The Montreal Canadiens will select 15th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft – Habs Eyes on the Prize

The Montreal Canadiens will select 15th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Habs Eyes on the Prize
Bergevin: Niemi will not return to Habs
Montreal Canadiens players reflect on the 2018-2019 season after narrowly missing the playoffs and look to the future.

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin doesn’t need to check social media or turn on a television to get a sense of how Montrealers have felt about him for the last month.

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“I’m a smart enough man to know that when you haven’t produced in 17 games, the city’s probably turning a little on you,” Drouin said on Tuesday as the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers.

For the third time in four seasons, there will be no playoff hockey in Montreal — and some are pointing the finger at Drouin, who had just three points in his last 18 games.

The positions of the top three teams will be unveiled soon, with the Colorado Avalanche having the best chance of landing on the winning combination.

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“I had 50 to 60 games where I was happy about my play,” said Drouin, who tied a career high with 53 points this season. “Obviously those 20 last games wasn’t consistent, wasn’t the way I wanted to play. That’s on me as well, it’s on me to own that.”

“If someone asked me about coming here as a UFA, I can only say positive things,” Tatar said Tuesday as the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers and began their summer vacations as snow fell outside the team’s training facility in Brossard. “There’s no reason why an unrestricted free agent shouldn’t come. He would enjoy the hockey club and the players who played against us this year would say we’re a fast team and we’re a young team so there’s a future here.”

The Habs finished the year with 96 points — a 25-point improvement from their dismal 2017-18 campaign — but Montreal was eliminated from playoff contention on the second-last day of the season.

“I appreciate everyone saying that we had a good year, exceeding expectations all that good stuff,” Canadiens forward Max Domi said. “We’re not satisfied, we’re not happy, and this isn’t going to happen again.”

As for suggestions the Canadiens could make an offer sheer for a restricted free agent — Toronto’s Mitch Marner for example — Bergevin admitted this was an option under the collective bargaining agreement. But he said there was a price to be paid and someone who is averse to trading one first-round draft choice for a proven NHL player won’t be involved in a deal where he has to relinquish up to four first-rounders.

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The Canadiens believe better things are in store for Drouin, who was picked third overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 draft. He was traded to Montreal in the summer of 2017.

The bottom line is don’t hold your breath waiting for a significant free-agent signing. That may be good thing because Bergevin is batting .333 on his previous deals. He hit a home run when he convinced Jeff Petry to stick around after trading for him, but his other multi-year deals — for Brandon Prust and Karl Alzner — were less successful.

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“The fact that (Drouin) realized and admits that he could’ve done better (is a good thing),” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. “The fact that he sits and he could realize that ‘you know what, it’s up to me,’ makes me believe that next year he’ll take another step forward.”

Drouin says he didn’t dwell on his play when things went bad, but admits he was banking on the Canadiens making the playoffs.

One player who matched his career-high point total is Jonathan Drouin. By all accounts, he’s a top-end talent, but he totally disappeared over the final third of the season. Bergevin said he was encouraged by his exit jnterview with Drouin and expected him to bounce back with a big season.

“Just to get in the playoffs would’ve been nice to prove some people wrong,” Drouin said. “Not only for me, I think … as a team, it would’ve been nice just to get in the playoffs and prove a lot of teams wrong.”

“We did have chemistry,” Drouin said. “But that line was playing pretty well when Lehky (Artturi Lehkonen) went up there (with Domi and Andrew Shaw). Again, that goes with the maturity part where I’m able to understand. I didn’t go to coach, I didn’t go to see Claude as a coach to say put me with Domi and that stuff. That’s not in my control. That’s not what I look at doing. For me, it was just about playing hockey, if it was with KK, if it was eight minutes, I was just going to play hockey and give my best and try to help this team. I think I’ve learned now that some stuff you can’t control, some stuff you can control, and when you’re given an opportunity to do something you want to take it. I’m disappointed in the season, but I didn’t hang my head. I didn’t give up.

“He still hit his career high in points but I think he’s able to do even more,” Canadiens captain Shea Weber said. “Even he knows he wants to be more consistent and contributing the way he knows he can every night.”

When asked to explain why he stopped producing, Drouin said: “I’d love to tell you. But again, sometimes a lot of people look at production — look at he’s not producing, he’s not doing anything. For me, it wasn’t the case where I hit that stretch. I got moved lines, I was playing with KK (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and Army (Joel Armia) and we were trying to figure out ways to be good every night. We didn’t hang our head down and maybe that goes for me in Tampa learning that or this year when that happened. We were playing eight minutes, we were in a well-positioned place in the playoffs, so it was easy for us, for me, to come to the rink, be excited to come here and if it was eight minutes, if it was 13, 14, I don’t control that. I was hoping for another stretch like that in that time of the year.

“We all expect to make the playoffs next season,” Habs goaltender Carey Price said. “Should be everybody’s goal while they’re training in the summer and preparing. It’s never great to have a long summer like we do, but since we have it, might as well put it good use.”

“You can go back where you’re playing eight minutes … it’s hard to be Jonathan Drouin,” Drouin added. “I’m not blaming the coaching staff, I’m not blaming anyone for playing me those minutes. There’s a reason why. Me and Claude talked about it where if I was playing that well, if I was playing that great, you would be playing those 17 minutes, 18 minutes. There’s a reason why some nights it was 12 and that’s on me as well. That’s not only on the coaching staff. That’s on me to step up my game and be better.”

Drouin was also one of many players to decline an invitation to the world championship next month in Slovakia. He said he had a “little injury” but declined to go into further detail.

“For me, I had 50 or 60 games where I was happy about my play,” Drouin said. “It was consistent. Obviously, those 20 last games where it wasn’t consistent or wasn’t the way I wanted to play. For me, that’s on me as well … that’s on me to own that and I own my play. I’m the player that goes on the ice and plays, so for me I’m not satisfied. I’m not very happy with the way I played, but that’s something you can’t change and it happened.”

Fellow Canadians Weber, Domi, and Price won’t attend, either. American defenceman Jeff Petry also says he won’t play.

“I don’t have to read Twitter to know what’s going on in the city about myself,” Drouin said Tuesday as the Canadiens players cleaned out their lockers in Brossard. “I don’t put myself in that situation where I read tweets, I turn on the TV to sports, I don’t do that. But I’m a smart enough man to know that when you haven’t produced in 17 games this city is probably turning a little bit on you. It’s done it in the past.

Centre Phillip Danault is still mulling his invitation from Canada over, as is Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi of Finland.

“It doesn’t change the fact that I love playing in Montreal and I want to be here,” added Drouin, who has four seasons remaining on his six-year, US$33-million contract. “I think I’ve said it, I own it to the fans and everyone to not produce for those 20 games. I’m able to look myself in the mirror and say that I could have done a better job and should have done a better job. But it’s part of life.”

Meanwhile, Bergevin confirmed that goaltender Antti Niemi will not be back with the Canadiens next season. The 35-year old finished the season with an 8-6-2 record, a 3.78 goals-against average, and an .887 save percentage.

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General manager Marc Bergevin told the impending free-agent goaltender that he will not be offered a new contract.

In 17 games this season, Niemi was 8-6-2 with a goals against average of 3.78 and an .887 save percentage.

A veteran of 11 NHL seasons, Niemi is a career 242-140-57 with a GAA of 2.57 and a .912 SV% over 463 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and Canadiens.