The 2020 NHL Draft is finally completed, and Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin and his staff added eight more prospects to an already deep prospect pool headlined by their first-round selection, defenceman Kaiden Guhle.
Some of the fanbase was hoping Bergevin could solve the Canadiens’ scoring needs during the draft, but no prospect selected this year will be ready for the NHL for some time. Perhaps they had hoped for a trade to fill the need, but no players moved during the two days of the draft would have been a solution to solving the Habs’ need for a scoring upgrade at forward.
This leaves Bergevin to either continue working the phones in search of a trade that fills a need like the one he completed when he traded Max Domi for Josh Anderson giving the Canadiens a power forward they’ve needed for over a decade, or he could wait for free agency to open on Friday, Oct. 9 at noon ET and go fishing in that pond for more goals.
The Big One
If Bergevin is going big-game fishing, he couldn’t find a bigger target this offseason than 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. Upon completion of the NHL draft, the Arizona Coyotes GM confirmed that Hall will test the free agent market. There is little doubt that he will attract many suitors despite a flat cap as a former league MVP rarely becomes available when they’re only 28 years old.
He has the pedigree to demand a large contract as a former first-overall draft pick. Hall doesn’t come without concerns — his history of injuries has not allowed him to complete a full season in all but one of his 10 NHL seasons. It will cause any GM to pause before offering a long-term contract. His style of play will undoubtedly create opportunities for more injuries in the future as well.
It’s clear he would be a top-line player on this roster, but before even looking at contract term or value, how much offence will Hall provide this edition of the Canadiens? Despite having a career average of 28 goals per season pro-rated over an 82-game season, he has completed only one season with more than 30 goals and five of 20 or more goals. Which Hall will show up — the healthy, productive one that can provide 28 goals, or the one that will be less productive, playing through injuries or, worse yet, in the press box injured. It will be buyer beware. However, if he is willing to take a short-term contract, Montreal may be a destination for him to prove he can make a difference for a team that has playoff aspirations.
While Hall is going to be one of the main free agent fans and media will talk about, there are a few lesser names that could provide similar offensive sparks for less money. Those are the likelier targets for Bergevin, as attracting top end free agents to Montreal has not been his forte. This is a short — and not at all complete — list of players that could be a fit for the Canadiens.
One name that fits the style of player Bergevin likes would be Tyler Toffoli. He’s a quality two-way winger, is a capable penalty killer and he can also provide a team 20 goals or more playing in a top-six role. Toffoli is also a proven playoff performer. The 2014 Stanley Cup Champion with the Los Angeles Kings boasts an average of 0.46 points per game in the playoffs.
The 28-year-old Toffoli is likely looking for a long-term deal, making slightly more than his last contract that had a $4.5 million average salary. While he isn’t a top-line player, he will provide depth scoring while adding to head coach Claude Julien’s stable of players that he can trust to play in any situation.
The 31-year-old Evgenii Dadonov is a skilled winger who has been a steady scorer coming off of 28, 28 and 25-goal seasons with the Florida Panthers. He is capable of playing either wing and uses his speed to his advantage, making him a good fit for a Canadiens team looking to improve their transition game. An undersized player at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he has problems when games get physical.
What makes Dadonov an offensive weapon is his shot — it is hard and accurate with a career scoring percentage of 14.3%, which is ideal for offence on transition as well as on the power play, two areas of need for the Canadiens. He just completed a three-year contract worth $4 million per season, but with the flat cap, he may not get as large of a raise as he would have wanted. However, he could convince the Canadiens to provide him a four-year term with a slight raise, depending on the number of suitors he has.
Due to the flat cap, there has been no shortage of players being bought out. One of those is the reigning Masterton Trophy winner Bobby Ryan.
If Bergevin strikes out with names such as Hall, Dadonov or even Mike Hoffman, he could look to take a chance on some added secondary scoring from someone looking to prove themselves again. Bobby Ryan fits that description.
Before the issues that caused Ryan to seek help and earn the Masterton Trophy, he was known for his offensive prowess, equally capable of scoring or creating a play for a linemate. Ryan was a victim of a large contract after a downturn in his performance and financial abilities of his former team, the Ottawa Senators. On a more reasonable short-term deal, he could provide depth scoring to a team in desperate need to add offence. At 33 years old, it’s doubtful he can find the form of the physical winger who consistently scores 30 goals a season, but given the right linemates and power-play opportunities, he might be able to score as many as 20 goals.
Before the offseason began, there were several areas of concern that needed to be addressed if the Canadiens wanted to turn the corner and become playoff contenders. There was a need for a proven backup goaltender, added help on defence to add size and insulate rookie Alexander Romanov, a need for size on the wings, and a need to add scoring.
In short order, Bergevin added Jake Allen to play the backup role, he added Joel Edmundson to play in the bottom four of the Canadiens’ blue line. Bergevin then traded for power forward Josh Anderson, and now the final piece is finding scoring on the wings. If Bergevin is serious about this team making a run for the playoffs in a much improved Atlantic Division, finding someone who can score will be his main concern in this unrestricted free agent market.