The free-agent window opens July 28, and teams can sign players from the open market. The Montreal Canadiens have some holes to fill, and there are quite a few FAs out there that they should try to get their hands on. The probability of Tomas Tatar not returning coupled with Jonathan Drouin’s uncertainty indicates that the Canadiens will need a top-six winger on the left side. The Habs’ blue line could also use an upgrade with a good left-handed, puck-moving defenseman, and of course, the Habs will need to fill the bottom six with some depth guys. I have compiled a comprehensive list of top available players the Canadiens should target.
Canadiens’ Cap Situation
The Canadiens’ current cap space is $14.6 million with 15 players on their roster, according to Cap Friendly. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has already indicated he plans to sign restricted free agents (RFA) Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen. Bergevin also mentioned he would like to bring back Phil Danault and Joel Armia, who will be looking for a raise; Danault made just over $3 million on his last contract, and Armia $2.6 million. Lehkonen and Kotkaniemi probably won’t receive significant raises, but they still should get a slight increase from the $2.4 million and $925,000 they respectively make now.
I know what you’re thinking: how they can sign any top free agent if they spend most of that $14.6 million on their own players? This is where the assumption and speculation come in. The Canadiens will undoubtedly re-sign Lehkonen and Kotkaniemi; neither will get a big pay raise, estimating $3 million for Lehkonen and $1.5 million for Kotkaniemi. It can be assumed one of Armia or Danault will not be back, and based on his end-of-season presser, it most likely will be Armia so that you can forget his salary. Danault will get a raise, and it will likely bring him to the $5 million range.
If all this comes true, the Canadiens will have used up $9.5 million of their $14.6 million. Even so, we cannot forget the upcoming expansion draft, which could save the Canadiens anywhere from $3.5 million to $5.5 million, depending on who is selected so that they will have approximately $9 million to $11 million left.
The Canadiens will need to make room to sign any free agent, so you can be sure there will be a trade or two to free up cap space. With anywhere between $9 and $11 million in cap space before any moves are made, the Canadiens can either sign one big contract or two mid-range players; either way, they need to fill at least one hole on the team to improve the team.
Alex Ovechkin – Left Wing
What can you say about Ovechkin that would convince someone this would be a good move? The answer is rhetorical because having him on your team is always a good move. At 36 years old, he is on a mission to break Wayne Gretzky’s goal record of 894 goals in the NHL – and he’s only 164 goals away. He will have to score, on average, 30 goals a season for the next 5.5 years to catch Gretzky, which is totally possible, even at 36 years of age. His shot, hockey skill, and hockey IQ are so good that he could quite possibly still be scoring 30 or more goals into his 40s.
The downside to signing Ovechkin is the Canadiens probably can’t afford him. He made just over $9.5 million last season and, as one of the faces of the NHL, will probably want $10 million-plus for the remainder of his career. The Canadiens can’t afford to do that without making some major moves to free up cap space. Another thing to consider is that he is more than likely going to re-sign with Washington Capitals. But wouldn’t a line of Ovechkin, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caulfied be amazing?
Alec Martinez – Defense
Martinez would solve an issue that the Canadiens have had since losing Andrei Markov in 2017: a top-four, puck-moving defenceman on the left side. He had 32 points, including nine goals in 53 games, for the Vegas Golden Knights this season. He is an excellent skater and a great puck-mover with a big body at 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds. He can play at a high level at both ends of the ice, providing the Canadiens with solid offense while maintaining a strong defensive system.
Martinez had a bit of a comeback season last year with the Golden Knights. He scored less than 20 points in his two previous seasons, having played most of that time on a porous Los Angeles Kings team. He made $4 million last season and is 34 years old, likely looking for a raise and a secure contract to take him into retirement. If the Canadiens can sign him to a 3-4 year deal in the $5 to $5.5 million price range, he could fill that long-coveted puck-moving defenseman spot.
Gabriel Landeskog – Left Wing
Gabriel Landeskog is a highly skilled, two-way forward who drives offense and boosts the power play (PP). The smooth-skating 6-foot-1, 215-pound winger would be a solid addition to the Canadiens’ top six and PP. He is an annual 20 goal scorer and, at 28 years old, has 512 points in 687 career games. Landeskog also brings leadership to the dressing room, having been the Colorado Avalanche’s captain since 2012 and claiming the title of youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years of age.
Landeskog will more than likely re-sign with the Avalanche, a well-constructed team who are yearly contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens could have a chance, given their recent run, to entice him to go for the Cup with a different team. He made $5.5 million last season and will now probably be looking at the $8 million or higher range. This is not out of sight for the Canadiens, although the asking price would probably be too steep – still worth it if they could get him.
Mike Hoffman – LW
Hoffman has been a full-time NHLer for the past seven seasons and has scored no less than 22 goals in every full season he’s played – 17 goals in 56 games this season. The Canadiens need goal scorers, and Hoffman can score goals – it sounds like a perfect match and can work for the Canadiens. Hoffman is 31 years old but showing no signs of slowing down. If he can maintain his scoring pace, he could easily replace Tatar and provide a little more upside and PP scoring than Tatar did.
Hofman did have some troubling times during his tenure with the Ottawa Senators, but that is all behind him now. He bet on himself with the St. Louis Blues last season and had a solid performance, scoring 17 goals and 36 points in 52 games. If Hoffman can maintain his scoring ability and not have any off-ice issues, he should be a perfect fit with the Canadiens. He made $4 million last season with the Blues but will want a bit more than that this season, likely in the $5.5 – $6 million range; if the Canadiens can get him for the lower end of that spread, he will make around the same amount as Tatar while being more effective.
Zach Hyman – Left Wing
Hyman had a stellar season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing in the top six and providing grit and net-front presence. He is a good skater with the ability to win board battles, protect the puck, and create space for his linemates. He is basically like the Canadiens’ Josh Anderson, only slightly smaller.
Hyman can provide the Canadiens with another power forward on the top-six, providing the team with secondary scoring and net-front presence. His salary last season was $2.25 million; the Canadians could get him for a slight increase to around $3.5 million. He will likely ask for more, in the $4 – $4.5 million range, which could work for the Canadiens if it’s not too long of a term. Hell, they are paying Anderson $5.5 million, and he only scored two more goals than Hyman did last season!
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Unless some trades are made or the Canadiens free up some cap space, it will be difficult for them to get both a top-six forward and top-four defenseman through free agency. Though there are some lesser options available to fill both holes temporarily, Canadians would be better off putting at least one big-name into one of those positions. Then, hopefully, someone in their system could fill the other void. The Canadiens have to start thinking “all-in” and build on the momentum of their Cup run. The priority should be top-six scoring, and there are plenty of free agent scorers out there to choose from.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.