Active offseason gives Montreal Canadiens’ fans plenty of hope

With Marc Bergevin being one of the busiest general managers during the NHL offseason, the Montreal Canadiens and their fans are anxious to get a look at their new additions. The Habs signed unrestricted free agent centre Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal worth $17 million and acquired goaltender Jake Allen, defenceman Joel Edmundson and forward Josh Anderson via trades. In addition, 20-year-old blue liner Alexander Romanov inked an entry-level earlier in the year and has a good shot at making the lineup.

The 28-year-old Toffoli was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings with the 47th overall pick in 2010 and helped the club win the Stanley Cup four years later. He was traded to Vancouver in February and posted 24 goals and 20 assists in 68 games last season with another four points in seven postseason outings in Vancouver. In total, Toffoli has racked up 145 goals and 155 helpers for 300 points in 525 regular-season contests with 11 goals and 25 points in 54 playoff games.

Toffoli has proven to be a dependable player at both ends of the rink as he led the NHL in plus/minus in 2015/16 with a plus-35 and led the league with five shorthanded goals in 2014/15. He’s also useful on the power-play as he’s notched 32 goals and 56 points with the man advantage so far during his career and has 27 game-winning goals.

The 26-year-old Anderson was acquired from Columbus in a trade for fellow forward Max Domi and a third-round draft pick and then signed a seven-year deal for $38.5 million. It may be seen as a bit of a gamble for the Canadiens since Anderson was limited to 26 regular-season games in 2019/20 due to injury and posted just one goal and three assists with a minus-8 rating. The 6-foot-3-inch 220 lb winger has tallied 65 goals and 115 points in 267 career games with eight points in 21 playoff games.

With Toffoli and Anderson up front, head coach Claude Julien has three solid lines to roll out. Youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have plenty of potential as they continue to improve with each passing game and each of them scored four goals in this year’s playoffs to lead the squad. The centres have already exceeded many fans’ expectations before reaching the age of 21 and Suzuki often played on the team’s top line in the playoffs between Brendan and Tomas Tatar.

Of course, the club also has another excellent prospect up front in Phillip Danault. Suzuki contributed 13 goals and 41 points in 71 contests in 2019/20 while Kotkaniemi added six goals and eight points in 36 outings and Danault was second in team scoring with 13 goals and 47 points in 71 games with a team-high plus-18 rating. Suzuki also co-led the team in the playoffs with seven points in 10 games along with Jonathan Drouin.

On the blue line, the 27-year-old Edmundson was picked up in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for just a fifth-round draft pick and promptly signed to a four-year, $14 million contract. The 6-foot-4-inch native of Brandon, Manitoba was originally drafted 46th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2011 and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2018/19. He’s notched 20 goals and 72 points in 337 regular-season games with a plus-25 rating with six goals and 15 points in 53 playoff outings with a plus-10 rating.

An other key newcomer from St. Louis was 29-year-old goaltender Jake Allen as next year’s pending free agent was acquired for a seventh-round draft pick in 2020 and 2022. Allen was then given a two-year contract extension by Bergevin for $5.75 million to back up Carey Price in the crease. Allen was drafted 34th overall by the Blues in 2008 and also helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2018/19.

He brings plenty of experience with a career regular-season record of 148-94-26 in 289 games with a goals-against average of 2.50 and a 91.3 save percentage. Allen is 11-12 in 29 playoff games with a 92.4 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average. He also managed to be named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team twice as he made the squad in 2012/13 after playing just 15 regular-season games and again in 2014/15.

But while the newcomers and youngsters will be depended upon to lead Montreal to the playoffs and beyond in 2020/21, key veterans Carey Price and Shea Weber also need to keep up their fine play. Both players are signed until 2026 with Price going 27-25-6 in net last season with a 2.79 goals-against average and a 90.9 save percentage while Weber posted 15 goals and 36 points in 65 games.

This is a make or break season for Montreal though as Price and Weber are nearing the ends of their careers. The Habs performed well in this year’s postseason, but fans and management won’t be satisfied next year if they can’t progress to the second round.

Tyson Barrie aims to bounce back on Edmonton’s blue line

Most NHL defencemen would have been happy scoring 39 points in 70 games in the 2019/20 campaign but Tyson Barrie is one of the exceptions. Barrie posted five goals and 34 assists with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season but took a lot of heat in the city and also admitted it was an off-year for him. The 29-year-old native of Victoria, British Columbia scored .56 points-per game in Toronto which was slightly less than his career average of .62 points-per-game.

Barrie was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the third round in 2009 with the 64th-overall pick. He quickly became the club’s top offensive blue liner by racking up 75 goals and 307 points in 484 regular-season games with 14 points in 21 playoff outings. However, Barrie was traded to Toronto on July 1, 2019 along with forward Adam Kerfoot and a sixth-round draft pick for centre Nazem Kadri, rearguard Calle Rosen and a third-round draft pick.

Barrie finished fifth in scoring for the Leafs last season and easily led the blue line in points. But for some reason he was criticized by numerous Leafs’ fans much in the way Hall of Fame defender Larry Murphy was years before. Barrie then made the right move by leaving the city he wasn’t appreciated in and signing with the Edmonton Oilers as an unrestricted free agent this summer as the team was in need of a skilled, puck-moving defenceman.

Barrie enjoyed some high-scoring seasons in Colorado by breaking the 50-point barrier three times and also posting 49 points on one occasion as well as breaking double digits in goals five times. In addition, he anchored one of the league’s best power-plays which featured high-scoring stars Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. He’s now going to be depended upon to do the same in Edmonton with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

One of the knocks against the 5-foot-10-inch, 190 lb Barrie is his defensive play as he owns a minus-66 rating in his 554-game career so far. However, he was acquired by both Toronto and Edmonton for his elite offensive skills, which are among the best in the league. Barrie struggled at first in Toronto under head coach Mike Babcock and was relegated to the team’s second power-play unit. Once Babcock was fired though with Sheldon Keefe taking over behind the bench, Barrie’s production and overall play improved significantly.

He was also shuffled around the lineup quite a bit in Toronto and found himself with several different blue line partners, especially after fellow defenceman Morgan Rielly was injured. Once the playoffs resumed after the NHL paused in March due to Covid-19, Barrie struggled like the rest of his teammates and went without a point in five games against Columbus during the play-in round. The writing may have been on the wall for Barrie before the league resumed action, but the Leafs’ failure to make the playoffs basically sealed his fate.

With Edmonton general manager Ken Holland seeking offensive help from the blue line due to the long-term injury of Oscar Klefbom, he inked Barrie to a one-year deal worth $3.75 million in October. Barrie could very well be partnered with Darnell Nurse on the Oilers’ blue line to start the upcoming season but he’ll need to quickly prove himself with the squad since he’s signed for just one season. Barrie is betting on himself to rebound from a somewhat sub-par campaign in Toronto and so is Holland.

If Barrie regains the confidence he displayed while playing with Colorado he could very well be offered a longer contract when his deal runs out. There’s no reason to believe he won’t succeed with the Oilers by helping out McDavid and Draisaitl and he should be highly-motivated to prove his value. Another 50-point season should be attainable for Barrie if the NHL decides to play an 82-game schedule and his talent could help Edmonton win a series or two in the playoffs.

Dallas to be a couple of Stars short when NHL season faces off

The Dallas Stars won’t exactly be living up to the team’s nickname when the 2020-21 NHL season faces off as two of their star players will be on the sidelines. The club expects to be without number one goaltender Ben Bishop and top-scoring forward  Tyler Seguin when play resumes due to each player’s recent surgery. According to the Stars, both Bishop and Seguin will need approximately five months to recover.

The 33-year-old Bishop, who missed most of the squad’s playoff run this summer due to a torn meniscus, went under the knife on his right knee on October 21st. Meanwhile, Seguin, recently underwent surgery to have his hip and a torn labrum taken care of. Bishop played just three playoff games last season and visibly struggled when in net. He posted a goals-against average of 5.43 with a record of 1-2 and 84.4 save percentage in his three outings.

This was well below par when compared to his regular-season performance in which he went 21-16-4 in 44 contests with a save percentage of 92.0, a 2.50 goals-against average and a pair of shutouts. The Stars have good depth in net though as Anton Khudobin took over in the crease for Bishop in the playoffs. He helped the team reach its first Stanley Cup Final since the 1999/2000 season with a mark of 14-10, a 91.7 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average and one shutout in 25 appearances. However, the Stars fell just short by losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

The 28-year-old Seguin notched 13 points in 26 playoff outings this season when the centre contributed two goals and 11 assists. This was also off the pace compared to the regular campaign in which he chipped in with 17 goals and 33 helpers for 50 points in 69 games to lead the team. Although he wasn’t 100 per cent healthy, Seguin missed just one playoff encounter this year, but hasn’t missed a regular-season contest since 2015/16.

Jim Nill, general manager of the Stars, told the media that Seguin’s original date for surgery was delayed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He also stated that the team had several other injured players but all are expected to be back on the ice when the season gets underway. Goaltender Khudobin also underwent surgery in October to repair a nerve problem in his right arm while forwards Jamie Benn and Blake Comeau had shoulder problems and Roope Hintz had a fractured ankle.

Seguin was acquired by Dallas in July, 2013 in a deal with the Boston Bruins and has scored 223 goals and 291 assists for 514 points in 538 regular-season games for the club with seven goals and 20 assists in 46 playoff games. He won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2010-11 as a rookie and has been one of the NHL’s most consistent scorers since entering the league.

Bishop has played the past three seasons with the Stars after being acquired in May, 2017 from the Los Angeles Kings. The two-time NHL All-Star led the league in save percentage at 93.4 with Dallas in 2018/19. He’s played 143 regular-season games with the club with a 74-48-11 record along with a 92.3 save percentage, 2.33 goals-against average and 14 shutouts. Bishop has also appeared in 16 playoff contests with an 8-8 record, a 92.0 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average.

Ottawa Senators’ future looking bright

The Ottawa Senators were one of the few teams who didn’t play after the NHL paused its schedule in mid-March as they simply weren’t good enough to make the expanded playoff scenario. However, things could be a lot different in the 2020/21 campaign as the club as made several offseason moves to improve the roster. In addition, Ottawa also had three first-round picks in the recent NHL Entry Draft.

One of the most important acquisitions has been goaltender Matt Murray, who was brought over in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Jonathan Gruden and second-round draft pick this year. Murray adds plenty of experience as he won a pair of Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2015/16 and 2016/17 and has been one of the league’s upper-echelon netminders over the past few years.

The team also acquired blue liner Erik Gudbranson in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks and signed unrestricted free agents Alexander Galchenyuk from Pittsburgh and Evgenii Dadonov from the Florida Panthers, making general manager Pierre Dorion a busy man so far in the offseason. It’s understandable why Dorion has been working overtime since Ottawa finished in second-last place in the Eastern Conference last season with a record of 25-34-12 for 62 points and a points percentage of .437.

The Senators have missed the playoffs the past three seasons but with the 26-year-old Murray signing a four-year contract the team should certainly be blessed with more consistent goaltending. Murray has posted a minimum of 20 wins in each of the last four NHL seasons and went 20-11-5 in 2019/20 with a goals-against average of 2.87 in 38 outings. He also has a 91.4 save percentage in 199 career regular-season NHL games.

The 28-year-old Gudbranson is expected to be a physical presence on the blue line while the 31-year-old Dadonov and 26-year-old Galchenyuk should bring some offensive flair. Ottawa also picked up 28-year-old forward Austin Watson in a deal with the Nashville Predators as well as defender Josh Brown in a trade with Florida. Dorion then used his first-round draft picks to take forward Tim Stuetzle third overall, rearguard Jake Sanderson fifth overall and forward Ridly Greig 28th.

Of course, the Senators also lost some pieces of the puzzle as forward Bobby Ryan signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent after Ottawa bought out his contract. In addition, veteran goalie Craig Anderson wasn’t re-signed and is an unrestricted free agent while defenceman Mark Borowiecki signed with Nashville. Forward Anthony Duclair is also currently an unrestricted free agent after posting 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games last season and so is defenceman Ron Hainsey. Forward Mikkel Boedker also left the team to sign with HC Davos in Switzerland.

As far as young prospects go for the upcoming season, the 18-year-old  Tim Stuetzle notched seven goals and 34 points for Mannheim in Germany last season while 21-year-old forward Josh Norris racked up 31 goals and 61 points for in 56 outings for Belleville in the American Hockey League and 21-year-old forward  Alex Formenton posted 27 goals and 53 points in 61 AHL contests. The Senators already had some fine players with the likes of forwards Brady Tkachuk and Artem Anisimov and blue liner Thomas Chabot.

The Senators may not become a powerhouse over night, but the club is definitely on the right track. Given time, they should gradually and steadily start to climb the NHL standings over the next few seasons and could soon find themselves back in the playoff mix.