up Jordan Binnington this season.
Allen is an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2020-21, so it’ll be interesting to see how well he fits in with Price. In the meantime, his presence should buy promising Cayden Primeau some time to develop his game with their AHL affiliate in Laval.
Acquiring Allen leaves the Canadiens with $67.4 million invested in 17 players. Depending on how things shake out with restricted free agent Max DomI, there’s enough room to make another significant addition or two.
What next for the Canadiens and Blues now that their seasons are over? Is Jesse Puljujarvi close to re-signing with the Oilers? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Julian McKenzie believes the Montreal Canadiens have good reason to be optimistic over their future following their surprising performance in the 2020 postseason. Nevertheless, they have some issues to address. They must land a proven scoring forward and a reliable backup goaltender for Carey Price.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski believes the Canadiens must reevaluate core forwards Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, and Phillip Danault. He wonders if they’ll move any of them to make room for promising youngsters like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He feels they need more size on the wing and must sort out the left side of their blueline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: All those forwards Wyshynski mentioned lack no-trade protection. I don’t see the Canadiens moving away from Drouin after he developed some chemistry with Suzuki during the postseason. Gallagher is a heart-and-soul guy so he’s not going anywhere. Neither is Danault, who could move down into a third-line center role with Suzuki and Kotkaniemi on the rise. Tatar is an unrestricted free agent next summer and I expect the Habs will keep him for next season and see what unfolds.
That leaves Domi, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who was a fixture in the Montreal trade rumor mill throughout this season. That speculation grew louder given his lackluster playoff performance. Granted, he was a late arrival to training camp over COVID-19 concerns given his health conditions. He may have been nursing an injury. Nevertheless, he could become the odd man out.
TVA Sports recently cited The Athletic’s Michael Russo including Domi on his list of possible trade targets for the Minnesota Wild. There’s also some chatter linking Domi to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It remains to be seen if those clubs have any interest in him or if Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin intends to shop him. Still, I expect this isn’t the last time Domi’s name surfaces in the rumor mill.
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan wonders what the future holds for Alex Pietrangelo now that the St. Louis Blues are out of the playoffs. The Blues captain becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He wants to stay in St. Louis and the Blues want to keep him, but he’s in line for a lucrative new contract. Because of the flat salary cap, Kaplan expects a compromise could be worked out between the two sides.
The cap-strapped Blues will have to move out some contracts to make it work. Kaplan suggested goaltender Jake Allen’s trade value has never been higher. Other veterans could be on the move, such as Tyler Bozak, Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, or Carl Gunnarsson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Blues have over $79.4 million invested in 21 players, with Pietrangelo and restricted free agent Vince Dunn to re-sign. Keeping both means shedding some salary even if they’re willing to accept hometown discounts.
Steen has a full no-trade until next February and there probably wouldn’t be much interest in a 36-year-old forward with a $5.75-million cap hit. Schwartz has a modified no-trade but he’s also a valuable part of their core forwards. Bozak is 34 and carries a $5-million cap hit through next season with a 10-team no-trade clause.
Allen’s solid performance this season, his cost-effective $4.35-million cap hit for next season and lack of no-trade protection makes him the most likely trade option. Gunnarsson has a five-team no-trade but the 33-year-old carries an affordable $1.75 million cap hit through next season. Moving those two, however, won’t free up enough room for Pietrangelo and Dunn. GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Bruce McCurdy cites Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reporting there have been quiet discussions between Oilers GM Ken Holland and the agent for unsigned winger Jesse Puljujarvi. After contacting both sides, Spector expects Puljujarvi will sign a new contract with the Oilers and join them in training camp in the fall.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: A restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract, Puljujarvi spent last season in Finland awaiting what he hoped would be a trade from the Oilers. Holland, however, reportedly didn’t find any offers to his liking. Looks like Puljujarvi realizes if he wants to continue his NHL career, it’ll have to be with the Oilers.
SPORTSNET: Spector also recently reported Holland isn’t sure yet whether he’ll re-sign Mike Smith for another season or find another goaltender to share the crease with Mikko Koskinen. The Oilers GM has only so many assets and cap space to improve his roster for next season.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry could be available in the trade market. The Blues could look at moving one of their goaltenders to free up the cap room for Alex Pietrangelo.
Spector doesn’t see Holland pursuing Washington’s Braden Holtby via free agency and doesn’t expect the Vancouver Canucks will part ways with Jacob Markstrom. That leaves Vegas’ Robin Lehner as the best under-30 UFA option.
(AGAIN, NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Oilers should prioritize improving their goaltending depth. Landing Lehner seems unlikely as he’ll want a big raise on a long-term contract. Trading for Allen is one possibility, though his inconsistency throughout his career is a concern. Murray could be peddled by the Penguins but his injury history and consistency issues are red flags. Holtby is far too expensive and Markstrom’s probably not going anywhere.