In today’s Montreal Canadiens news and rumors roundup, Carey Price is named the Habs’ 2019-20 Molson Cup Player of the Year for the ninth time in his career. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is available to participate in Montreal’s training camp. Plus, will the risk of contracting COVID-19 make head coach Claude Julien think twice about being behind the bench against the Pittsburgh Penguins? In other play-in series news, will Matt Murray be the starting goaltender for the Pens against the Habs?
What will Max Domi’s next contract look like? And off the ice, Tomas Tatar shows off his tennis skills.
Carey Price Named Canadiens’ Player of the Year
For the ninth time in his career and second year in a row, Price has been named the Habs’ 2019-20 Molson Cup Player of the Year thanks to a 27-25-6 record, a 2.79 goals-against average (GAA), and a .909 save percentage (SV%) in 58 games this season. Price finished ahead of Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki in the Molson Cup Standings, which are calculated based on post-game star selections.
Price led the league in minutes played (3439:49) for a second consecutive season. He ranked first in the NHL in games played (tied with Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets) as well as fifth in wins. The 32-year-old netminder also notched his 47th career shutout in February, which moved him past Ken Dryden for third place in team history in that category.
Price will need to be even better and more consistent during Montreal’s play-in series against Pittsburgh if the Canadiens hope to pull off a big upset and advance to the playoffs. Speaking to the media via conference call, Price said he is looking forward to competing for the Stanley Cup:
“It’s motivating, without a doubt. It’s a great opportunity if we get to play, and for me to come into a playoff scenario well-rested – that’s been well documented. I’m just trying to prepare myself as well as possible for any situation.”
Jesperi Kotkaniemi Is Healthy and Ready to Play
Arpon Basu of The Athletic reported on Friday night that Kotkaniemi is completely healthy and will be returning to Montreal in the coming days intending to participate in the Canadiens’ training camp instead of continuing to rehab his spleen injury.
Kotkaniemi injured his spleen during a game in March but did not require surgery. He was not expected to return this season, but the COVID-19 pause and the NHL’s Return to Play Plan has allowed him to play.
Related: Habs’ Kotkaniemi Is Not a Bust
Before getting injured, the 19-year-old was playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Laval Rocket. He put up 13 points in 13 games after being sent down.
The question now is if and where Kotkaniemi will slot in the lineup against Pittsburgh. He might be put in the third-line centre spot, which would move Domi to the wing. Or maybe he goes to the fourth line to give that trio an offensive threat. Regardless of where he plays, the fact that Kotkaniemi is healthy is welcome news for the Habs and getting some playoff experience will be important for his development.
Will Claude Julien Coach Against the Penguins?
Pierre LeBrun spoke to several older coaches in the NHL for a recent article in The Athletic as Phases 3 and 4 of the league’s Return to Play Plan to find out how safe they feel about going back to their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among those that LeBrun spoke to is Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien who turned 60 in April. While he fully expects to be behind his team’s bench against the Penguins, he will weigh his options to protect himself and his family (from ‘LeBrun: Amid safety concerns, older NHL coaches weigh-in on return to play’, The AthleticNHL – 06/24/20).
“No doubt you’re thinking of the different options you may have, whether it’s wearing a mask, to what extent you are going to deal with your team and players. I know it may be a challenge behind the bench more than anywhere else but my thinking is that I need to be ready to adjust and have options when that time comes depending on where we are at with COVID and our hockey circumstance.” – Claude Julien
It would be odd not to see Julien coaching when play resumes and could put them at a disadvantage should he choose not to return. It will also be worthwhile to follow whether any other coaches or team staff choose not to go back to work for safety reasons.
Matt Murray Expected to Start Versus Canadiens
The Athletic reported last week that two-time Stanley Cup champion Murray is likely to be the starting goaltender for the Penguins in their play-in series against the Canadiens.
Murray lost his starting job to Tristan Jarry earlier this season, but was between the pipes for four of Pittsburgh’s final five games before the pause and won three of them. Overall, he was 20-11-5 with a 2.87 GAA and a .899 SV%. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan expects Murray to be at the top of his game:
“We have extremely high expectations for Matt. He has shown the ability to play at his very best when the stakes are at their highest, and I can’t think of a better characteristic to have for an athlete.”
Sullivan can’t be faulted for wanting to lean on Murray’s past playoff experience and expect more impressive performances in these upcoming postseason games. It would be interesting to know how Canadiens players reacted to the news and if they would prefer to face the more inexperienced Jarry.
Max Domi’s Next Contract
In his latest Canadiens mailbag, Eric Engels of Sportsnet fielded a question from a reader about how the current stoppage in play and uncertain future will affect Domi’s next contract with the Canadiens.
He predicts that the pending restricted free agent will sign a short-term deal, most likely with a one-year term.
This path seems to be the best solution for both sides given the current situation and it would certainly help general manager Marc Bergevin keep his cap flexibility. This will allow him to be more aggressive in both the trade and free agent markets this offseason, given that so many other teams will likely be in cap distress.
Tomas Tatar Showcases Tennis Talent
Tomas Tatar showed he has great skills both on the ice and on the court at the Leon Pro Summer Cup 2020 tennis tournament in Bratislava, Slovakia last weekend.
Competing against other hockey players, Montreal’s leading scorer this season took home the trophy after defeating Ondrej Rusnák, who used to play in the Slovakian league, 6-2, 7-5 in the final.
Tatar comes from an athletic family. (from ‘Stu on Sports: Canadiens’ Tomas Tatar shows off his tennis skills,’ Montreal Gazette, 06/22/2020)His father played soccer as a kid and coached tennis. His mother was a gymnast and his two older brothers both played pro hockey in Slovakia.
Even though there are still details to be ironed out before Phase 4 of the Return to Play plan gets the green light, it’s going to be an exciting summer for the Habs and their fans. Not to mention, they also have the Phase 2 Draft Lottery to look forward to and the chance to possibly draft Alexis Lafrenière with the no. 1 overall pick.