Canadiens mailbag: Could Taylor Hall, Torey Krug be free-agent targets?

Kyle Bukauskas checks in with Colby Armstrong and Eric Engels to preview what a Canadiens/Penguins playoff series would look like and whether a healthy Penguins team would be too much for Montreal to overcome.

Before we dig into the excellent questions Canadiens fans asked for this mailbag, I want to make clear that this is not intended to distract from what I believe is the most important movement of our generation.

It’s why I want to start this piece by adding to the many statements I’ve made on social media over the last week.

I have spoken out against racism and about how deeply affected I was to have witnessed the senseless murder of George Floyd, and I have amplified the commentary of those who are doing the same. I feel it is the least I can do to fulfill my obligation as a human being.

I pledge to continue to do these things — and anything else I can to help eradicate racism.

To say I have no concept or exposure to the prejudice that has long existed in this country, in the United States and around the world, as a Jewish person, would be inaccurate.

But, as a white person, I have been spared and I have lived a very privileged life. I can’t possibly fathom what it’s like to be a black person or a person of a different colour; to live in fear that I will be treated differently, or worse, just because of my skin tone.

So, I’m listening, I’m learning, and I’m lending my unwavering support to anyone who actively seeks to change that reality by peaceful means.

It’s a goal we can only achieve together. It will take time, but I’m hopeful we’ll achieve it.

My hope is tethered to all the messages that have been posted by individuals who have never spoken out against this societal ill before; messages that recognize this problem will not be eliminated without their help. And I’m encouraged to see people of every colour using their voice, no matter how big or how small their platform is.

Every word and every peaceful action taken moves us further in the right direction. We must continue to move forward in that direction — and hopefully at an exponentially faster pace.

Nothing is more important right now.

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Hi Josh,

It’s a reasonable question to be asking considering the possibility training camps will open in July, Domi’s condition, and the fact that we currently don’t have a vaccine — or a treatment that guarantees full recovery — for the novel coronavirus.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin addressed this on a conference call last week, saying the decision would ultimately be made by team doctors.

“I’m convinced that the NHL and the Canadiens would never put Max Domi in a situation where he’d be exposed to anything that could affect him short-term and long-term,” Bergevin said. “So if the doctors decide it’s not safe for Max Domi, for whatever reason, Max Domi won’t participate in the playoffs. I would never put the Montreal Canadiens above the health of our players. Never, never, never.”

Now, in a certain respect, Domi is just like every other player: all of them are going to want to be assured that the risk factor is minimized as much as possible before agreeing to return to play.

But knowing that he has a pre-existing condition, it’s comforting to know that all the necessary precautions will be taken in his case.

For what it’s worth, it’s my opinion that if the doctors deem it too much a risk for Domi to play, then the standards likely won’t be at acceptable for any of the players to return. The fact is, Domi’s condition is monitored and controlled to a great degree — not only be the team’s medical staff, but also by Domi himself. He has spent all of his days since childhood ensuring he’s taking on the least amount of risk possible, so it’s unimaginable he’ll go against what’s best for him now.

Doctors may have final say, but how Domi feels about it will likely have a significant influence in guiding their decision.

Zarin,

This is a perfect follow-up question to Josh’s. Let’s answer it in reverse order.

In the event that Domi can’t play for the Canadiens, it would have a considerably negative impact on their chances of beating Pittsburgh, which are already reasonably low.

Don’t forget that the Canadiens traded Nate Thompson away at the deadline, that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is unlikely to be fully recovered from his injured spleen by the time play resumes, and that Ryan Poehling can’t be expected to supplant what Domi brings. All to say, the centre depth of the Canadiens isn’t quite what it was at the beginning of the year, which is an issue against any team but particularly one against the team with arguably the best centre line in hockey.

About that team: out of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and Jarred McCann, guess how many of them appeared in all 69 games the Penguins played before the pause? If you answered zero, you’d be correct.

As Penguins assistant coach Mark Recchi told me on Monday, just the opportunity to have all their big horses in the lineup at once is as exciting as it gets when you consider how many of them were down to injury at a given point.

But regarding Guentzel specifically, we’re talking about the player who might be considered the purest goal scorer on a team that has Crosby and Malkin. He had 20 goals in 39 games before going under the knife to fix a shoulder injury.

Add Guentzel to a mix that also now includes deadline additions Jason Zucker, Patrick Marleau and Connor Sheary, and the Canadiens are going to have their hands full.

This is a great question, Wade.

Forget about possibility. I would say it’s a probability the Canadiens — who still have plenty of interest in upgrading the left side of their defence, even with Alexander Romanov coming over — would go hard after Torey Krug.

We’re talking about a defenceman who has 337 points in 523 games. Krug has 46 points in 62 playoff games, a Stanley Cup ring, and pedigree as a five-foot-nine, 186-pounder who plays like he’s six-foot-two and 215 pounds. The Canadiens would love to add him to the mix.

But it’s hard to imagine a player who’s spent close to a decade with the Boston Bruins choosing to play for the Canadiens. Milan Lucic couldn’t do it as a free agent in the summer of 2016, much like Josh Gorges refused a trade from the Canadiens to the Toronto Maple Leafs and was instead dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in July of 2014.

Nice to know those rivalries run so deep. Its what makes the sport that much more fun to watch come playoff time.

Sean,

I don’t know how many people would agree with me, but I’ve already got Sid on my Hockey Rushmore — right next to Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux.

I’ve always had a hard time comparing players from each era. The game has evolved so much through the years, as has the skill, speed and completeness of each player. It’s hard to look back in time and say that a player is better than one playing in today’s game.

When Bobby Orr played, he was the best player hockey had ever seen. I think you could say the same of both Gretzky and Lemieux. So, I’d never take that away from them.

I didn’t have the chance to watch Orr beyond the many videos I’ve scoured on YouTube or the classic games that have been broadcast throughout the years. But I did grow up watching both Gretzky and Lemieux in their primes, and it’s my opinion that Crosby is the greatest hockey player I’ve ever seen.

I don’t think he needs to win another Conn Smythe or Stanley Cup to be considered that. He plays the game the way no one has played it before him, and I still believe he plays it in a way that no one quite can today.

With respect to Connor McDavid, who is the fastest and most skilled hockey player in the world, I still consider Crosby to be the best. There will be a time when McDavid unquestionably takes that title, but I don’t believe we’re there yet.

I don’t know that Taylor Hall has any connection to Kirk Muller, but you’re making a valid point about Montreal’s advantage in the marketplace — considering how well-positioned they are with the salary cap — to make the kind of offer many teams can’t necessarily make right now without shifting significant pieces out of place.

I think the Canadiens have much incentive to try to add Hall, too. He’s a dynamic player who is effective at both ends of the ice, the type of high-end offensive player they so desperately covet.

But, does Hall see the makings of a winner in Montreal? That’s obviously going to be a big factor in his decision.

I like this question, with the key word being “over.”

Because Carey Price has to perform to the height of his abilities and not necessarily beyond that. Same goes for say, Shea Weber or Brendan Gallagher or Jonathan Drouin or Jeff Petry or Nick Suzuki or Domi.

But the guy who could make a huge difference if he plays above what’s expected of him is Artturi Lehkonen.

And don’t get me wrong. Lehkonen will be vital if he just sticks to doing all the little things he does well.

But if the 25-year-old Finn can be the player who broke Daniel Alfredsson’s playoff scoring record in the SHL playoffs with Frolunda or if he can be the type of impactful player we saw in Montreal’s last playoff series — against the New York Rangers in 2018 — he can make a considerable difference.

While the rules don’t currently allow for it, the NHLPA, according to sources I’ve touched base with, is largely in favour of allowing players like Romanov to participate in games this summer.

This is far from a dead issue, and it’s one of many things that will need to get sorted out as the NHL moves into the various phases of its return-to-play plan.

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