Pierre LeBrun threw a bit of a wrench in the traditional rebuild plan that many fans of the Montreal Canadiens have been calling for since Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes took over the team’s front office. The TSN Insider indicated that the Habs hope to be a significant player in free agency this summer to help with their roster transformation.
They will have specific players in mind and won’t spend money just to spend it, but this approach shows that Gorton and Hughes continue to think outside the box. While at first glance this news seems somewhat unexpected, it makes a lot of sense for several reasons. First, the Canadiens have never indicated that the plan is a full rebuild. Second, they still want picks and prospects when and where they can acquire them. Third, their young players will have to be surrounded by veteran leadership and proven talent that will contribute to the culture change that is very much needed. Given this mindset, who might the Habs pursue in free agency? Here are three potential targets.
LeBrun floated the possibility that Johnny Gaudreau might be intrigued by the idea of playing for his idol Martin St. Louis in Montreal, but Filip Forsberg might be a better, slightly younger option if the Canadiens look to upgrade their top-six. It also seems more likely right now that Forsberg will leave the Nashville Predators compared to Gaudreau’s chances of moving on from the Calgary Flames.
The 27-year-old is a legitimate top-line winger and would be the biggest scoring threat that the franchise has had in some time, both at 5-on-5 and on the power play. In 40 games this season, Forsberg has put up 27 goals and 45 points. He has now scored 25 goals or more in six of his ten seasons in the NHL.
He would be a great addition alongside Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Josh Anderson if he sticks around. Many thought that the Habs would select Forsberg with the no. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft before opting for Alex Galchenyuk so it would be interesting to see that storyline come full circle.
When looking at the Canadiens’ roster, regardless of what changes are on the horizon, Tomas Hertl is the perfect fit for the type of team that management is trying to build: skilled, fast, and hard to play against.
Not to mention that the Habs need to improve their centre depth and find some support for Suzuki down the middle. The thought of him and Hertl as a one-two punch for years to come is certainly an enticing one. The 28-year-old has 22 goals and 42 points in 50 games this season. This is his best goal output since 2018-19. He also has size and is responsible defensively.
It appears the San Jose Sharks are making a strong push to get Hertl re-signed, but if he does go to market then the Canadiens should be one of his top suitors.
It’s hard to imagine Kris Letang wearing a jersey that doesn’t belong to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but if the star defenceman decides it’s time for a change of scenery after 16 years with the Penguins, then Montreal will be high on his list of preferred destinations. Not only would he be coming home to likely finish his career, but Hughes is also his former agent which makes the connection between the two sides even stronger.
The Canadiens need to modernize their defence corps by adding more skill and mobility. Letang fits that description, and he would provide the leadership that management has already indicated they will be looking for in the offseason. If they opt to look outside the organization for their next captain, he would be an ideal candidate. He would serve as a mentor for the likes of Alexander Romanov, Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder, and possibly Jordan Harris on the backend while also helping to establish the team’s culture.
These three names may seem like a pipe dream given the difficulty to attract free agents to Montreal, especially now in the middle of a pandemic, but don’t underestimate the appeal of playing for St. Louis. Plus, having Vincent Lecavalier as part of the recruitment process can only help. Signing one high-profile free agent this summer who meets their needs would accelerate the Canadiens’ roster makeover and put the franchise back on the path to contention.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.