Talking About The New York Islanders With Andy Graziano Of WFAN

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with Andy Graziano (@AndyGraz_WFAN) of WFAN about the New York Islanders.

Graziano is a columnist for WFAN660 in New York City. He specifically covers the New York Islanders and recently he’s written quite a few posts on the team’s farm system and their off-season plans

In my interview with Graziano, we talked about both (the farm system and the off-season). He talked about Jordan Eberle’s new contract, who will general manager Lou Lamoriello look to re-sign, who will the Islanders target in free agency and how their farm system is doing.

The Interview

Josh: Earlier today, Jordan Eberle signed an extension with the Islanders. Are you surprised that Eberle didn’t try to test the market? In addition, what are your general thoughts on the deal?

Andy: I am surprised, yes. I felt that of all the Islanders free agents, Eberle would be the one to go. But Lou Lamoriello had other ideas and meant what he said when he commented at the end of the season, ‘We would like to bring all our free agents back’. Eberle represents a winger who would have been in high demand had he made it to the open market, averaging 25 goals per season over his career with incredible consistency. Last year, he suffered, as many teammates did, as New York switched to a more defensive system under Barry Trotz. But in the playoffs showed everyone what he was capable of. I feel he would have commanded many offers on July 1 from teams looking to add punch to their lineups. What’s most important about the signing is that it shows that Long Island is quickly becoming a desirable destination. Players around the league notice those things and talk to each other all the time, especially when deciding where to commit their futures. When was the last time a player took a pay-cut on a multi-year deal weeks before becoming a free agent? To stay with the Islanders? I can’t remember. 

Josh: Do you believe that the Islanders will look to re-sign Anders Lee, Tom Kühnhackl and/or Valtteri Filppula? If they don’t, who do you believe that they will target?

Andy: I think Anders Lee gets signed and all indications from people I’ve spoken with believe the same. It’s term that they are trying to work through, but Lamoriello and Neil Sheehy will get it done. I can’t see Kuhnhackl coming back as he was just a spare part anyway and the Islanders have to start making some room for the likes of Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang (should he remain with the club), Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom. With New York weak down the middle, I can see Filppula coming back on another one-year deal to play C3, but that will have to be on Lou’s terms and Lou’s terms only. He had a strong season and is perfect for Trotz’s system. All sources are pointing to a full court press on Artemi Panarin. That will cost a ton, certainly north of $10 million AAV, but the Islanders know what they need – a bonafide sniper. However, I don’t see them getting it this year. I’m sticking with the Rangers and Florida as the most likely destinations for him.

Josh: What are your thoughts on Arnaud Durandeau? 

Andy: I’ve never seen him play, but what I heard is that he is a flashy offensive player with an ‘agitating’ aspect to his game. His speed and stickhandling is most often mentioned in all scouting reports. Others say that his overall skill level is not up to snuff and he’s best suited for a 3/4 line role. Time will tell, maybe the Islanders have another Anthony Beauvillier on their hands, at worst its a risk that didn’t cost them much.

Josh: With Robin Lehner hitting the market and Ilya Sorokin looking like the goalie of the future, do you believe that the Islanders will bridge Lehner until Ilya Sorokin is ready?

The problem here is similar to Lee and that’s how long do you go in term on the contract? I am not one of those who believe that KHL success is a precursor to NHL success. There are few strong teams in the KHL and almost all goaltenders have terrific statistics. That being said, everyone in the organization is excited and frothing at the mouth to get him over here, so the jury is still out. I hope he turns into everything people are projecting him to be, as that will benefit a team that has been looking for stability in goal for a long time. Lehner is an interesting case. He had his ups and downs with Buffalo, then comes here under Trotz and shares the Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss along with earning a Vezina nod. That’s quite the season on a one-year ‘prove-it’ deal. We shall see if he shares the same mindset as Eberle. Keep in mind, he has a little leverage also over Lamoriello, who knows he doesn’t have a suitable replacement in the pipeline in the short-term. Market is very weak on goaltending this summer outside of Sergei Bobrovsky and he’s not an Islanders target at the moment.

Josh: The Islanders defense was outstanding last season, but do you believe that an upgrade is still needed? 

Andy: On defense, no. Offensively for sure. With Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde coming along with the maturation of Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews, they are in very good shape on the blueline for a long time. Not to mention adequate second and third pair guys as well in David Quenneville and Sebastian Aho. It’s one of the main reasons Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey are on the trade block with at least one of them expecting to be moved at the draft.

Josh: Kieffer Bellows seemed to have a rough season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last season. Is there any reason to be concerned about his development?

Andy: Not at the moment no. It’s a huge leap for some to the professional level and Bellows is a proven enough shooter that I have not heard of any concerns regarding his development. He might be best served with another year at Bridgeport to ensure he builds his confidence level before coming to the Islanders.

Josh: Do you believe that Oliver Wahlstrom has a shot to make the Islanders opening night roster?

Andy: A chance, sure. Likely? I’m not so sure. Lamoriello is on record as stating that he doesn’t like to rush prospects and holds a certain affinity for veterans to get him through the grind of an 82-game season and playoffs. We saw it this year in the way Ho-Sang was handled as well as Michael Dal Colle. I would much rather see Wahlstrom playing big minutes under Brent Thompson than third or fourth line under Trotz. I don’t think that benefits his development at all. That being said, if the Islanders strike out in the trade market and free agency, all bets might be off. His chances of breaking camp will be dramatically increased.

Thank You

Thank you Andy for taking the time to speak with me. Look forward to interview you again in the future!

player profiles – hockey-reference.com

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Barry And Lou’s Recipe For Success

The New York Islanders Surprised Everyone This Year. But Change Is Coming, And With It Likely A Step Backwards

 

Nobody seen this coming. 

After the loss of former captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs through free agency last July, experts and pundits all unanimously agreed that the New York Islanders were destined to finish in the bottom third of the overall National Hockey League standings for the 2018-19 campaign. 

Even with the addition of general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, both Stanley Cup winners, one look at the roster showed that it was simply going to take some time and patience to get the Islander ship pointed in the right direction again. 

But the Islanders fan base was beyond hungry. It had been years since they really had anything to get excited about with this team. So Lamoriello and Trotz got in the kitchen, put the aprons on and went to work. 

It started with an ounce of structure. They added a dash of overachievement. Of course a pinch of luck was needed, and then with it a heapin’ helping of pride and suddenly by January of this year the Islanders had baked a cake that all of New York wanted a piece of.

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A 23-point improvement over the previous season brought renewed hope to the Islander faithful. And they gobbled it up. Anyone associated with the royal blue, orange and white rallied around the loss of Tavares and proved to the entire league that hockey is the ultimate team sport, and the loss of a franchise player can be tackled. 

Long Layoff Didn’t Payoff

After a succesful first-round sweep of the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins to start the NHL playoffs, the Islanders were forced to wait 10 days between games before starting their second round against the Carolina Hurricanes.  

For some teams, a break of this length does wonders. It can help heal some busted bodies, and give the players a chance to mentally reset for the next series. But for other teams, including the Islanders in this case, the long layoff proves to be costly. Some will argue that as professionals this shouldn’t be the case. But it’s the most logical explanation for a team that looked so dominant in the first round, only to look like a team that was simply behind a step while being swept by the Hurricanes. 

But after a few days to mourn, both the Islanders and their fans will look back on the 2018-19 season as beyond successful. Amassing 103 points in the regular season,  the most for the Islanders since 1984, was about 30 more points than anyone was pegging them for in pre-season predictions. No question that Trotz will win the Jack Adams Trophy as coach-of-the-year in the NHL after pulling this team out of his hat. 

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So, what now?  What can this franchise do for an encore?

Now The Hard Work Begins

The Islanders are in good shape when it comes to the salary cap. Going into the summer, the Islanders have just under $48M committed to 16 players next season. With the cap expected to rise to approximately $83M before puck drop next year, it leaves the Islanders roughly $35M under the cap. 

But the Islanders do have a bundle of free agents to deal with this off-season, both restricted and unrestricted. The biggest of all likely being goaltender Robin Lehner, who is free to hit the open market as of July 1st, the first day of the NHL free agent period. 

Lehner had a terrific season, posting 25 wins while fashioning a .930 save percentage and (rightfully so) being one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The sense is that Lehner would love to stick around, as he seems to have final found some comfort, both personally and professionally, on Long Island. 

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And the Islanders should do whatever they can to keep him on board. Only 27-years-old, Lehner is young enough to help this Islanders team grow into its next pair of contending shoes, and along with Thomas Greiss has solidified the goaltending situation in New York. Those words have not been uttered in quite some time. 

Some Key Free Agents Need To Return

While it looks as though signing Lehner should not be an issue, there are a couple of other free agents the Islanders must really focus on and try to get back in the fold. 

Brock Nelson was a big part of the Islanders resurgence this season, putting up a career-high 53 points while averaging almost three minutes per game more ice-time over the year before. He seem to thrive in Trotz’s system and at only 26-years-old, more of the same should be expected from him for the next few seasons. There may even be a bit more upside in him yet.  An unrestricted free agent, numerous teams likely will be kicking tires on Nelson should the Islanders allow him to see the light of day on July 1st. 

Anthony Beauvillier is a restricted free agent this season, and the Islanders need to make his signing a priority. While taking a bit of a step back this past season offensively, there is no denying the speedy winger still has some untapped potential going forward. 

Playing under 15 minutes a night, Beauvillier still managed 18 goals while totaling more takeaways than giveaways for the second straight season. The left side is a bit of a weak spot for the Islanders, and his signing would help create some stability in a potentially altered islander line-up. 

So long, Long Island

One player that could very well be on the move is unrestricted winger Jordan Eberle. As streaky as they come, Eberle has always left fans breathless with his tantalizing soft hands and relentless drive. But as he did in his days with the Edmonton Oilers, Eberle also leaves those same fans with a feeling of wanting more, and for large stretches throughout the season, he simply doesn’t provide it. 

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Eberle turns 29 next week, and will certainly be seeking a long-term deal at no less than the $6M per year he was making previously. And he will likely get it, but realistically it won’t be from the Islanders. Eberle has proven that he can’t produce with Mat Barzal over a full season with first-line minutes, he’s simply too inconsistent. Expect the Islanders to keep that money and look for a bigger fish somewhere else to flank Barzal.

Anders Lee is another unrestricted free agent that will be looking for a significant raise before the start of next season. Though his numbers were down slightly this year, Lee still produced 28 goals after notching 40 and 34 respectively the previous two seasons. 

Like Eberle, Lee will also be 29-years-old by time training camp rolls around next year. With over 100 goals scored combined over the last three seasons, Lee will be seeking to nearly double his annual salary from last year of $3.75M, as well as something long-term.  And it’s very unlikely the Islanders will go for that.

If Lee does re-sign, expect to be closer to the start of training camp after no other team has agreed to his salary demands, and the Islanders can get him at a more team-friendly rate, in the range of 3-4 years. 

Michael Dal Colle is the only other restricted free agent under the Islanders umbrella this off-season, and he will likely re-up with the team. 

Other free agents that likely won’t return next year are Valtteri Flippula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Luca Sbisa and Dennis Seidenberg. 

Follow me on Twitter @cbradley2928

Statistics provided by hockey-reference and TheScore

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

 

 

 

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Regular Season Was The Appetizer

The New York Islanders regular season has ended. 

This is the time when most people predicted the Islanders would have completed their exit interviews, taken all of their belongings and went to the place they all called home for the summer.

That obviously has not happened. They ended the regular season one point behind and three points ahead of the last three Stanley Cup Champions. There are three huge keys to what got the Islanders to this point one year after being blind sided losing their franchise player and receiving nothing in return and left for dead. Here are those keys to one of the most improbable seasons including last seasons’ Vegas Golden Knights in recent memory.

First Key

The first key was culture change. But, what exactly is culture change? The Islanders have been ranging between nipping at the fringes of NHL success and living in the basement of the NHL standings for three decades. The last time they had the home ice advantage in the ANY round of the playoffs was 1988. Despite having the legacy of maybe the greatest hockey team in the history of the game from 1979-1984 the Islanders suffered a myriad of ownership, management, arena and player issues that many books have been written about. Players did not want to be here. Owners did not want to own the team. The team tried for decades to get a new home. Management and coaches were people who had no experience running any kind of winning team. Wash, rinse and repeat.

Scott Malkin, the new power broker owner of the Islanders had the wisdom to reach out and grab Lou Lamoriello to run his rudderless ship. Lou’s resume of success is among the best in NHL history. He took a Devils team and turned them into a perennial NHL power. When the Devils moved on Lou went to Toronto and turned a team whose lack of success had reached comical proportions into a winner. Toronto decided to move Lamoriello to an advisory position Scott Malkin pounced and made him the new Godfather of the New York Islanders. When a guy like that, a proven winner comes in to take the reins it turned heads. Instantly with one hire Scott Malkin changed the culture of the New York Islanders.

Second Key

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The second key to success was coaching. Only through hiring an executive like Lou Lamoriello does hiring a coach like Barry Trotz even seem remotely possible for a team like the Islanders. Islander fans were justifiably for the first time in 30 years expecting the Islanders to follow-up the culture changing hire of Lou with a coach that could right the ship on the ice now that the front office was under capable leadership. Then in a flash it happened. The defending Stanley Cup Champions decided to move on from Barry Trotz as expected and much like Scott Malkin made the most of his opportunity to hire Lou Lamoriello, Lou made the most of his chance to hire Barry Trotz to take over the behind the bench duties for his new team. Now instead of a beleaguered 11 year general manager who was never quite able to make the most of his opportunity and a first year coach who more than a few times looked like he had zero answers on how to mold the Islanders into a winner the Islanders had a front office and coaching staff to rival any in the entire NHL.

Third Key

There was one other huge key that needed to be cut to open the door to success.

The final key was the players. The Islander players are the ones who have the play the games. Taking the wisdom of their new bench boss and apply it on the ice. So much credit rightfully so has been given to Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz for getting the Islanders to 103 points this season. The players had to buy-in to what their new general manager and coach were preaching AND be able to implement it on the ice in the division that produced the last three Stanley Cup Champions. They also needed to do this mere months after their long-term captain essentially told them “you guys aren’t good enough” and abandoned them, taking with him a lot of the respect he had in that locker room and burning most of the love Islander fans had for him with the swipe of a pen and one horribly timed tweet.

Adding Top 6 Forwards And Top 4 Defensemen?

In the aftermath, journeyman forward Valtteri Filppula, utility man Leo Komarov and jack of all trades Tom Kuhnhackl were brought in. Plus, the Islanders brought Matt Martin back to Long Island. Martin was a healthy scratch throughout the 2017-2018 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and it was evident that the Leafs weren’t interested in keeping the enforcer long-term. But, Islanders fans near revolted at the guys Lou was bringing in.

Islander fans were hoping beyond hope that Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone or some other team’s star was going to be the answer they all were looking for was going to come in and save the day. Little did they know what was already in that locker room was the answer. Young defensemen Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech all flourished under Coach Trotz faster than anyone could have predicted.

Forward Group Re-vitalized

Mathew Barzal, who was like a wild, out of control stallion last season was taught to run in a straight line with the rest of the pack. Brock Nelson was written off by most writers and Islander fans has blossomed into a solid two-way center with career highs in points. Brock’s contribution to the team’s success this season cannot be under-stated. Casey Cizikas was put back between his favorite two partners in crime in Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin and given the ice time no other coach has given him obliterated his former career high in goals. Josh Bailey is a player who is still despite his All-Star season last year was written off as a product of playing with John Tavares thrived in the new system. Bailey makes up for what he lacks in flash and dash,  makes the right decision with and without the puck. New Captain Anders Lee took his new assignment as team captain with an infectious attitude that has spread to every corner of the locker room.

Losing Tavares, But Goaltending/Defense Becomes Elite 

Sure offensive production team wide was down. Losing your best offensive player for nothing will do that. Everyone knew the Islanders would be better defensively. No one predicted how much better. For the first time in 100 years. A team in the NHL went from worst to first in goals against.

That remarkable turn of events came with the two men tasked with patrolling the Islanders goal. Prior to the season, no one looked at the Islanders goaltenders and thought they were going to win any awards.

Robin Lehner

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Robin Lehner was cast-off by the Buffalo Sabres. Many Sabre fans blamed their team’s inconsistent play on Lehner himself. Lou met with Robin and a one year “prove yourself” contract was worked out. The deal was a no-risk/high-reward deal. 

Everyone knows of the struggles Lehner endured. He was brave enough to admit his struggles and he publicly addressed his mental illness and alcoholism. How has he responded in the Islanders system and with a clear head? Second in save percentage. Third in goals against average.

Thomas Greiss

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Thomas Greiss had one of the ugliest on ice seasons a full-time goaltender had in 2017-18. Dead last in save percentage and goals against average. Greiss worked his tail off in the off-season to get better for this year. Under goaltending guru Mitch Korn and coach Pierre Greco he has shut the mouths of every critic he had finishing fourth in save percentage and fourth in goals against average.

Taking Home The William H. Jennings Trophy

Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner won the William H. Jennings trophy. To put that in perspective here are some of the players who won the Jennings Trophy in recent history:

Jonathan Quick

Carey Price

Roberto Luongo

Braden Holtby

John Gibson

Frederik Andersen

Martin Brodeur

Tim Thomas

Chris Osgood

Dominik Hasek

Cory Schneider

Corey Crawford

All elite goaltenders that most share something in common. Out of the 12 goaltenders listed SEVEN of them have Stanley Cup rings.

This is not an award that is easy to win and the Islanders tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner just won it one season removed from the worst of both of their professional careers.

That is the most incredible thing that has happened to the New York Islanders this past regular season in a season of many incredible things they were able to accomplish.

Time To Get The Cup

Islanders players and the fans are ready for the main course of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Will it be as surprisingly satisfying and delicious as the appetizer? The meal will begin to be served to a fan base starved for a great meal tonight.

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Back to Relevance?

The New York Islanders are relevant?

No one saw this coming.

There are four games left in the 2018-19 regular season and the New York Islanders, yes the same New York Islanders that lost their franchise player this past off-season are sitting directly between the two teams that have won the last three Stanley Cups in the standings.

This statement in of itself would have drawn laughter if predicted before the season began even if John Tavares did not discover his childhood dream at 28 years old on July 1, 2018.

Replacing him in the Islander lineup with Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Robin Lehner and Tom Kuhnhackl did nothing to divert that way of thinking. Everyone predicted that at best the Islanders would maybe challenge for a playoff spot and then fade away to play meaningless hockey after New Years. This was despite first ballot Hall of Famer to be and newly minted Stanley Cup Champion coach Barry Trotz steering the ship.

Defensive Concerns Are Gone

From game one of the season something seemed different. The Islanders were making the smart plays.

Prior to the season many fans questioned If they could chip the puck out of the defensive zone. Well, they’ve showed they can. They did it instead of the higher risk of skating or passing it out.  If they were challenged in the neutral zone and had no other option the puck was simply thrown into one of the corners harmlessly instead of turning it over, resulting in an odd man rush against.

Again, fans questioned the Islanders defense. Fans were worried about their defense shutting down opposing forwards from entering into their zone with the puck. But, the Islanders did it again. They ensured that their opposition had little to no room to create a scoring chance. Cross ice passes for open one timers were minimized. Game after game the Islanders frustrated the most talented offensive teams in the National Hockey League.

Barry Trotz calls it “playing the right way”.

What a night and day difference from the run and gun Islanders of 2017-18. The ones that allowed the most goals in the league. The ones that other players on the Lightning and Barry Trotz’ own Washington Capitals laughing on how easy the Islanders were to play against when they dropped five or six goals on Islander goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak.

The Roster That Garth Built

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The Islanders now sit number one in the NHL in goals against after being dead last last season with 90% of the same personnel, and 100% of the same defensive core.

We’ve never seen a team turn it around like this. How often does a team have a remarkably awful season, lose their best player and dramatically improve?

The Islanders have done it because of two simple facts. One, by doing the little things and doing them right.

Second, if it is one thing that the Islanders new regime has proven its that Garth Snow for all of his faults was not a bad judge of talent. Unfortunately, he was horrendous at was picking coaches. He was bad at forming a culture of winning. Snow was bad at putting a winning front office in place. All that is true. But, the Islanders are winning with a team primarily composed of players that Garth Snow brought here. That statement will definitively get all Garth haters fired up, but at the same time they cannot deny it as fact.

Now, before I alienate the Islander fans who ruthlessly attack anyone saying anything positive about Snow, please note that I was begging for him to be fired many years ago. He was a bad general manager. That being said you can’t deny the positives of the players on the team at this moment. They’ve helped drive this time from an abysmal season last year to a playoff berth and they’ve done it all without Tavares.

Trust The Process

Barry Trotz has the players believing. Barry Trotz and the Islander players got Islanders fans to believe again. Trust the process. Sorry Philadelphia for stealing your motto, but it’s true. Plus, the Islanders now have the rest of the hockey world believing. 

Finally, the New York Islanders are back after over three decades of failure.

player profiles from Hockey-Reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

Montréal Canadiens: The Trade Deadline Dilemma

Hockey fans have yet to see if the Montréal Canadiens are legitimate playoff contenders or heading for another draft lottery.

The Montréal Canadiens picked up a huge 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night to bring their record to 13-10-5. That gives them 31 points and sole possession of the second wild card spot and one point behind the Boston Bruins for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, just cause the Montréal Canadiens are in a playoff spot now does not mean they will be there by the time the trade deadline roles around on February 25th. In that regard, we also don’t know if the Habs will be buyers or sellers on that date. With how up and down the season has been so far, a betting man would probably say the team will be sellers.

That is where the issue lies, the Habs can’t be sellers at the deadline.

A Rough Roster Situation

Usually buyers at the deadline are looking for experienced players with maybe one to two years remaining on a relatively cheap contract. For example, Valtteri Filppula, a center with playoff experience who is on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. That is a contract that can be easily moved, a position that is in need on many playoff teams around the league, and will expire after the playoffs, meaning it won’t damage a team’s cap situation.

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Now occasionally you’ll see players traded with larger cap hits but with salary retained, like the Tomas Plekanec trade the Canadiens made with the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of this year ($6 million cap hit, $3 million retained by the Habs). But usually it’s smaller, shorter deals that get moved around.

That will be a problem for the Canadiens this year. Of the 12 players on the active roster with one or two years left on their contracts, seven of them are players 25 or younger and two of them are 26-year olds. Some are players that the organization should keep in order to help them grow and prosper on the Canadiens lineup (Max Domi for instance) and the others are depth pieces that wouldn’t really fetch much on the trade market.

And of the ones who aren’t 26 or younger, you have Jordie Benn (31, one year left at $1.1 million) and David Schlemko (Also 31, two years left at $2.1 million), both left defensemen playing on a team with an already depleted defensive core. The others are Nicolas Deslauriers (27, two years remaining at $950,000) who has done next to nothing in the NHL. And lastly backup goalie Antti Niemi, who’s 35 and making $950,000 for one more year. There just aren’t many players the Canadiens can move without hurting their starting lineup or getting a minuscule return for a depth forward.

The Montréal Canadiens could certainly be buyers at the deadline and make a run for the playoffs, but they would be giving up potential prospects, depth pieces or draft picks that are crucial to this organization’s future. It’s too early and the team is far too inconsistent to make a determination of where they will be come April, but with the roster currently assembled, itself unlikely they’ll be able to move many contracts once February hits.

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler