Canadiens 2022 Offseason Free Agent Targets

The Montreal Canadiens were the toast of the 2022 NHL Draft, as hosts, they provided the perfect backdrop to the first in-person draft since the pandemic began. But also, the moves made by general manager Kent Hughes have helped the franchise to strengthen its rebuild. In less than an hour on the first day, he made two bold decisions, first by drafting Juraj Slafkovsky at first overall, then conducting a three-way trade, sending Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders before using the return to acquire Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The draft plan to use analytics and make home run swings on prospects that have very high potential, but could also bust was made in the hopes one or two become impact players in the future. Despite the compliments Hughes has received for the draft, the focus must now swing to unrestricted free agency (UFA), which opens at noon on July 13.

With the Canadiens’ salary cap situation, they will be forced to make a trade before they can make offers to any UFAs, and even then, Hughes won’t be wading too deep into that pool. That being said, there are some UFAs out there who could fit the Canadiens’ system and pocketbook.

Canadiens Free Agent Targets – Forward

Up front, the Canadiens have a plethora of forwards on the roster, there’s Evgenii Dadonov acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights for Shea Weber, and then there are the 13 returnees as well. Also, there are even some prospects knocking on the door such as Jesse Ylonen and the first overall pick in Slafkovsky.

Related:  Canadiens Salary Cap Issues will Force Trade

There will be some minor trades and even some placed on the waiver wire, but to be a player in free agency for a forward, Hughes will need to move out a contract of significance, and one that has been in the rumor mill for some time has been Christian Dvorak. Moving his $4.45 million contract would go a long way in helping the cap situation, however, that would leave the Habs with four centers who all have three years or less of NHL experience. Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans may not be seen as capable of filling a third-line role either, so there would need to be a veteran added who could.

Christian Dvorak Montreal Canadiens
Christian Dvorak, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One such player could be recent Ottawa Senators buyout, Colin White. He is a former first-round pick who can be a productive middle-six center when healthy but unfortunately has been slowed down by injuries. The 25-year-old can be a responsible third-line pivot as he is a good skater and responsible defensive player. He is also capable of winning board battles, retrieving pucks for linemates and starting the transition game. Last season in Ottawa he had a 56.1% Corsi For, which are good possession numbers for a third liner playing on the NHL’s 13th ranked penalty kill (PK) in 2021-22.

White is also familiar to Canadiens’ management, being one of Hughes’ former clients. Also, he would be relatively inexpensive and willing to sign a short-term deal, one to two years, so as to play in a situation that can showcase him for his next contract.

Canadiens Free Agent Targets – Defence

The Canadiens’ defence is in a major turnover. The loss of Romanov will hurt in the short term, but with the youngsters like Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris moving up, the left side of the blue line shows promise. On the right side, things get a little dicey. Justin Barron is the only right-hander that is expected to be in the Habs’ top four for the future. Also, with Jeff Petry likely to be traded, there will be a need to bring in a veteran to support the youth for the short term.

UFA defenceman Micheal Stone would fit well in that role. Coming off of a one-year $750,000 deal with the Calgary Flames, the 32-year-old right-handed defender could be signed to a short-term deal for a relatively low cost, perhaps around $1 million. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenceman only played in 11 games last season, but he can be relied upon to play a safe, defensive role. He provides depth on the right side and can be used to platoon in and out of the lineup when necessary, providing a stop-gap option while the youthful defence gains some experience.

Canadiens Free Agent Targets – Goaltending

With the uncertainty surrounding the health of Carey Price, and the trade interest in Jake Allen, there may be a need to find a goaltender on the UFA market. If Hughes retains Allen, and Price is unable to play, then an upgrade to platoon with him from Samuel Montembeault to a more NHL-proven option may be in order.

One name is Jaroslav Halak. The 37-year-old goaltender is coming off of a season that saw him start in only 17 games, with a save percentage (SV%) of .903. Yet, he could help take some of the load off of Allen, return to where it all began and be an inexpensive option on a deal similar to what he had with the Vancouver Canucks at one year, $1.5 million.

That being said, if Allen is traded, and the expectation is Price will not return to play a full season ever again, Hughes may dip into the UFA pool for someone he feels could be capable of being an NHL starter, as he has said they currently lack that in their system.

“There is nobody in our organization that has shown, year over year, that they can be a no.1 goaltender in the NHL”

Kent Hughes

If that is the case, there is an option available in the UFA market that is young, and could be inexpensive, Ilya Samsonov. He was not tendered a qualifying offer (QO) by the Washington Capitals and will now become a UFA. The 25-year-old has a first-round pedigree, having been selected 22nd overall by the Capitals in 2015. He will likely be in search of a situation where he can sign a short deal for close to the $2 million, which his QO would have been, with a team that can provide him with the opportunity to be a starter.

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Montreal could offer that, even if Price returns he would be in a 1A/1B situation splitting time. The 6-foot-3 goaltender plays a sound positional game but needs work on rebounds and recovery, two areas Montreal’s coaching staff can help with, especially when he can share insights with Price. He is coming off of a season where he started 44 games, ending with a .896 SV%. But at 23-12-5, he has made the saves when he has needed to. He also stepped up his game in the 2022 Playoffs with a .912 SV%, but couldn’t help the Capitals win their opening series against the Florida Panthers.

Teams such as Montreal, who are in a rebuilding mode with cap problems, can’t look to sign top UFAs to compete right away. But they can take advantage of the ones seen as a second-tier, or plan B option to help the team remain competitive in the short term. The goal for the Canadiens this season is not to compete for the playoffs, so it falls on Hughes to sell the situation as one that benefits players looking for a short-term situation to showcase themselves for their next big contract.

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