In today’s Montreal Canadiens News and Rumors roundup, Alexander Romanov will join the team for Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan, Jesperi Kotkaniemi impresses during the first week of training camp and Max Domi remains undecided about his status for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Plus, the team is dealing with positive COVID-19 tests as camp opens, the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation is helping underprivileged children get active safely and will Torey Krug be Marc Bergevin’s top priority in free agency?
Romanov Will Join the Habs
On Monday, the Canadiens finalized the terms of Alexander Romanov’s three-year entry-level deal, which will begin in 2019-20 and run until 2021-22. This means that Montreal’s top defensive prospect will burn the first year of his deal to participate in Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan once he sorts out his visa issues. Romanov can practice and be with the team in the bubble but is not permitted to play any games.
Arpon Basu of The Athletic is reporting that Romanov and his agent are hoping to secure his visa early this week then a decision will be made if he flies straight to Toronto to serve his quarantine or if he joins the team in Montreal for the conclusion of training camp.
The decision to have Romanov join the team for the remainder of the 2019-20 season is the right one for both parties. It will allow him to learn from his new teammates and get accustomed to the realities of the NHL. Plus, Romanov will now be available to the Canadiens for the entire 2020-21 campaign.
General manager Marc Bergevin worked diligently to convince Romanov to come over from Russia and his efforts are paying off. Hopefully, they can somehow get him into some meaningful games before the start of next season.
Kotkaniemi Impresses in Training Camp
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is making the most of his unexpected opportunity to salvage a tough sophomore season, which included a significant spleen injury.
The 20-year-old impressed during the first week of training camp and is making a solid case to be included in the lineup for Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins on Aug. 1. When Kotkaniemi was sent down to the Laval Rocket in the AHL earlier this season, the Habs’ brass noted that he needed to improve his skating. During the COVID-19 pause, the former No. 3 overall pick hit the gym to work on his legs and core with Finnish skating coaches, an initiative that is already paying dividends.
“When you don’t have the pace, you’re trying to make plays (and) plays are getting cut off. He was getting frustrated things weren’t going as well as he was used to seeing and I think his confidence was obviously being affected by that,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But when you look at him now and you see how well he’s skating, a lot of things are falling into place, which at the time weren’t. So that’s probably the biggest thing here.”
Related: Habs’ Kotkaniemi Is Not a Bust
If Kotkaniemi can continue to take strides in his development over the next few weeks, it will be such a big win for both the Canadiens and Kotkaniemi himself. It is the best news to come out of training camp so far.
Domi Remains Undecided
Last weekend, the Canadiens announced that Max Domi will wait 7-10 days before deciding if he will take part in Phases 3 and 4. Given Domi’s health condition (Type 1 diabetes) it was determined this would be the right course of action.
“This has been an ongoing conversation for the last two weeks in conjunction with Max (Domi), and it’s for his safety. We’re all aware of his health situation. Max wants to be here, but we want to be proactive and safe for him in the short term and long term,” Bergevin explained.
Without a doubt, Domi’s health must come first so good on him for taking the extra time to decide. He needs to do what’s best for him and what makes him most comfortable in this situation.
Perhaps if Domi does not play, it will be a chance for Kotkaniemi to show what he can do in a top-six role.
Canadiens Dealing With Positive COVID-19 Tests
Basu of The Athletic reported that several Canadiens have tested positive for COVID-19 according to league sources. Two of the affected players turned out to be false positives (from ‘Sources: Multiple Montreal Canadiens players test positive for COVID-19’, The AthleticNHL – 07/13/20). Both the Canadiens and the NHL have declined to comment due to the league’s policy regarding COVID-19 disclosure.
Brett Kulak and Xavier Ouellet have yet to practice with the team during training camp leading to speculation that they may have tested positive. Over the past few days, Julien has had to separate his players into two separate groups for precautionary reasons.
Despite the report, Phillip Danault isn’t concerned for his safety in the bubble the Habs have created.
“What I see from the team, they’re taking really good care of us, they’re making sure in the bubble we’re not getting infected, they’re taking all the best decisions for us,” Danault said.
It is crucial to detect these positive cases at this stage if indeed they are existent and implement the necessary measures to prevent further spread before heading to Toronto for Phase 4.
Torey Krug is Preparing for Free Agency
Torey Krug’s acknowledgement to the media this week that he will probably have to prepare for free agency at the end of the 2019-20 season is music to the ears of Bergevin.
The 29-year-old defenceman would surely be at the top of the GM’s shopping list if he does test the market and the Canadiens are one of just a few teams who can currently afford him in this new flat salary cap.
Krug, who put up 49 points in 61 regular-season games with the Boston Bruins, perfectly fits the description of the left-handed defender that Bergevin has coveted for so long. He would have to overpay to convince Krug to come to Montreal and even then it’s not likely, but he definitely should try.
Canadiens to Distribute Active Kits for Underprivileged Children
The Habs and the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation continue to do their part during the pandemic.
The Foundation is distributing 4,000 active kits to children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Montreal to help encourage them to get active safely following months of confinement.
Each child will receive a backpack containing a jump rope and a hacky sack as well as a reusable water bottle and a washable cloth face mask. The purchase of these kits was made possible thanks to the very first edition of the Circuit BLEU BLANC BOUGE, a virtual race set up in June to raise funds to help kids in need.
After an eventful opening week of training camp, week two promises to be equally newsworthy for the Canadiens with Domi set to make his decision in the coming days and Romanov on the verge of joining the team. Not to mention that the countdown is on until game action. The Canadiens will face the Toronto Maple Leafs in an exhibition contest on July 28 to kick off Phase 4.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager and a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.