Heading into this off-season, there were plenty of rumours swirling around that someone was going to make an offer sheet to one of the many talented restricted free agents (RFAs). It was Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin who stepped up and offered Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes a five-year deal that the 21-year-old signed. Unfortunately, the $42.25-million contract proved to be an easy offer to match for Hurricanes GM Don Waddell. Yet, the failure to bring in a top-line centre should not deter the Canadiens brass to continue to offer RFAs, especially with the plethora of talent that still sits unsigned.
Still Room for Contracts
In today’s NHL, the hard salary cap makes signing big free agents at a reasonable rate a difficult task to accomplish. Teams have to look at how much money they can spend without going over the cap. The Canadiens currently have $7,469,524 remaining for the 2019-20 season. At first glance, it does not look like the they could sign a big name RFA with that limited amount of money left to spend.
Yet, Bergevin was willing to give Aho an average annual value (AAV) of $8.454 million, because the Canadiens would be willing to make moves to free up space. Similar to what the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in preparing for the Mitch Marner deal, and what the Vegas Golden Knights are doing after signing William Karlsson.
Who Should Be Offered?
There are plenty of good RFAs still available, giving the Canadiens plenty of options to pursue. Obviously, Bergevin is not going to overpay this year, which was pretty apparent in his attempt to sign Aho (from ‘What Don Waddell’s reaction to the Sebastian Aho offer sheet says,’ The Athletic, 07/01/2019). That said, there are a couple upper-echelon players that team President Geoff Molson should consider opening his checkbook for.
The Philadelphia Flyers selected the former Ottawa 67 with the 24th-overall pick in the 2015 Draft. Following a slow, but promising, rookie season where he scored 28 points, Konecny put up 47 points in 2017-18. The London, Ontario native topped that with a 49-point season last season, and continues to improve his game with a Flyers team that seems to be making strides towards being a playoff team. That does not mean the Canadiens would not swoop in and try to snag the 22-year-old.
Konecny would be a great fit in the Canadiens’ lineup, especially with centres Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Domi, in his first season with the Canadiens, put up a career-best 72 points, while Kotkaniemi had a solid rookie season in Montreal, scoring 34 points.
Comparing Konecny’s numbers to other players with similar statistics, the range of his AAV could be anywhere in the $2.5-3.5 million range. However, the caliber of player that he is could easily put him into the $4-5 million area. The Flyers have plenty of room to match that offer, with almost $15 million in cap space, but Konecny is going to want term. This could put the Flyers in a bind, considering that they just signed Kevin Hayes to an abysmal, seven-year contract. This means the Canadiens could have a solid chance to obtain Konecny if they are willing to go a little above market value and be willing to give up a first and a third-round pick.
If there is one part of the Canadiens’ lineup that could use some bolstering, it is their depth on the blue line. Granted, Shea Weber is still a stable presence on the back end, but he is not getting any younger. Jeff Petry and the recently signed Ben Chiarot give the defence corps a deep veteran presence, but that’s really about it for the Habs. They have a could-be prospect in Victor Mete, but he is not ready for top-four minutes quite yet. Meanwhile, Karl Alzner was on the verge of being bought out after a season in which he was either scratched or down in the AHL with the Laval Rocket. The Canadiens need better, and younger, defencemen. Enter Zach Werenski.
The former eighth-overall pick of the 2015 Draft has seen his ups-and-downs in his first three years in the NHL. Werenski had an impressive rookie campaign in which the Columbus Blue Jacket tallied 47 points and finished the season with a plus-17 plus/minus. In his sophomore season, his numbers dropped, even though his playing time increased from the season prior. This past season, he stepped up his offencive play and looked in peak form with 44 points. Despite his defencive struggles, Werenski still has the capability to be a top-tier defenceman in the NHL.
Werenski would be the perfect fit to help give the Canadiens’ blue line some young blood. Placing him with either Petry or Weber on either of the top two pairs would enhance the youngster’s play. The former Michigan Wolverine would be able to thrive offencively, especially on the power play.
Werenski has shown that he is capable of quarterbacking a power play, most notably with his vision from the point. The Canadiens have to consider him an option, especially after having a brutal season on the man-advantage where they had the second-worst power play in the league at a 13.25% success rate.
The tough part for the Canadiens will be outbidding the Blue Jackets, who have loads of cap space after Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky all walked during free agency, $15,765,918 to be exact. Comparing his numbers to other defencemen, Werenski will be making $5.5 million AAV minimum. The Canadiens have the ability to offer Werenski above the asking market price, possibly looking at a $6.5-7 million cap hit for the Michigan-native. That kind of a deal may make the Blue Jackets really think about whether or not they want to match that offer.
Who do you think the Canadiens should submit an offer sheet to? Let us know in the comments below.
*All salary information courtesy of CapFriendly