After a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Montreal Canadiens are officially and irrevocably out of the playoffs this year. This will surprise no one. This is a team contending for the dubious title of worst in franchise history. Their elite goaltender has put up AHL numbers this year. Their number one defender has been playing injured all year. Their captain and once perennial leading scorer has been linked to trade rumors for most of the season. Don’t worry though, their general manager has a secret plan to fix everything.
Whatever the secret plan is, it is hard to imagine the Canadiens won’t have to package their second-round picks to acquire a legitimate number two defenseman. Likewise, the Habs are likely to overpay to acquire a UFA center or two this summer. This is the best case scenario. If the Habs are to rely on their current roster, they will be in deep deep trouble. Again.
Predicting Next Season’s Roster
Who will stay and who will go? Existing contracts and cap data combined with an honest assessment of prospect potential should guide any prediction. Here are some possible scenarios for fans to consider during the long offseason to come.
Carey Price is the Canadiens number one goalie. Unless he decides to request a trade, the organization is on the hook for $10.5 million a year for the foreseeable future. Should the Habs re-sign Antti Niemi? All signs point to yes. Having resurrected his career in Montreal, Niemi will hopefully re-sign for a year and give Charlie Lindgren one more year before he makes the leap to full-time NHL back up.
Assessment: Sign Niemi. Stay patient with Lindgren. Pray for the return of the real Carey Price.
There are a lot of questions for the Canadiens on the blueline. Shea Weber is not going anywhere. At $7.8 million a year for the foreseeable future, he is the defacto number one defenseman, assuming he recovers fully from the foot injury. What is unclear is who is likely to play with Weber. There is no one in the organization that fits the bill. While Victor Mete, a rare bright spot this year, has done better than expected, it is too much to ask, too soon. A mobile number two defenseman is a summer shopping list item. Don’t worry, it is part of Marc Bergevin’s secret plan.
The Habs are stuck with Karl Alzner’s contract. He is likely to play with Jeff Petry on the second pairing. Petry has performed well in difficult under circumstances this year. Alzner is a character guy. Enough said. Provided Juulsen makes the team out of training camp next year, he could be paired with Victor Mete on the third defensive pairing. It is perhaps more likely that Jordie Benn slots beside one or the other as the Habs try to assess which youngster is ready to log consistent minutes.
The wild cards next year are David Schlemko and Mike Reilly. Schlemko has not looked good this year and Reilley has exceeded all expectations. Another question mark is Rinat Valiev. Likely bound for Laval, Valiev is needed depth on the blueline.
Assessment: Acquire a number 2 defensemen and cut the deadweight. Embrace mobility, speed, and youth on the blueline.
The Habs have a number of wingers on the right side who could be on the move next year. Ales Hemsky is UFA and should be re-signed on pain of death. Logan Shaw and Daniel Carr are RFA next year. Both are likely to be offered a qualifying offer. This is a one-year contract and must be tendered by June 25 or by the first Monday following the NHL Entry Draft. Only one is likely to be offered a contract unless both accept two-way deals to assist the team in Laval.
A larger question surrounds the role of Andrew Shaw. It is hard to argue he is worth nearly $4 million a year. Yet, after a number of concussions over two years it is difficult to imagine him getting traded. He is another one of those character guys. Gallagher, Byron and Scherbak all have more scoring potential at less money. If the Habs are serious about making Shaw a full-time center, the moves on the right wing are something to keep an eye on.
Assessment: Trade Andrew Shaw. Make Scherbak a regular. Make a decision on Logan Shaw and Daniel Carr.
Max Pacioretty is due for a pay raise next year. Even after a poor season, Pacioretty is an elite goal scorer who will not re-sign for a mere $4.5 million a year. He is the best asset to package with trade picks for either a center or left side defender. With one more year left on his steal of a contract, moving him soon is likely to bring back the most to the organization. Fair warning: I have been wrong before.
Alex Galchenyuk seems safe in Montreal after a decent season on the wing. Lekhonen, Hudon, and Deslauriers are the other left wingers. Deslauriers is signed through 2021. Lehkonen has not had a great year but shown enough flashes to imagine is more like the player of last year, as opposed to the one of this year. Given this Hudon is perhaps the best potential asset. I suspect he will be back in Montreal.
Assessment: Trade Max Pacioretty. Promote Charles Hudon. Believe in Lehkonen.
There is no larger question for the Canadiens than at center ice. First thing, first. The Canadiens should offer a contract to RFA Phillip Danault. He has proven his value and belongs in Montreal. While I would move Galchenyuk back to center, this isn’t going to happen. the issue is that Jonathan Drouin is not a first line center. He may never be. Addressing this hole at center requires acquiring at least one UFA center in July. Ideally, they would sign two given the lack of depth at the position.
This will mean making some decisions regarding three RFAs. Jakub de la Rose, Michael McCarron, and Byron Froese are all RFA next year. If they accept two-way deals to assist the team in Laval, they all could be back with the organization. None should make the Habs roster next year if this is a team that is serious about making the postseason.
Assessment: Sign Phillip Danault. Sign one (two?) UFA centers. Learn to live with Drouin at center.
It has been a terrible season for fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Change is coming. It is not the change in management that many had hoped for. Let’s hope the team can keep its younger talent and move on from contracts and players that won’t help this team going forward. Oh, and the secret plan. Don’t forget about the secret plan.