The National Hockey League’s free agency period started with a bang on July 28. The dust is only now settling, with many of the big names available having already signed long-term deals. Other signings will undoubtedly start to trickle in, but the ones to watch have already put pen to paper, either starting a new chapter with a new team or continuing along their previous path. For the Montréal Canadiens, this particular free agency period saw them bring in a host of new faces.
After proving all the doubters wrong and enjoying the most successful season since 1993, Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin got to work and aggressively pursued some of the game’s best available free agents, along with some criminally underrated others.
Mike Hoffman, LW: Formerly of the Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers, and St. Louis Blues, left-winger Hoffman possesses one of the most lethal wrist shots in the league. In six of the last seven seasons, he has potted at least 20 goals and played in nearly every game, only missing a grand total of 21 games over his last six full seasons. His lethal shot and goal-scoring prowess will undoubtedly help the Habs’ power play, which they struggled with throughout last season, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Canadiens’ abysmal play with the man advantage produced a shameful 18.9% success rate in the 2021 playoffs and was a major factor in their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hoffman’s presence should help the Canadiens’ avantage numérique by providing another outlet along with top scorers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. His contract lasts for four years with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million.
David Savard, D: Perhaps the most expected move Marc Bergevin made, former Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning defenceman David Savard inked a four-year deal worth $14 million on the opening day of free agency. Savard brings veteran leadership and a proven defensive skillset to the Canadiens, operating as he did as one of the Jackets’ top blueliners for the entirety of his tenure.
Given the uncertainty of captain Shea Weber’s future in Montréal and the National Hockey League, Bergevin clearly attempted to account for that massive absence through the Savard signing. Savard won’t contribute as much on offense as Weber or Jeff Petry, but he remains a very active presence and one of the league’s premier shutdown defenders. The St. Hyacinthe, Québec native, has previously said playing for the Habs would allow him to fulfill a childhood dream and be closer to his family.
Under the Radar
Cédric Paquette, C: In an attempt to further solidify the Canadiens’ team defense, Bergevin signed forward Cédric Paquette from the Carolina Hurricanes. Formerly of the Senators and Lightning, Paquette signed a one-year deal worth $950,000, a relative bargain for a player of Paquette’s caliber. Although he had a down year last season, he remains a solid fourth-line forward who can provide strength and a shutdown presence in the lower tier of the lineup.
Paquette has never been a great scorer – his career-high in goals was 13 in 2018-19 with the Lightning – but his ability on the defensive side of the ice helped propel Tampa Bay to the first of its back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Mathieu Perrault, C: Another signing that won’t exactly make all the headlines, Bergevin picked up center Mathieu Perrault on a one-year deal worth $950,000. Formerly of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, and Winnipeg Jets, Perrault was a key member of the Jets team that made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2017, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights. Perrault is another solid player that will give the Habs’ forward core a defensive boost.
Like Paquette, Perrault isn’t usually one for scoring tonnes of goals, but he will provide further stability for the Canadiens’ forward group and serve as another mentor to youngsters Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
Departures and Returns
Although most of the reaction and chatter came in response to the new players the Canadiens had signed, it’s also worth noting that some players left the fold. Forward Phillip Danault signed a six-year, $33 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings, meaning Montréal loses one of its best defensive forwards. Playoff powerhouse and veteran Corey Perry departed, signing for two years and $2 million with the Lightning. Defenceman Jon Merrill left for the Minnesota Wild. Some of the Habs’ restricted free agents (RFAs) have opted to stay, including Stanley Cup semifinal overtime hero Artturi Lehkonen, who returns on a one-year, $2.3 million deal.
Eager to build off the largely unexpected success of last season’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens got to work addressing some of their biggest needs, both offensively and defensively. They’ve now set the stage for further improvement, especially with the core they already have.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.