NHL Rumors: Canadiens, Capitals, Hall, More

In today’s NHL Rumors rundown, are the Montreal Canadiens looking to add a defenseman? Do the Washington Capitals have a goaltending controversy? Plus, what’s the latest between the New Jersey Devils and Taylor Hall and what does Tom Fitzgerald joining the Devils coaching staff mean?

Related: NHL Rumors: Byfuglien, Turris, Muzzin, More

Canadiens Scouting Vlasic?

According to Canada’s TVA Sports, the Canadiens are looking to add a left-shot defenseman and are specifically looking at San Jose Sharks blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a Montreal native. The article cites Sharks reporter Kevin Kurz who mentions that the Canadiens have been scouting the Sharks early this season.

Vlasic hasn’t had the best start to 2019-20 with zero points and is a minus-eight through seven games. The once-premium defensive defenseman has struggled since the start of 2018-19 when he finished with 25 points and was a minus-six. He’s only in the second year of an eight-year, $56-million extension he signed in July 2017 is already 32 and will be 39 when his contract expires. His $7-million cap hit is costly for a player whose best days may already be behind him. Then there’s the presence of his full no-move clause that runs through 2022-23, meaning he can veto any trade. However, if he continues to struggle and is looking for a fresh start, perhaps returning home to Montreal will help, although struggling in the hockey hotbed of Canada is a lot different than struggling in California.

Related: The Precipitous Fall of Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Another target for the Canadiens offered up by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts column is Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola. Friedman believes that the Canadiens have already looked into Riikola, who would be a safer player to acquire even though his track record is short. He’s only played in 38 NHL games in his career and made his season debut last night against the Colorado Avalanche, but only played 6:27. It’s no secret that the Penguins are looking to move a defenseman, as they currently have nine on their NHL roster, so there’s reason to believe they’d deal Riikola and he wouldn’t cost much in terms of assets.

Who’s the Capitals’ No. 1 Goalie?

Braden Holtby entered the season as the Capitals’ clear No. 1 goaltender. The former Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup winner has made 416 starts in his career and has been their starter since 2012-13. His backup was expected to be either Pheonix Copley or uber-prospect Ilya Samsonov, the team’s 15th-overall pick from 2015. Prior to the season, Copley was sent down to the American Hockey League and Samsonov was named Holtby’s backup. However, early this season, Samsonov has vastly outplayed Holtby. In three starts, he has a .933 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.84 goals-against average (GAA). Meanwhile, in five starts, Holtby has an .846 SV% and a 4.27 GAA. He was also pulled against the Avalanche on Oct. 14 after he allowed three goals on three shots. Samsonov, in relief, stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced.

Washington Capitals Ilya Samsonov
Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden confirmed that Holtby remains the team’s No. 1 goaltender, but offered up praise for Samsonov:

“I mean, he’s a rookie goaltender and finding his way, and I’ve liked how he’s played so far,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said of Samsonov. “Just thought this was the right decision to get him back in for us tonight.

from ‘Braden Holtby gets vote of confidence, but Ilya Samsonov will start for Caps vs. Maple Leafs,’ Washington Post, 10/16/2019

Reirden did go with Samsonov in net in the Capitals’ next game on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played well against an elite offense, moving past the two first-period goals he allowed to earn the 4-3 win. In total, he allowed 3 goals on 32 shots and stood tall in the third period. Once again, Reirden was complimentary of Samsonov’s game:

It was a good game for him, and it was a really good game for a young goaltender because things probably didn’t go exactly the way he wanted in the first and he made an adjustment

Todd Reirden (from ‘Ilya Samsonov stands firm as Capitals rally past Maple Leafs,’ Washington Post, 10/16/2019)

After Samsonov’s strong start, the goaltending controversy only heightened. Following the team’s loss to the Avalanche, Reirden said that Holtby may get the start Friday against the New York Rangers. Now, after what Samsonov displayed last night, perhaps he’ll start against the Rangers. As long as he continues to play well and Holtby struggles, the controversy will remain. The Capitals are still in their Stanley Cup window and can’t afford to give away points in a competitive Metro Division and Eastern Conference.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby (Jess Starr/ The Hockey Writers)

Plus, there’s Holtby’s future as he’s a free agent at season’s end and will command a large price tag on his next contract. If Samsonov proves he’s ready to be the clear-cut No. 1 next season, it makes parting with Holtby easier, freeing up a lot of cap space for the Capitals along the way.

Related: Is Holtby Done with the Capitals?

Will Devils’ Slow Start Impact Hall Negotiations?

Although the most obvious impact of the Devils’ 0-4-2 start is head coach John Hynes’ job security, it isn’t the only impact. The team was hoping to jump out to a fast start this season in order to help convince pending free agent Taylor Hall to sign an extension to stay in New Jersey. That has naturally led to many speculating whether or not the team’s bad start has affected Hall’s desire to remain a Devil or how the team plans on handling Hall moving forward. According to Friedman, he has no reason to believe that anything has changed from the Devils’ standpoint.

There’s no reason to believe, at this time, the Devils are weighing any option other than signing Hall to a long-term extension. That is the plan; that is the hope.

Elliotte Friedman

While the Devils have been dreadful early this season, Hall is not part of the problem. His five points lead the team, but the Devils currently have a minus-14 goal differential thanks to a porous defense and poor goaltending. It’s clear that general manager Ray Shero won’t hesitate to make a move, but he is looking to make the right move, not a hasty one. It’s likely that starts with adding a defenseman, but it may not stop there.

Fitzgerald on Hynes’ Coaching Staff

Yesterday afternoon the Devils announced that assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald will be joining Hynes’ coaching staff beginning with tonight’s game against the Rangers. Fitzgerald has plenty of playing experience but no coaching experience as he joined the Penguins front office after he retired from playing. So what could this mean for the Devils?

It’s easy to see this move and connect it to Hynes’ departure, however, that may not be the case. Fitzgerald has plenty of experience scouting and was the Penguins’ director of player personnel when he joined their front office. Friedman points out that in these situations, the goal is typically to move a member of the front office behind the bench in order to get a better feel for what/who is and isn’t working. By determining which players aren’t good fits, Fitzgerald and Shero can make decisions on who stays and who goes in their attempt to salvage the season. This doesn’t mean Hynes is off the hot seat, but it does point to the front office’s willingness to seek other solutions first.