Stu's Slapshots: Canadiens' Juraj Slafkovsky doesn't look NHL ready

Coyotes’ Logan Cooley looks better now, but Habs are still banking their No. 1 overall pick in 2022 develops into an impact player.

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Centre Logan Cooley was the player Arizona was hoping to get with the No. 3 overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft.

So Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong was very happy after the Canadiens took winger Juraj Slafkovsky with the No. 1 pick and the New Jersey Devils took defenceman Simon Nemec at No. 2.

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“When I went up to make the pick you could see my enthusiasm for Logan Cooley because that was the guy that we wanted that could change the look of our franchise,” Armstrong told TSN’s Bryan Mudryk in an intermission interview during Thursday’s game between the Coyotes and Canadiens in Arizona. “Just meeting him and spending time with him there’s a lot of good players that were on the board at that time, but Logan was our guy.”

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The Coyotes beat the Canadiens 3-2 Thursday night with Cooley making a beautiful pass to set up the winning power-play goal by Nick Schmaltz in the third period. The assist gave Cooley 1-7-8 totals in 10 games to lead all NHL rookies in scoring. Slafkovsky has only one assist in 10 games and failed to get a shot on goal for the second straight game while logging 14:17 of ice time against the Coyotes. Slafkovsky has only 10 shots on goal this season.

The Coyotes took a shot at the Canadiens after the game with this tweet.

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The Canadiens’ line with Alex Newhook at centre between Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson has really struggled. Slafkovsky and Anderson both have no goals and only one assist. Newhook has 3-2-5 totals, but has struggled since moving to centre following the season-ending knee injury to Kirby Dach, winning only 41.7 per cent of his faceoffs. That means his line is often chasing the puck.

The NHL game seems to be moving too fast for the 19-year-old Slafkovsky to process. In the defensive zone he often looks confused and is losing important puck battles against the boards on his wing, unable to clear the defensive zone. On offence, he’s taking too long to get off a shot when he does get a scoring chance, including on the power play. He’s also not strong enough on his stick, holding it with one hand far too often.

Slafkovsky’s rookie season was cut short when he suffered a season-ending knee injury last January after posting 4-6-10 totals in 39 games, along with a minus-13 differential. At this point, a stint in the AHL with the Laval Rocket would make sense for Slafkovsky because the game is a bit slower, he would get more ice time and more touches with the puck and might regain his confidence. But don’t expect that to happen.

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In a meeting with his scouts before the 2022 draft, Hughes told them he wanted the player with the most upside as an NHLer down the road, not today. The Canadiens believed that player was Slafkovsky and management seems to believe the best way for him to get there is by continuing to learn in the NHL. That’s why they didn’t send Slafkovsky to the world junior championship last season.

Centre Christian Dvorak is expected to return to the lineup Saturday in St. Louis against the Blues (7 p.m., Citytv, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) after recovering from knee surgery in March. That will give head coach Martin St. Louis some different options for his forward lines. Playing on a line with Sean Monahan could help Slafkovsky since the veteran centre has the ability to slow the game down and he’s also winning 60.6 per cent of his faceoffs. But the trio of Monahan between Brendan Gallagher and Tanner Pearson has been the team’s best line and St. Louis might be reluctant to break it up.

Last season, the Coyotes sent Cooley to the University of Minnesota, where he had 22-38-60 totals in 39 games, rather than rush him into the NHL.

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“There’s a lot of different ways to bring them into the NHL,” Armstrong told Mudryk when asked about player development. “Some kids come right in and they can play. Other kids struggle and it takes a little bit of time. Everybody’s different. … For Logan Cooley we wanted to get him a good place to live with an ex-pro. Michael Grabner (a former Coyotes player who retired after the 2019-20 season) and his wife kindly took him in. It’s just been a great setup for him.

“We believe in watching the kids and get a feel whether they can kind of have success at that level and dig into it,” Armstrong added. “Logan Cooley came to our camp in the summer and for us it was a no-brainer. He was miles ahead and you could see what he could do. We wanted him to be a part of this team and play in the National Hockey League.”

Cooley looks ready for the NHL now. Slafkovsky doesn’t.

But they’re both only 19 and there’s a lot of hockey ahead of them.

Value of Canadiens keeps growing

Sportico reported this week that Michael Andlauer sold his 10-per-cent minority interest in the Canadiens at a record US$2.5 billion enterprise value.

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The Molson family exercised its option of the first right to buy Andlauer’s stake before he purchased the Ottawa Senators for US$950 million. Andlauer had been a minority owner of the Canadiens since 2009, when a group headed by Geoff Molson purchased the team from George Gillett Jr. for $575 million.

Last December, in its annual ranking of NHL franchise values, Forbes had the New York Rangers at the top of the list at US$2.2 billion, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs at US$2 billion and the Canadiens at US$1.85 billion.

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Andlauer has had a rocky road since completing his purchase of the Senators in late September.

First, 22-year-old centre Shane Pinto was suspended for 41 games for violating the NHL’s gambling rules and then the Senators were stripped of a first-round draft pick for their role in covering up a no-trade list that voided the trade of Evgenii Dadonov from the Vegas Golden Knights to the Anaheim Ducks in March 2022.

The loss of a first-round draft pick resulted in Andlauer firing GM Pierre Dorion and he showed how unhappy he was about the situation during a news conference Wednesday.

“We were downright negligent,” Andlauer said, adding: “It’s not that complicated. The no-trade list was not provided.”

But Andlauer also pointed out how ridiculous the gambling situation is with the NHL, which heavily promotes gambling during games — including TV ads by Wayne Gretzky — and then suspends a young player for half a season for betting. Andlauer called The Great One out on that and with reason.

“This is a serious thing, the gambling,” Andlauer said. “(This generation of hockey players) have so many more pressures than any other generation. And you look at a young man who’s making millions of dollars, that represents millions of people in a community, but is 21 years old. Let’s say they’re injured and they got time on their hands and they got millions of dollars, they got a cellphone. Wayne Gretzky gets on MGM (TV ads) and talks about betting. I’ll just leave it at that. …

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“For me, the important part is that this young man gets all the help, all the support from this organization and he will be a better person with all of us supporting him,” Andlauer added about Pinto. “He’s already made a difference being the first person and he regrets what he’s done and he’s getting help for it. At the end of the day, by default he’s actually helped all the other players that are going to be going through Belleville (in the AHL) and Ottawa in this organization. That’s what I can say about Shane Pinto.”

Going all-in on gambling puts the NHL on a very slippery slope.

Can players bet?

The NHL refused to say exactly what Pinto did to get suspended, noting it found no evidence he made any wagers on NHL games and that it wouldn’t have any further comment “absence the emergence of further information.”

That leaves hockey fans — and NHLers — wondering what players are allowed to do when it comes to gambling.

“The PA has already reached out,” Gallagher said last week after news of Pinto’s suspension was announced. “There’s going to be calls available for everyone around the league. You don’t want that to happen again. It’s one of those things that’s just going to be used to educate. Can’t really talk about what the player in Ottawa is going through. It’s just one of those things where it’s going to be an opportunity for them to educate all the players again on what the standards and the guidelines are.

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“If you want to make a bet on a football game, that’s fine,” Gallagher added. “But there’s just certain guidelines — hockey, obviously, there’s no wagering on hockey. If you like you can bet on a football game or a soccer game. We’re the same as you when it comes to that. But we can’t bet on hockey.”

Pinto didn’t bet on hockey, according to the NHL, but he still got suspended.

Monahan looks like a bargain

If Monahan can stay healthy, he could be the best bargain in the NHL this season after signing a one-year, US$1.985 million contract with the Canadiens in June.

The contract also has a US$15,000 bonus that will bring it up to US$2 million if the 29-year-old Monahan plays in 26 games — one more than he played last season when he had 6-11-17 totals before a broken foot and a groin injury that required surgery ended his season.

At this point, the Calgary Flames might be wishing they had kept Monahan.

Former Flames GM Brad Treliving (now with the Maple Leafs) basically gave Monahan to the Canadiens in August 2022, throwing in a first-round pick at the 2025 NHL Draft, in exchange for future considerations so he could get rid of the final season of Monahan’s contract with a US$6.375 million salary-cap hit and sign free-agent Nazem Kadri.

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Kadri, now in the second season of a seven-year, US$49-million contract with a $7-million salary-cap hit, has 1-3-4 totals in 10 games and is a league-worst minus-12. Jonathan Huberdeau, signed by Treliving to an eight-year, US$84-million contract with a $10.5 million salary-cap hit that kicked in this season after acquiring him from the Florida Panthers, has 2-3-5 totals in 10 games and is minus-11.

Monahan, with 6-3-9 totals in 10 games and a plus-6, has three more goals than Kardi and Huberdeau combined and the same number of points as that duo.

Winning faceoffs

Monahan is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL, winning 32 of the 43 faceoffs he has taken in the last two games and 60.6 per cent for the season.

But it wasn’t always that way. As a 19-year-old rookie with the Flames after being selected sixth overall at the 2013 NHL Draft, Monahan won only 45.9 per cent of his faceoffs. It wasn’t until his third season that he got over 50 per cent in the faceoff circle.

“My first year (in the NHL) you almost feel like you get bullied in the circle,” he said. “You’re a young guy, you’re learning how strong guys are in the NHL. In junior you can win faceoffs just by skill and timing and picking pucks. In the NHL, some guys make a living by winning faceoffs. You got to really bear down and work at it. Second, third, fourth efforts in the circle. It’s a big part of the game.

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“We had road trips where you’d go to California,” Monahan recalled. “I remember you’d go against (Joe) Thornton in San Jose and then go to L.A. and be matched up against (Anze) Kopitar and go to Anaheim and you’d have (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Ryan) Kessler. You’d have some big boys who were veteran guys. That was kind of my welcome to the NHL moment. I got cleaned out and that’s when I really started to bare down and work on faceoffs.”

The glory days

I chuckled when I saw the photo below on Twitter from the 1970s of Canadiens defenceman Serge Savard carrying the puck out from behind his own net with the Buffalo Sabres’ Richard Martin in pursuit while goalie Ken Dryden relaxes by leaning on the crossbar.

That’s when you know a goalie has complete confidence in his defenceman.

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Dryden had every reason to be confident in his Big Three on defence with Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe when the Canadiens were winning four straight Stanley Cups, starting in 1976. During those four seasons, Dryden recorded 28 shutouts.

Here’s what the late, great Red Fisher once wrote about the Big Three in the Montreal Gazette: “They were teams blessed with offensive talents such as Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Pete Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer. Ken Dryden was the goaltender, but the constant was the Big Three. They were the souls of this dynasty. Everything on these teams started with them, revolved around them, depended on them. They were the eyes of storms the Canadiens inflicted on the opposition. Robinson, Savard and Lapointe led, the remaining Canadiens followed. … There was never a trio to match it before or since.”

There’s no way there will ever be a Big Three to match that one in today’s salary-capped NHL.

Habs goalie prospect shines

Jacob Fowler, selected by the Canadiens in the third round (69th overall) of this year’s NHL Draft was named the Hockey East goalie of the month after posting a 5-1-0 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage while starting all six games for the Boston College Eagles in October.

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Last season, Fowler posted a 27-9-4 record, along with a 2.28 GAA and a .921 save percentage with the Youngstown Phantoms and was named the USHL’s goaltender of the year. He was even better during the playoffs, posting an 8-1 record, along with a 1.36 GAA and a .952 save percentage as the Phantoms won the Clark Cup.

Trick or treat

The award for best hockey Halloween costume has to go to the kid in the photo below who dressed up as the Canadiens’ Arber Xhekaj.

Xhekaj’s mother loved the costume and retweeted the photo.

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Last season, I wrote a column on the key lessons Xhekaj learned from his mother growing up that helped him make it to the NHL despite never being drafted.

“She always told me to believe in myself,” Arber said about his mother. “That’s the biggest thing that I hold because she always told me if you believe and put everything into that belief then you can achieve your goals.”

Drouin a healthy scratch in Colorado

Former Canadiens Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar were both healthy scratches for the Colorado Avalanche’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night, ending a two-game losing streak in which they lost both games 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.

Drouin started the season on the Avalanche’s No. 1 line with Nathan MacKinnon, his junior teammate with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, and Mikko Rantanen. Drouin picked up an assist in the first game, but went pointless in the next seven and was dropped to the third line before being made a healthy scratch. Tatar had no goals and four assists in his first eight games with the Avalanche.

“Obviously, there’s disappointment,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post about his discussion with Tatar and Drouin before scratching them from the lineup. “Players want to play, right? I tried to ensure them that it is more of an overall team view. It’s not that I’m super disappointed in their play or something. I feel that both of those guys have been OK. Both guys are working hard. I love their attitudes and all that.”

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Artturi Lehkonen, another former Canadien, had 3-4-7 totals in nine games with the Avalanche.

How bad are the Sharks?

The San Jose Sharks look like they could be one of the worst teams in NHL history.

The Sharks got blown out 10-1 at home by the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, dropping their record to 0-9-1 while being outscored 45-10.

Official attendance at the 17,562-seat SAP Centre — where the Sharks sold out 205 consecutive games between 2009 and 2014 — was 10,719.

Former Canadien Mike Hoffman was made a healthy scratch by the Sharks after having no goals and only one assist in the first nine games to go along with a minus-7.

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Sportsnet Stats pointed out that the six even-strength goals scored by the Sharks are the fewest in NHL history through the first 10 games of a season and that their minus-35 goal differential is the NHL’s worst through 10 games since the expansion 1992-93 Ottawa Senators were minus-36.

The Canadiens will play the Sharks twice this season — Nov. 24 in San Jose and Jan. 11 at the Bell Centre.

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