Mailbag: Avalanche goaltending, Prices future with Canadiens

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Here is the Jan. 12 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions asked on Twitter using #OvertheBoards. Tweet your questions to @drosennhl.

Do you believe the Colorado Avalanche ride with Darcy Kuemper or look for an upgrade by the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline? — @Mercus24

The Avalanche need better goaltending depth. They need a better insurance policy than they currently have if Kuemper struggles, slumps, or gets injured or sick.

I talked about this with my co-host Shawn P. Roarke on a recent episode of the “NHL @TheRink” podcast. The Avalanche can win the Stanley Cup if their goaltending holds up. Given a full lineup, it’s the one position that gives me pause about them. Kuemper entered Tuesday with a .905 save percentage and 2.86 goals-against average; the NHL averages were .910 and 2.82 entering Tuesday, according to NHL Stats. The Avalanche as a team were tied with the Montreal Canadiens for 26th in save percentage (.894) and tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 21st in GAA (3.23). They’re fine for now because they can outscore their issues, a reason Kuemper is 16-5-1, but that gets harder to do in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, particularly as you go deeper into them. Goaltending and defense become the bedrock for everything you do in the postseason. Unless they add to their depth, it’s iffy at best that the Avalanche will have the ability to rely on goaltending as their foundation in the playoffs with Kuemper leading the way and either Jonas Johansson or Pavel Francouz as the backup.

Marc-Andre Fleury, a pending unrestricted free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks, would be the perfect addition if the Avalanche can make it work under the NHL salary cap. Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup winner. His experience playing in a tandem with Robin Lehner for the Vegas Golden Knights and Matt Murray for the Pittsburgh Penguins would allow for a seamless transition into playing with Kuemper. Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus Blue Jackets) could be available too. Elvis Merzlikins is the No. 1 in Columbus and Korpisalo is a pending free agent. It makes sense to trade Korpisalo, and he should be of interest to Colorado. He’s more cost effective with a $2.8 million cap charge compared to Fleury’s $7 million charge, but Fleury has played 162 NHL postseason games and Korpisalo has played nine. Experience should matter to the Avalanche, who should be able to get the Blackhawks to retain some salary in a trade for Fleury by tossing in an asset to sweeten the deal.

Video: COL@NYR: Kuemper makes save on Rooney

I don’t agree with all this Carey Price chatter. Even at 50 percent salary retained you’re looking at $5.25 million times four years after this season. That’s a lot of term at 34 years old for the new team and that’s a lot to retain for the Montreal Canadiens. Where do you stand on this? Who would possibly be willing to make this trade? — @J18M19

Retaining salary in a trade is the price the Canadiens have to pay if they want to save on the salary cap to build their team in other areas. Price is still an elite goalie when he’s healthy. He proved that last season, helping Montreal reach the Stanley Cup Final. But the Canadiens have so many needs that an elite goalie is a luxury that at this point they shouldn’t want to afford. They could retain 50 percent of Price’s reported $10.5 million cap charge and still pay less than $10 million for their goaltending the next few seasons. Jake Allen has one year left on his contract at $2.875 million, and adding Allen’s cap charge and half of Price’s puts the Canadiens at $8.125 million. Sam Montembeault and Cayden Primeau are backups who each can become a restricted free agent after this season, but I wouldn’t think either could get more than $1 million in his next contract, so the Canadiens would be under $10 million for goaltending as opposed to paying $10.5 million for one goalie. Price’s cap charge could eventually hurt the Canadiens, but by that point maybe the salary cap will have gone up to soften the blow.

Price has to come back and prove effective again. He’s coming off knee surgery and was in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program for substance use. A trade might not happen until the offseason. The Edmonton Oilers should be in the market for Price at half the cost. Goaltending is an issue for them, and Price, if healthy, solves it, especially if he costs a reasonable $5.25 million for four years. I think the Washington Capitals should be interested. It’s hard right now to buy Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek as a long-term solution when they’re trying to win the Stanley Cup before the window closes with forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Same with the Avalanche for the reasons I mentioned above, even if they can’t get Price this season. Price is in control with his no-move clause protection, but he should be willing to waive it if he can go to a team that will contend faster than the Canadiens will.  

Two questions: If you could make a change to the rules/structure of the sport what would it be? What should the New Jersey Devils do in goal and is Mackenzie Blackwood a long-term franchise goalie who needs a competent mentor/backup or does he need to be pushed by a competitor? — @jreinitzesq

I would be interested to see a research and development approach to eliminating the ability for the shorthanded team to legally ice the puck on a penalty kill. I don’t think it needs to be done immediately in NHL regular-season games, but perhaps this change can be analyzed through usage in the American Hockey League and in NHL preseason games. I have to imagine it would greatly impact how teams kill penalties, including creating more of a willingness for the shorthanded team to try to skate the puck or make plays through the neutral zone before dumping it in. It could lead to more shorthanded scoring chances and more skilled players on the penalty kill. It almost certainly would lead to more chances for the power play, because the forecheck should be super aggressive when the shorthanded team gets the puck. This isn’t a simple change. It’s a big change that would require a change in strategy. 

Blackwood needs to be pushed, but most goalies who have yet to establish themselves as a winning No. 1 goalie do. That was the plan this season when the Devils signed Jonathan Bernier to a two-year, $8.25 million contract July 28. Bernier was supposed to push Blackwood for playing time, creating competition that should benefit New Jersey in the short term and Blackwood in the long term. Unfortunately, Bernier had season-ending surgery on his right hip last week.

That hurts the Devils and certainly impacts Blackwood. He can’t be pushed in the same way he would have been with Bernier healthy. The other way to see this is as an opportunity for Blackwood to run with being the No. 1, and he hasn’t proven he can be a consistently strong No. 1. Some of that is on him, some of it is on the play in front of him. Blackwood is 23-25-7 with a 3.12 GAA, .900 save percentage and three shutouts in 57 games since the start of last season, including 9-8-3 with a 3.24 GAA, .898 save percentage and two shutouts in 22 games this season. Not good enough to be considered a No. 1 who just needs a competent backup. I think he needs another goalie to push him at this point in his career.

Video: NJD@WSH: Blackwood makes stretching stop

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the Masterton Trophy being awarded to just one person. It feels like a competition of “who had the best struggle?” What would your opinion be about each team being able to award and essentially having 32 winners? — @Mkton31

This sort of happens already because the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy pool includes one nominee from each team. The members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in each market nominates one player they deem worthy for the Masterton Trophy, which is given annually to the “NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

All 32 teams will have their own Masterton nominee this season and one will be voted the winner. Technically that could be considered the answer to your question, because essentially each team’s nominee is its own winner. I love that about the Masterton Trophy, too, because it doesn’t have to just be the “who had the best struggle” award. I think back to when Jaromir Jagr won it in 2015-16. He didn’t go through a struggle, he just had the right qualities for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game. He loves the game, and he was rightfully rewarded for it with the Masterton Trophy.

Listen: New episode of NHL @TheRink

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